The Highest Eco-School in the World


One of the most inspirational discoveries of this trip was finding Secmol campus, an eco-school in every sense. The getting there was a 20km cycle down the truck-heaving ‘highway’ past the army barracks that litter the outskirts of Leh. The dusty ride continued past the airport where rumbling airbuses hovered above my head and the serene Spituk monastery clung desparetely to a rocky outcrop.  Following the mighty green-grey Indus river I arrived in Phey village, where the school is located on cut platform alongside the Indus.

The story of Secmol is an interesting one (www.secmol.org) started by Sonam Angchuk, a passionate social ecologist who wanted to provide young Ladakhi’s with the opportunity to have a balanced and appropriate education, where what they learned, was built on the very foundation of their widely researched, sustainable society. Without being  romantic about the past, Angchuk and his wife Rebecca have welcomed critical thinking in their approach and embraced sustainable and appropriate developments in their teaching. However, probably the most remarkable point about Secmol is that it is sustainable because it never happened overnight. It never had thousands of dollars of funding thrown at it. It was, as in any of our exceptional eco-schools in South Africa, built over years of dedication and passion and as such has developed into the closest, truly sustainable school that I have ever seen.  Below follows my encournter however to read more about the campus see www.secmol.org

Approaching Phey village, there is always something so very soothing and beautiful about Ladakhi villages

Approaching Phey village, there is always something so very soothing and beautiful about Ladakhi villages.

Secmol campus is situated at an altitude of around 3400m. It was built using locally available materials using the best of traditional Ladakhi architecture and enhancing it with accessible and affordable technologies wherever possible.

Secmol campus is situated at an altitude of around 3400m. It was built using locally available materials using the best of traditional Ladakhi architecture and enhancing it with accessible and affordable technologies wherever possible.

I was delighted that Angchuk, the founder was there when I visited as very often he is away giving lectures on sustainability. Here he is with Patricia Glynn's book 'What Dawid Knew'. I gave it to him as the Ladakhi culture has so many similarities to the bushman, the only difference is that they have fortunately not been completely lost forever.

I was delighted that Angchuk, the founder was there when I visited as very often he is away giving lectures on sustainability. Here he is with Patricia Glynn’s book ‘What Dawid Knew’. I knew he would appreciate it as the Ladakhi culture has so many similarities to the bushman, the only difference is that theirs is fortunately still very much alive (although changing fast!).

Soon after arriving I was taken on a 'tour' by one of their capable students Diskit. What is noteworthy is that all students are instrumental in the actual daily running of the school. Some are in charge of the gardens, while others the cleaning, cooking, checking the solar energy systems etc. They are involved in every sense.

Soon after arriving I was taken on a ‘tour’ by one of their capable students Chuskit. What is noteworthy is that all students are instrumental in the actual daily running of the school. Some are in charge of the gardens, while others the cleaning, cooking, checking the solar energy systems etc. They are involved in every sense.

The school grows as much of their food as possible. Angchuk says they are still far too dependent on 'imported' foods like rice which comes from the plains of India and was never part of the Ladakhi diet until recently. He says their challenge is to wean themselves off rice and he hopes to grow more potatoes and revert back to more traditional foods like barley. Of course only organic/permaculture principles are applied in these gardens.

The school grows as much of their food as possible. Angchuk says they are still far too dependent on ‘imported’ foods like rice which comes from the plains of India and was never part of the Ladakhi diet until recently. He says their challenge is to wean themselves off rice and he hopes to grow more potatoes and revert back to more traditional foods like barley. Of course only organic/permaculture principles are applied in these gardens.

Rice is stored sensibly in re-used metal drums and is kept cool and dry in this mud built store room.

Rice is stored sensibly in re-used metal drums and is kept cool and dry in this mud & stone-built store room.

Food is cooked almost entirely on these incredible outer focus solar cookers that concentrate the light through a hole in the wall so there is no need to cook outside.

Food is cooked almost entirely on these incredible outer focus solar cookers that concentrate the light through a hole in the wall so there is no need to cook outside.

