Wednesday, September 29, 2010


6:00 Wake up and exercise
7:00 Tea
7:45 Morning meeting
8:00-9:00 Breakfast
9:00-10:00 Work hour
10:00-11:00 Exhibition class
11:00-11:30 Tea
11:30-12:15 Ladakhi Language
12:15-1:00 English conversation
1:00-2:00 Lunch
2:00-4:00 Free time
4:00-4:30 Tea
4:30-5:30 Creative class
5:30- 6:00 Responsibilities
6:00-7:00 Games
7:00-730 News
7:30-8:30 Dinner
8:30-10:00 Evening activity
11:00 Lights out


Shadows fall upon the mountains giving them facial features. The fields of scree spew forth from ancient times. There is such a contrast between the slow moving mountains and rocks, to that of the mighty river and clouds that carve through the range. At either end of the valley lie ominous snow capped peaks. Daring one to continue, but also reminding one of the challenges passed.
Now is harvest time and plump peas wait to be picked. Some will end up as food, while others will become the future crop. Sheep are guided by the natural features, creating an enormous pasture, walled by mountain peaks.
Stone is the most abundant resource and all of man’s impact here is tied to the stone. Stones of all shapes, sizes, and composition fill the land waiting to be picked, placed, and transformed into something new. Stones and running water are the only constants here. Some say the beauty of the Himalayas lie in its simplicity, that the mountains bring them peace. For myself I find gazing at the slopes to be full of complexity, so busy that it hurts my eyes to look upon a spot for more than s a few seconds.
Clouds play shifting roles of drama; allowing light to some, playful, while others swallow creating mystery even fear. The stone remained unchanged, even the mighty flow of the river does not smooth over the jagged rocks that proudly claim their space in air. It seems as though I exist in a pocket of sun, while rain pulls the clouds, drawing strands of their hair to the ground at either end of the valley. Some rock faces cling to the light while other embrace the dark shadows as though long ago some sinister deal had been struck with the clouds.

VIS Intern, Nate Thayer

Monday, September 27, 2010

Takmachik Homestay

The following was written by VISpa, Hayden Chinchester during our 6 day homestay in the village of Takmachik following the Zanskar trek.

What a day today, got up around 8:00 and watched Abile (our host family's grandmother) make us morning flat bread, japati, and then watched as Gyaltsan lit his thumb on fire with the local Ladakhi beer (I suspect it was slightly harder) that his grandfather was drinking.

The lights went out last night (they have electricity from 7 to 11 here) but to continue, after breakfast Gyaltsan-our host- Ruth and I worked this morning clearing one of Gyaltsans family fields that was covered in thick mud and rocks during the flood. It was definitely tiring but it was fun because Gyaltsan taught us an old tibetan song that I have written down in my other notebook. We had to move this one huge stone that took all of our strength and we used physics and were able to roll it to just the right spot-the edge of the field- where we started a stone wall. After working only about 3 hours in the morning we went across the river and had lunch or Zarra at Gyaltsons great aunts house and oh boy were we fed well. Around 12:15 we were served tea, cookies, apricots, and apricot nuts (which very much resemble an almond in taste and appearance). Then we prepared lunch for 2 hours, carrot and potato dish. Ruth and I talked in spanish off and on for fun and commented on how long they take for lunch here, so different from the 30 minutes you get back home in school. Later in the day when school go out I played soccer with all the Ladaki boys in the street. It was so fun and it reminded me of all the stages I went through as a kid. It was still just kick and mob but i managed to pul off some tricks, got some "ooo's" and "ahh's" and had a great go of it. After the game died down I set a goal and let the kids shoot on me, and they were all excited but as young boys they couldn't take turns although I think they enjoyed messing with each other as much as anything. After the game I walked up the river to try and find where Ruth and Nate were digging but I couldn't find them and ended up walking far up stream and meeting an old lady with sticks of her back and a man, well dressed, herding a cow with a huge harvest of grass strapped to his. After passing several bends I couldn't see the bridge anymore and with the sun low in the sky I thought the approaching twilight beautiful and mysterious in accent. After taking several pictures I realized how prevalent the flood damage is everywhere. I saw a cave halfway up a mountain I would have explored with more time. I got back to the village everything seemed more familiar and boys and girls kept approaching me and asking me about my headphones and my name. Two little boys in the back of a truck asked for a photo and posed. It was funny, I noticed that like "homework" after playing many boys had to go work in the fields or help herd animals. On my way to Ellie's house I saw a truck being unloaded of cinder bricks and I stopped to help. Boys and men from all over town stopped and helped to make a chain, it was a pleasant site, heart warming and smile provoking. Anyway we ate around 10 again and Gyaltsan's cousin, Sonam, who went to a university in New Delhi was very curious about america and asked many questions. After dinner I showed them my photo album and postcards and they were very interested and I was happy. At on point Sonam said "Your 50 years ahead of us in the United States" and this gave me some insight into many of the ideas that, especially, formally educated Indians have about America. Ruth and I explained that technology isn't everything.

