The Ladakh project has run since 2005.
We have now formed and consolidated a wonderfully fruitful link with White Lotus School in Shey and are hoping that with the recent arrival of broadband in Shey, our electronic links with the school can really take off.
We already use case study materials from Ladakh in a number of subjects for pupils of all ages, which increase the understanding of global issues among our pupils considerably; we have a number of fund-raising activities, and we feed back to the whole School about our expeditions.
The expedition side of this project (11 days of trekking) adds an extra dimension, as it challenges participants into taking up achievable challenges in harsh physical environments, takes them to remote areas in incredibly fragile natural habitats and thus shows man’s impact on our natural world in a tangible way. Importantly, it stresses that the similarities we have as human beings wherever we live are much more important than the differences we might have due to our backgrounds.
The impact on participants of the expedition has been huge and will continue to influence their thoughts and actions possibly for the rest of their lives.
All the feedback on the expedition to both Senior and Junior School has been student-led and pupils are involved in the preparation of some of the case study materials we are producing. Preparations for the next expedition are already under way and the Saas Fee trip for Year 9 students in July continues to provide the first training ground for potential applicants.
An expedition to the Himalayas at this time of year presents a good number of achievable challenges and the group rose to each of them with great determination and a sense of purpose.
Our years of experience of the region allow the School to devise a safe, relevant, varied and valuable programme.
Our 20 days in India were split into 2 sections. During the first week in Leh we were acclimatising to the altitude. We spent some days in White Lotus School and gained a good insight into Ladakhi culture. This was followed by an 11-day trek through the Markha Valley, described as one of the greatest treks on earth.
Our students were outstanding during our 3 days at White Lotus School, teaching the children Maths, English, Art, Music and Games. The Head of the School and all the staff were full of admiration of the initiatives, the confidence, the organised discipline and the brilliant team spirit of the whole group. In some cases, our students were only 1 year older than the students they taught!
Our staff were also fully involved: Malcolm and Pippa Hodgson ran a highly successful short First Aid course, Sue Woollard and Linda Moore gave a presentation on child development and learning styles, William Norris ran a music workshop and Mike Collins organised a highly successful activity on different countries of the world.
On our last day at the school a cultural programme was organised, where Ladakhi children gave several presentations, followed by music and 3 short plays performed by St Chris students. A basketball tournament rounded off our stay.
The Markha Valley trek is classed as strenuous. It is normally only done between May and September, as conditions are generally deemed too harsh at other times. However, there are some very distinct advantages in doing the trek in April.
As there are no other tourists, there is a much better chance of establishing valuable contact with villagers and of really seeing village life. One can also expect clear and dry weather, and although the nights are cold (during the trek we slept in temperatures between -2 and -10 C), day time temperatures can be very pleasant. The intensity of the spring light is stunning and vibrant, low snow levels add to the contrast of colours, and nights without any light pollution give participants the chance of experiencing clear skies with innumerable stars. Crossing the two high passes through a snow route adds an extra challenge and wonderful excitement to the expedition. Views are much more stunning due to the contrast in colour between rock and snow, wildlife is much more abundant and one can experience the magnitude of these Himalayan valleys in all their grandeur and stillness prior to the influx of tourists.
In this respect our trek was a total success: The group really displayed an excellent team spirit throughout. Whenever a member of the group needed help or support because they felt the strain of the demands of the terrain, assistance and encouragement were immediately given by other members of the group. Ultimately, it was this excellent team spirit which enabled everyone on the group to complete the whole trek. The St Christopher group managed the first tourist crossing of the year of both high passes on the trek and all members can be proud of that achievement.
During the 11 days of the trek the group was walking for over 60 hours. The combined height gain was nearly 5.000 metres, the combined height loss was slightly less, as the trek started at a lower altitude than it finished.
The group also showed openness towards a very different culture and were always keen to learn. Information about Buddhist culture in temples and palaces was always enthusiastically received and discussed, many pertinent questions were asked of our Ladakhi guides and connections between different religions and philosophies were made. The wish to learn more about the stars and a healthy spirit of adventure impelled the students to sleep under the stars for the last night of the trek - one of the highlights of the expedition, according to some of the students.
White Lotus School is immensely keen on establishing a regular link with St Christopher and is already looking forward to the visit of our next group. St Christopher has already had the opportunity to welcome Karma Dharghey, the Head of the Junior Section at White Lotus School and there was also be a successful auction of promises to raise funds for the White Lotus School, which achieved its target of Ñ4000.
White Lotus School
Two Sixth Form students from St Christopher School gave a presentation in London to trustees and supporters of the White Lotus School in Ladakh. Emily Brooks and Joe McDonnell told the audience in London about their experiences.
Emily said: “What amazed me most was how much fun everyone had without the need for modern technology, electronic games or gadgets!”
Joe commented: “Ladakh changed me in a number of ways: it made me more tolerant of other people and opened my eyes to a new way of thinking.
Ladakh inspired me to work with children and I now help out an hour a week at a local school.”
Edwin Gruber, Director of Activities at St Christopher, remembers when the link with Ladakh was first set up: “In 2001, I visited the White Lotus School before it opened, as I had heard wonderful things about the principles on which it was founded. When we came to choose a destination outside Europe for an expedition, I had no hesitation in recommending the school.”
“The trip was an amazing experience that gave me a new perspective on life. Ladakh has an amazing landscape with people who have very little compared to us, but are very happy and are very welcoming and embrace other people, regardless of race or wealth. This attitude towards others caused me to think about how people in the West have so much but can be very unhappy, and why this may be. The trek was an amazing experience that gave me a brilliant sense of achievement. The views and dramatic scenery were beautiful and very different to anything I had seen before. During the trek we bonded with the local trekking crew who accompanied us. They were great people, and they gave us a great insight to their culture and beliefs. Overall the trip taught me to have a more open view of other people and their views and beliefs.”
A Parent’s Comments
“On the total experience of 3 weeks in Ladakh one parent of a participant wrote the following comments: “When I picked up my daughter from the airport after her trip to Ladakh I could feel the impact this trip had had on her. She arrived confident, upright and totally full of the impressions the trip had on her. Only slowly, looking at the photographs she had taken,did it become clear where this change came from: she clearly had the unique opportunity to dive deeply into Ladakhi culture: landscapes, religion, houses, customs, clothing, dances, prayers, monasteries, schools, values and hearts. I never imagined that she would be allowed such a deep and unfiltered view into Ladkahi society. The trip was all so extremely well prepared, organised and presented, that she had the chance to take it all in (rather than be overwhelmed by it all) value it all, and surely she will live off it for the rest of her life. It taught her respect and appreciation of a totally different culture to ours with totally different values. It was a stroke of genius to link all this with the physical achievement of being able to hike up to 5,200 metres. This was an amazing achievement for young adults, bringing them to the boundaries of their physical and mental selves. The young people were also encouraged to raise some of the money for the trip themselves. The fact that my daughter raised about half of the funds herself made her truly proud and rounded off this amazing sense of achievement.”