Here you can see how the light is directed into the kitchen. Its really powerful, the wooden door had the tell-tale of being burned if left un-attended for too long!

Here you can see how the light is directed into the kitchen. Its really powerful, the wooden door had the tell-tale signs of being burned if left unattended for too long!

Proof! A pressure cooker inside the kitchen using solar power.

Proof! A pressure cooker inside the kitchen using solar power.

During summer all foods are gathered dried and stored. Here gorgeous tomatoes are sun-dried for the winter. The learners also have a well known apricot jam 'business' the proceeds of which they use to fund their annual school excursion.

During summer all foods are gathered dried and stored. Here gorgeous tomatoes are sun-dried for the winter. The learners also have a well known apricot jam ‘business’ the proceeds of which they use to fund their annual school excursion.

Another food drier.

Another food drier.

Diskit shows me the adobe bricks they have been making for further extensions. All buildings are made from these bricks, stone and locally grown poplar wood (introduced to Ladakh centuries ago for building purposes but not invasive!)

Chuskit shows me the adobe bricks they have been making for further extensions. All buildings are made from these bricks, stone and locally grown poplar wood (introduced to Ladakh centuries ago for building purposes but are not invasive!).

Thick walls, painted in lime and black paint to enhance heat absorbtion during the bitterly cold winters. In summer you can imagine how lovely and cool it is inside. Also notice the 'greehhouse' roll down plastic, which is newer technology used during winter to trap hear and insulate.

Thick walls, painted in lime and black paint to enhance heat absorbtion during the bitterly cold winters. In summer you can imagine how lovely and cool it is inside. Also notice the ‘greehhouse’ roll down plastic, which is a ‘newer’ technology used during winter to trap hear and insulate.

The main classroom and gorgeous light and airy spaces. The same heating trapping principles are used as above. Also aspect is very much part of the design i.e. south facing.

The main classroom and gorgeous light and airy spaces. The same heating trapping principles are used as above. Also aspect is very much part of the design i.e. south facing.

Walls are insulated with any suitable material such as hay and otherwise 'waste' materials such as paper,  plastics.

Walls are insulated with any suitable material such as hay and otherwise ‘waste’ materials such as paper, plastics.

For demonstration purposes they have ensured that samples of the different types of insulation are visible. One of the projects I saw on display was learners investigating which material was the most effective for insulation.

For demonstration purposes they have ensured that samples of the different types of insulation are visible. One of the projects I saw on display was learners investigating which material was the most effective for insulation.

Classrooms are airy and light, no desks, everyone sits on the floor and writes on their laps.

An English conversational class with the volunteers. Classrooms are airy and light, no desks, everyone sits on the floor and writes on their laps.

This is the powerhouse of the campus. Everything is run of solar, even the computers. There are 2 sets of these cells, however 1 is enough to generate all campus needs during the summer. Impressive!

This is the powerhouse of the campus. Everything is run of solar, even the computers. There are 2 sets of these cells, however 1 is enough to generate all campus needs during the summer. Impressive!

Water is collected from an underground stream that feeds the Indus river and solar heated. Again you have see the black paint around the wash basins will be effective in the winter once the plastic 'greenhouse' sheets are pulled down. Grey water is channeled into the veg gardens.

Water is collected from an underground stream that feeds the Indus river and solar heated. Again there is the black finish around the wash basins  which will be effective in the winter once the plastic ‘greenhouse’ sheets are pulled down. Grey water is channeled into the veg gardens.

The compost toilet, a remarkable simple, water-less and odorless system. I cannot understand why that in a water scarce country such as SA, these systems aren't promoted especially in our dry west.

Some newly built compost toilets. A remarkable simple, water-less and odorless system. I cannot understand why that in a water scarce country such as SA, these systems aren’t promoted.

Hole in the floor  into a 2m dry chamber to which soil is added. At the end of every autumn the night soil has completely broken down and is used in the vegetable garden.

Hole in the floor into a 2m dry chamber to which soil is added. At the end of every autumn the night soil has completely broken down and is used in the vegetable garden.