As of right now I am sitting next to several stupas at the top of the village, Takmachik, it is much windier up here on this small mountain overlooking the village and the sun is blistering, heating only one side of my face. I think for me, the mountains here are not my favorite, all though powerful, strong, weathered and timeless there barren surfaces makes me me miss the Zanskar valley, so long ago now, with the Holy mountain at our back-sticking up like a knife- and the great rocky red, orange and black mountain I sat under that day with the goats, and the one ram who straggled behind the rest. I can still sit and wonder and feel about the view from the sandy hill before our camp that long day, where to our right, looked like the path to.... and the icy mysterious deep, cold, green, glacier ridden but calm in its beckoning. And to my left the mountains that let me feel there spirits, made me feel like an ancient native American standing looking out over his land with the wind in his hair and the gods in his eyes, made me feel that if i ventured there i would meet a spiritual and soft people in these mountains and that i would learn their secrets. At my right with the steady call of the "Gangsri" (glaciers) I felt i would meet a strong, fierce, mystical people, living in wood fire lit huts and strong buildings and wars and hunts and merrymaking and barbary. But that is just my Imagination running, as I let it.
I told this as my favorite moment today to Keagan, Hannah, and Ruth. Ruth and I went to visit after a great breakfast and a message that we were staying another night. We got the message after already saying goodbye to Gyaltson, receiving bundles of dried apricots and giving him his postcard (he chose the cow). At Hannah's we talked a long time about food and realized that was what everyone was craving. It is interesting that we Americans should draw so much happiness from food, I am realizing more and more how privileged we are to live in America. Can I ever be a master of communication, of storytelling, of language!? I don't know, but I would love to try.

Stone stands tall,
Pushed by the volcanoes under the earth
Larger than anything

Water gives life and flows unmutable
Nothing stopping its path

But water unto rock,
Two forces of nature
Water cuts stone,
Cuts deep
While winding the sinkhole
Following Gravities rainbow

Like a wise old mountain we wait,
We watch

Like an eager young stream
We chase what we cannot see

Are the paths in the mountain,
cut by the water,
the paths I see now,
The ultimate irony?

The One,
Fighting so hard against its pull,
clawing for eons upwards,
so still
knowing the secrets of the earth.

The Other,
Giving itself so willingly,
obeying every turn, every direction
only passing by for a fleeting moment

And yet, The Other molds The One.
The action molds the thought,
the flow shows the fight

A poem I composed on that mountain top, not quite finished. Hope everyone is doing great back home!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Zanskar Valley Trek

We have finally come to Padum, our trekking destination also considered the center of Zanskar Valley. Our trek was filled hiking over spectacular mountains and getting to know the nearby village people of our campsites. The VIS group worked together to begin learning the local language, understand traditional customs and motivate one another in the long days of walking. Already the group has gotten a taste of harvesting from the villages. Our journey thus far has taken us over the high pass of Shingo La and to the remote impressive cliff-side monestary of Phuktal where we were showed around by friendly monks. We spent a night in the village of Kargyak, one of the highest inhabited settlements in the world. The next nine days en route to SECMOL will consist of spending nights in villages where we will visit holy sites and help with the fall harvest of barley, potatoes, lentils and peas!
VIS Leader, Holly Borday

The following was written by Conor Dinan on day four of the trek:

I don’t remember what day of the week it is. The concept seems otherworldly, so mundane. Is it Monday? Saturday maybe? Perhaps Thursday? It doesn’t matter. Those words are labels I don’t need where I am now. They’re labels for home, labels for a life so rhythmic as to be robotic. Monday—set your eyes on Friday/ Friday—live only for the promise of Saturday. Saturday—get Monday through Friday out of your system. Sunday—glumly get ready for Monday. What’s the point of these here?

As we trek through Zanskar, for me every day is filled with new things. Every day the world that unfolds before my eyes is so awesome that there is no need to live for any day but that one. So much discovery overwhelms my mind that there is barely any need for tomorrow, or the next day, or two weeks from now. Today is more than enough.

In part, I know I’m exploring a new world, and seeing things I’d never thought possible. That in itself is enough—if India were only amazing because I’d never seen it before, that would still be so staggering as to make the effort of the last two weeks a billion times worth it. Everything from booming, bustling Delhi to charming, laid-back Manali to here in these astonishing, incomparable, unimaginable mountains would stay with me forever, and exponentially widen my world view. But I think there’s something more. These mountains are so vast, so awe-inspiring, so manifestly greater than the contrivances of man that they awaken something American society seems to dull, deep in the soul. They call forth reverence, humility, quiet consideration of the world that exists beyond our sights. These mountains alert us to the spiritual in a way I’ve never known before.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

VIS Arrives In India!

We have finally arrived to Manali situated at 6,300 ft in the state of Himachal Pradesh. After a long 18 hour flight we spent the day exploring streets of Delhi and found ourselves in discussions about perspectives on povery and american stereotypes. The next day was followed by an overnight bus ride where we stopped throughout the night and the next morning at tea shops en route to Manali. The VISpas were awarded with the much cooler foothills of the breathtaking Himalayas where thick forests are filled with giant pinetrees dispersed among mango and pomegranite trees. Today, we ventured off in search of waterfalls and found a Hindu temple where we were all welcomed to enter and received painted red bindis on our foreheads as a blessing. We have spent two nights in a guesthouse perched upon a hill that overlooks lush apple orchards, fields of flowers and the town of Old Manali. The VISpas have been spending the afternoons getting to know the local people working here in Manali by playing drums with the Nepalis and shopping for last minute trekking things from the local shops. We are now all ready to begin the trek tomorrow from Darcha that will take 12-14 days and then spend a few days in homestays helping with the harvest. Namaste and Jullay from all of us!