Sunday, October 17, 2010

Passing through Himalayan Villages

The group has just returned from a four day trek which encompassed passing the 4,900 meter Stok Kangri-la Pass where together, we tied Buddhist prayer flags at the top to signify the blessing of our friends and family across the world. Our pass through Rumbok, considered the snow leopard capital of the world, entailed sightings of rare blue sheep and golden eagles. All the while, the VISpas partook in homestays where they helped cook food with the ama-les and practiced their Ladakhi language skills. Throughout the trek, VISpas spent time on a reflection project where they applied Buddhist concepts learned in their Buddhism and Ecology class to come up with a personal solution to a present global environmental issue. The group is now back at SECMOL and ready to travel to the Aryan village of Da in Northern Ladakh. We will be attending a five day Aryan festival that happens in this particular region only once every nine years. Each VISpa will be in a homestay and given a topic to research through interviews and direct observations. All of the SECMOLpas shall be joining us for the first three days of the Brokpa festival where we will together join in the spiritual ceremonies, dances and feasts!
Jullay, VIS Leader Holly Borday

The following are two entries written by VISpas, Emily Goldthwait and Ellie Healy

Ellie Healy

Keep an open mind. To me, and most of the VISpas, this phrase has become the motto of this trip and we are all learning to live more by it. Our planned five day trek ended up being canceled and replaced by a five day homestay. But this too was pushed back a week because of the election and a three day trek was to take place before it. You can imagine our confusion and frustration in preparing for one event then having it be changed to another. But that's the thing about this trip, we are all soon to be, or already are, adults who are learning to adapt. That's life, learning to play with the hand of cards that we are dealt. I've found that most of this trip is an adventure. We're never exactly sure how things are going to play out, but it's exciting to see where we go and what we do.
We left for our three day trek on Wednesday, eager to get our bodies moving again (although some of us have been getting into the Ladakhi spirit of a good volleyball game). Arriving at our first homestay reminded me of Tacmachik. The building was ancient and beautiful. I sat on the roof during some free time and enjoyed the view.
A great slope rises before me. The last of the sun's rays hitting the top. I see the grander of these great mountains, the evening light excentuating the curves and sharp ridges. It catches my eye as the light makes the rocks and dirt pop a rusty orange. An almost half moon rises just enough over the great slope so I can see it's almost faded white against the clean, pale, blue sky. A bird flutters in inturrupting my thoughts. I don't mind. I'm happy he's dropped by. He poses long enough for me to draw his picture. The proud white, puffed up chest, shows to me the diversity of life here. With all of these striking features of landscape, I sometimes feel that it's so empty here. Lifeless. As my friend flies away, I hear the thud of a rock and look to my right and see Changchup (a SECMOL student who joined us on the trek) standing by a stupa (a Buddhist monument/statue). He smiles and waves, and I return the gestures. I realize that the life here is in the people. Although I haven't known him, or the rest of the SECMOLpas, for very long, they are some of the nicest and most genuine people that I have had the pleasure to meet.
It's Fall here, I can smell it. The once green poplar trees are well into changing into a rich orange and yellow. The valley our village resides, is now in the shade between the towering mountains. The wind blows and I have goosebumps but I see the mountain range to my left, towards SECMOL, and they seem to blaze briliantly in the setting sun. The rim of the roof I'm on is lined with hay and grass stacks. They've turned a white-yellow in the strong sun. The pieces break with a satisfying snap. Above them, the faded and fraying prayer flags flutter. A small river runs through the valley below me. I hear the water rush over rocks. It's almost deafening in the clam silence. A group of those birds caw at each other. Their striking white and black tuxs seem so foreign in the life of many shades here. The moon rises higher and shines more briliantly. Dinner is ready and we are all (especially our stomachs) greatful towards the Ama-le for the warm food we receive.
It's the small things that have such an impact on me here. The beauty of where we walk, the high of reaching the top of the pass and hanging up prayer flags, finally seeing the village after our last day of hard trekking, and sitting with the people I've come to love and having a cup of hot tea. Jullay.

Emily Goldthwait

We visited a Tibetan Children’s Village in Choglamsar last week. The village was a happy place with a huge boarding school, basketball courts, and beautiful dorm rooms and gardens. Everything there was amazing. The children were all adorable and they seemed so happy. We walked into one class of children who seemed to be no older than four or five, and another with six or seven year olds playing with a painting program on so many computers. I wasn’t expecting it to be such a happy place, or a place for such educational opportunity. I was expecting sad refugees, except we learned that people from all over the world donate enough money every year to keep it from being a sad place, and the donations give the children a childhood that was so comparable to mine. I plan to sponsor a child when I go home. I would love to volunteer there at some point in my life too, but there are certain visa rules that would probably not permit that. I plan on going back there to the children’s village someday, whether it be just for a day visit, or to volunteer there for a long commitment. There are so many stories waiting to be told at Choglamsar, whether it be in the children’s village, or the main bazaar, and I want to capture them.

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