The effort for the foreigner not wishing to squat is appreciated here! (photo courtesy: Kai Kuhnhen)

The effort for the foreigner not wishing to squat is appreciated here! (photo courtesy: Kai Kuhnhen)

A biodigester is currently being built. Note once again the orientation to the sun and the attention given to insulating with the painted black. The main source of feed to the digester will be the manure from the school's cows.

A biodigester is currently being built. Note once again the orientation to the sun and the attention given to heat absorption with the use of black paint. The main source of feed to the digester will be the manure from the school’s cows. The biodigester has also been conveniently build onto the one side of the cowshed, making access to manure easy.

The slurry tank has a reflective over, not unlike that of a sunstove, again helping to ensure the slurry is kept warm. This will be a huge challenge in winter. Look forward to hearing more about this project.

The slurry tank has a reflective cover, not unlike that of a sunstove, again helping to ensure the slurry is kept warm. This will be a huge challenge in winter. Look forward to hearing more about this project.

I have never seen such extensive waste separation. Wherever possible everything is re-used as there is no recycling facility in Leh.

I have never seen such extensive waste separation. Wherever possible everything is re-used as there is no recycling facility in Leh.

I introduced 'Mountains & Catchments' picture building game to the students. Although the Drakensberg and Himalayas are completely different mountain ranges we were all taken by how many similarities we shared especially when it came to environmental issues. From a biodiversity perspective it was uniting to know that we both shared some of the worlds cranes.

I introduced ‘Mountains & Catchments’ picture building game to the students. Although the Drakensberg and Himalayas are completely different mountain ranges we were all taken by how many similarities we shared especially when it came to environmental issues. From a biodiversity perspective it was uniting to know that we both share some of the world’s 8 rare and endangered cranes.

Playing teacher.

Playing teacher.

Sonam Dorjay (incidently one of the Ladakh full marathon runners) and friend build up the mountain 'picture' of the berg and were fascinated to learn about this mountain range that they had never heard about.

Sonam Dorjay (incidently one of the Ladakh full marathon runners) and friend build up the mountain ‘picture’ of the berg and were fascinated to learn about this mountain range that they had never heard about.

I then took the class down to one of the streams that feed the Indus river, to demonstrate the widely used in SA, MiniSASS (stream assessment scoring system) tool, which looks for different macro-invertebrates that will give an indication of water quality.

I then took the class down to one of the streams that feed the Indus river, to demonstrate the widely used in SA, MiniSASS (stream assessment scoring system) tool, which looks for different macro-invertebrates that will give an indication of water quality.

The stream we assessed was found to be in moderately good condition.

The stream we assessed was found to be in moderately good condition.

It was incredible to see the enthusiasm for this activity and what so interesting to see was that the very same macro-invertebrates are found in SA, showing the universality of this citizens science tool.

It was incredible to see the enthusiasm for this activity and what so interesting to see was that the very same macro-invertebrates are found in SA, showing the universality of this citizens science tool.

Angchuk was particularly enthralled with the investigation, i was delighted that the activity which I thought would be over in 2omin was received with such enthusiasm that we spent over 1h30 searching for and identifying animals.

Angchuk was particularly enthralled with the investigation. The activity which I thought would be over in 2omin was received with such enthusiasm that we spent over 1h30 searching for and identifying animals.

Couldn't help myself and share more EnviroKids.

Couldn’t help myself and share more EnviroKids.

Pretty Secmol girls.

Pretty Secmol girls.

After school volleyball. Hard to believe this court doubles up as an ice-hockey rink in winter when the 'field' is flooded with water and then freezes.

After school volleyball. Hard to believe this court doubles up as an ice-hockey rink in winter when the ‘field’ is flooded with water and then freezes.

The verdict: Secmol is an inspirational example of what a school should and can be – an centre of inspiration to young people who are bombarded with all the attractions of a gloabalised world. These students were reminded about their amazing heritage and are made to feel proud of the simplicity of sustainability no matter how attractive moving to Dehli/Mumbai might seem at first. I was encouraged that most of those I spoke to were not at all enchanted by the India they saw south of the Himalayas and their connection to their place, Ladakh was stronger than I have seen in any of the youth I have encountered in other cultures. Secmol is, in my books, an Eco-School even if unofficially. As India has recently joined this international programme (www.eco-schools.org) operating in 56 countries, I have no doubt Secmol and others will continue to inspire and encourage more schools to move in the same direction.

