Finally, mission accomplished!
At long last, the effort of many, many people has resulted in a successful ending. The beautiful school overlooks the village from its venerable position on the hill next to Gompa. In order to finish the construction, we had to put in extra effort and work long hours so we would like to apologise for delay in posting this report.
Now that the rest of Surya’s team are relaxing in the pleasant environment of Vashisht, a small village close to Manali, it is time to sum up our experiences. Only Marketa along with a new Czech teacher Martin and the Tibetan teacher Tenzin Jiga are staying in Kargyak, although Martin will only be staying until the middle of January. In November, Pyru and two new Tibetan teachers are scheduled to join them.
Let’s look at it chronologically. After the departure of the majority of the volunteers and Nepalise workers the situation was relatively sad. Even though the school was more or less finished, from the construction perspective, we still had plenty of things to do, including various painting, glazing, putting in doors, making tables and a sink, moving and general tidying up etc. Fortunately, the team grew again when the mother of Surya’s Chairman Sasa Tilinger and Aida came to visit and brought three laptops for the children as well. There were also two Czech girls, Hanka and Martina, who intended to stay just for three days but eventually enjoyed our hospitality for more than a week as a blizzard cut off their path home.
In addition to this, the new teacher Martin arrived. He was given a caulking gun instead of conventional textbooks and proved to be somewhat of a dab hand. Last but not least there were a couple of tourists and especially the oldest students who helped us a lot, which meant they generously gave up their two week holiday.
The opening ceremony was conducted several times. First, we were invited by the local women for the most amazing feast of local cuisine. Unfortunately the combination of sweet, bitter milk, milk tea, salty tea, chang, momos, campa and a spicy sauce played havoc with our digestive systems for the next 24 hours! A local minister participated in perhaps the biggest of the opening ceremonies, during which many people gave speeches, which were unfortunately in local language so we didn’t understand much, but it proved to be a huge celebration. The school was open on the first Monday after holidays all ready for lessons to begin and setup for Martin to try out his new role. The pupils liked the new building a lot and to our relief didn’t forget much over the holidays.
In order to maintain the school and ensure that it remains at its best, we oversaw the hiring of a new caretaker, Lobsang, who was more than willing to help in the final stages of the construction. He is very pleased with his new position and has ensured us that the school will be taken care of.
With everything done and dusted and the school bell ringing for lessons it was time for us to say our goodbyes. Unfortunately the mountains and Mother Nature were of different opinion and a snowstorm raged through Kargyak leaving 30cm of snow everywhere. Obviously the weather provided the ideal opportunity to test the thermal insulation qualities of the school, which were perfect. We planned to cross Shingo La pass (at the altitude of 5090m), but the 30cm of snow in Kargyak meant about 2m of fresh impassable snow there. So for a couple of days we were left at the mercy of the Himalayas. There were also a number of tourists who attempted to get through, but all were unsuccessful. Just to kill some time during the waiting we invented a new toast “to Shingo La crossing”.
Finally we set a date for departure. Both villagers and horsemen agreed that it wouldn’t be easy but was possible. Late one sunny morning a group of ten people and 11 horses said our goodbyes and departed for Shingo La pass. The villagers also prepared us a farewell picnic (including a carpet, milk tea and some local food) which was very kind of them. Having left at noon with a good weather above us there was an easy 6 hour trek to Lakong ahead of us. This bit went swimmingly, but no one was looking forward to the night, the thought of minus 10 degrees Celsius under canvas while being exposed to the elements and whatever the Himalayas could throw at us sent a shiver down our spines. As the sun slipped behind the mountains and night fell the horsemen prepared us dinner before we rolled into our sleeping bags.
The following day we got up at 4am. After breakfast and once the horsemen has recaptured their horses we were ready for a very difficult ascent on Shigo La. Honza said it would take us up to 6 hours just to get on top and he was right. It was a test of both physical strength and strength of mind, because with every single step you would slide or fall further into some 2 metres of snow. In addition to this the slope occasionally reaches 60 degrees, the extreme morning freeze turns into an extreme heat by lunch time and there is a severe lack of oxygen. These intense and testing conditions continued for the entire six hours. We made it despite many situations when we thought we would not get any further. However, both horsemen and horses did a great job and we all reached the summit by noon. Having rested at the summit for a while we had to set off again, but those who thought that the worst had gone before us, were mistaken. The descent was longer than expected and once we passed the snow line the horses gathered pace, however our weary souls, lacking energy were unable to keep up.
The horses were much faster than us so we agreed with horsemen that we would meet in Darcha. Unfortunately around 6pm it became obvious that we wouldn’t make it - we were just too exhausted, the night was approaching and we still had about 4 hours until we would reach Darcha. Our thoughts were concentrated on the fact that the horses were carrying all our equipment without which we could not stay overnight. We were hoping that the horsemen would notice we were far behind and camp in Zanskar Sundo, 2 hours trek from Darcha.
By the time we reached Zanskar Sundo it was already deep into night. Our group split up on the way so we weren’t even sure whether someone wasn’t missing. Right before Zanskar Sundo we had to descend a steep hill and find a bridge to cross an icy cold river from a melting glacier. However, the most beautiful moment was when we spotted a flashing headlight in the distance, signifying that they were waiting for us. You can’t possibly imagine our relief!
Only later did we find out that Sasa, Honza’s mother, had saved us. She was riding a horse and when she lost sight of us at dusk she ordered that everyone STOP! Viva “Mrs Safe”:)
The adventure was over; the next day we took 4x4s to Vashisht. This will be an adventure that we will never forget. In Vashisht we are now recovering in local hot springs and eating nutella and banana pancakes!
Lada, Hanka – Vashisht – Manali – HP – India
Translated by AP, JP