This summer, I had 2 very diverse experiences on a trip to Ladakh.

I was humbled.

I had been toying with the idea to work with 17,000 ft foundation under their ‘Voluntourist’  program, ever since my interaction with Ananya Saluja, who at 17,  has been one of Secondsguru’s youngest guest writers ever. When I read about Ananya’s experiences with 17,000 ft foundation and her visits to schools in Ladakh to conduct their reading workshops, science workshops, art workshops in her article Ladakh|Where every day is Earthday, my heart was set on going to work with the school children there. The good news – my entire family was keen to join and we made the trip happen in the summer of 2018. Along with the fabulous facilitators from 17,000 ft, our group set up a library as well as conducted multiple reading and upcycling crafts workshops at a school in a remote village in Nubra Valley.

volunteering in ladakh eco travel
Students in the morning assembly- Excited to have a library set up in their school

Now that we are back after spending a meaningful 10 days in Ladakh, our family of 4, my husband, 2 kids aged 13 and 9 and I can vouch for the program as well as its impact. We emerged net learners in the process– for a multitude of reasons- a greater appreciation of our blessed lives being the main one. The principal catalysts in our positive experience were the forever-ready-to-please and infinitely grateful children we worked with- some of who trek several miles in the face of harsh terrain, extreme weather conditions, and sometimes difficult family situations- to get to school every day. After exchanging notes with the dynamic Sujata Sahu and Dawa Jora, the founders of 17,000 ft foundation as well as other ‘voluntourists’, we concluded that the school kids -in all of the over 100 remote schools adopted by the foundation- are hungry to learn and see the world through the eyes of the volunteers year after year. This interaction gives them a wworldviewway beyond their books and school curriculum is able to cater for.

Want to be a part of something meaningful beyond just monetary donations? Write to 17,000 ft Foundation at reach.us@17000ft.org for more information and expression of interest!

I was very pleased!

Going to Ladakh was a personal high point for the eco-warrior in me as living life in an eco-friendly way is what comes naturally to the locals there. You can’t help but follow the norms! Here are 5 reasons why

1. Recycling /reusing used items

Recycling and reusing is a norm, not an exception in this rather cold place inhabited by some of the warmest individuals I have ever met. Re-wearable old clothes are passed around over generations in the family and then on to neighbours. Whether it is an old box of Nippon paint or an empty cottage cheese tin can – there is an alternative use for everything. We took our rather short baths using the Nippon paint boxes as buckets and saw several cottage cheese/ baked beans can planters all through the trip.

recycle reuse plastic bottle cardboard box
Plastic bottle to pen stand and planter- Creative expressions of students at Ladakh

2. Drinking water aplenty in nature

There is snow almost all year round in this region up north in India bordering with Tibet. (We witnessed snowfall in June, so there you go!) The melting snow provides a steady stream of drinking water easily accessible as you drive around the mountainous roads. Then there is the occasional rainfall which supplements the water supply. In short, just carry a reusable water bottle and you will be fine on the roads in Ladakh! 

reusable water bottle eco travel
In most places, you can carry a reusable bottle to refill from natural springs

3. Solar is a way of life

Harnessing renewable energy sources – biogas, solar and water – over traditional non-renewable sources is an ongoing project in Ladakh with a commitment from the Government of India. However, as visitors who were there for the first time, we spotted solar panels EVERYWHERE. Even the basic bed and breakfast place we were staying in the remote village had a solar heater installed. 

solar renewable energy in ladakh
In Ladakh almost everywhere you look , there are efforts to harness renewable energy – Solar in particular.

4. Signs and memories

The terrain in Ladakh is harsh but the glorious sites more than make up for the slightly uncomfortable car rides. The best part is seeing interesting road signs – many of them reminding you to be mindful about Mother Earth, dispose waste properly etc – along the way and the ever-pleasing stacks of stones piled together by travelers as they make a wish and hope for good luck for all.

eco friendly living in ladakh
Road signs to remind you of the need to be thinking of the environment- in case someone forgets!

5. Tech detox

With no data, no phone service and barely any electricity to charge laptops/ phones,  staying connected is not even an option in Ladakh. The phones were being used as cameras where the DSLR did not make it- when we trekked out into the wilderness in a few places. No one was complaining. (My recently-arrived-into-the-teens daughter stopped after the initial shock of it!)

Ladakh glorious and beautiful
The one place in the world where a forced Tech detox was welcomed by all

Suffice to say that we did not want to leave. We will be back soon, dear Ladakh.

Lara

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