Me and Tonda - by: Jan Werner

Writing about Kurghiak and the Sun school project and several months after having returned to one's normal life turns out to be harder that expected. Not just because the memories gradually expire. Not even because there's little time to sit down and write as one gets sucked back into the (post-)modern way of life. The real challenge is to turn the Himalayan experience into written word: it would seem a few mountains have quite some power and as soon as you cross one of the passes (in our case it was Penzi-la), the climate, language, culture, religion and (almost) everything else changes. Zanskar is simply different.

Were it not for the growing pain of the knee, which I stretched while jumping over one of the icy streams on the third day of walking, I would have gladly walked for a few more days. The mountains and the weather would have definitely favored it. Instead, I was happy when the siluet of Kurghiak finally appeared in front of us - with its houses crowd together next to the river and our destination, the shiny school high above the village (.. as it turned out, the shiny bit is actually the corrugate roof of the government annex). We reached the school short before noon. The lessons were going on, so we only exchanged quick introductions with the teachers, who were quite surprised by our arrival - only the headmaster knew we were coming and he went to Padum to deal with some paperwork. We must have missed him on the way. As soon as the teaching was over, the teachers offered us a stay in the vacant room of the teachers quarters, shared their lunch and we had the chance to get a little acquainted: Sonam, the Urdu teacher and a very friendly guy, and Dawa, the Tibetan teacher / Buddhist monk with a weak spot for nature, cooking and the Sun school project, became our closest fellows during the whole stay. After a few days we were also joined by Chogyal, the headmaster returning from Padum, who turned out to be as passionate about teaching maths as he was about archery (to impress girls at next year's competition, as he liked to joke) and listening to the latest radio news.
siluetcorrugateshortdaysWe spent two weeks in Kurghiak and the Sun school. I filled them with research - observing the workings of the school and interviewing the locals who have so far participated in the whole project. Tonda had an art course ready for the children and spent the rest of the time running around the adjacent hills. Moreover, we got lots of chances of getting acquainted with the locals: the news of arrival of two new volunteers spread quickly in the less-than-200 people village - especially when catalyzed by 15 gossiping "Sun school" kids. Teas, dinners, chang drinking sessions ensued. Even walks around the village, including a whole Sunday out with a very enthusiastic Dawa, with whom we walked up to and through the snowy mountain-saddle over Kurghiak: an unexpectedly tough enterprise and - as it turned out - a first time for Dawa climbing the saddle as well. 
arrivalIn short, the two weeks came to an end very quickly (to say the least) and it certainly wasn't easy to leave Kurghiak. What made it somewhat simpler was that the villagers left with us: the Dalai Lama was giving lectures in Padum and nearly everybody, even the children, wanted to attend. The rest of the valley (including ) became deserted. Meanwhile, we proceeded in the other direction - through the very beautiful, uninhabited end of the valley and the Shingu-la pass, leaving the different and unique Zanskar behind.

more pictures you can find HERE 

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