 

Posted in 2013 Indian Himalayan Cycle Trip, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

They Ran, We Cycled


The day we decided to tackle our final challenge of cycling up the highest motorable road in the world, the Khardung-la pass (5600m) was also well-timed for the 2nd Ladakh Marathon. This year over 2200 runners took part in one of the 4 events: the full 42km marathon, 21km half marathon; the 10km fun run and the ultimate event of all, the 72km Khardung-la challenge.

The marathon itself  is certainly the world’s highest and arguably the toughest at an altitude of 3524m, while the Khardung-la Challenge can no doubt be the toughest high altitude race ever. An elite endurance race for anyone wishing to push their limits at oxygen deprived altitudes in beautiful landscapes, its not surprising that it only attracts a handful of runners (for the moment!), around 30.

The Challenge begins at a deathly 3am from Khardung village on the Nubra Valley side of the pass (4267m) and climbs, although steadily over 32km to the top of the Khardung-la pass at 5600m.  We met the runners as they came staggering down the 40km descent to 3600m in Leh and were bowled over by their determination, inexperience and friendliness.

No more need be said - Khardung-la Pass at an arguable 5600m.

No more need be said – Khardung-la Pass at an arguable 5600m.

On the way out of Leh, passing picturesque Ganglas village.

On the way out of Leh, passing picturesque Ganglas village.

Within the first 20km of riding up we met the first runners coming down, this was now at around 9:30am, these guys still had 20km to go. Here comes Stanzin Dorje, 3rd from the front.

Within the first 20km of riding up we met the first runners coming down, this was now at around 9:30am, these guys still had 20km to go. Here comes Stanzin Dorje, 3rd from the front.

As they came past one by one we shouted whoops of encouragement and offered them refreshments, no water tables on this run, at least we never saw any.

As they came past one by one we shouted whoops of encouragement and offered them refreshments, no water tables on this run, at least we never saw any.

I was completely bowled over to literally ride into Sonam Dorjay an 18 year old I met at Secmol School where I taught for a few days. The seeming unpreparedness didn't stop anyone from trying. There was something about these guys that reminded me of the Tarumara runnig Mexicans, from the famous book 'Born to Run'.

I was completely bowled over to literally ride into Sonam Dorjay an 18 year old I met at Secmol School where I taught for a few days. The seeming unpreparedness didn’t stop anyone from trying. There was something about these guys that reminded me of the Tarahumara running Mexicans, from the famous book ‘Born to Run’.

Ladakhi's are trying to keep ahead of the ridiculous bottled water game. What could be purer than pure glacial melt water?

Ladakhi’s are trying to keep ahead of the ridiculous bottled water game. What could be purer than pure glacial melt?

Views of the Zanskar range on this perfectly cloudless day just had us all dazzled in awe and made the 4hrs of uphill more bearable.

Views of the Zanskar range on this perfectly cloudless day just had us all dazzled in awe and made the 4hrs of uphill more bearable.

Ever cheerful and friendly, I just loved the uncontrived, matter of fact , joyful (although painful) approach to the challenge!

Ever cheerful and friendly, I just loved the uncontrived, matter of fact , joyful (although painful) approach to the challenge!

I always felt compelled to offer them my water bottle, poor guys were only to happy to have a good glug.

I always felt compelled to offer the runners my water bottle, poor guys were only to0 happy to have a good glug.

Exhausted and defeated. Winner of the 2012 race, Padam Limbu, from Assam had fallen during the dark on the way up and injured his knee. He was determined to finish none the less.

Exhausted and defeated. Winner of the 2012 race, Padam Limbu, from Assam had fallen during the dark on the way up and injured his knee. He was determined to finish none the less.

Padam who works as a mountain guide in Leh, won the inaugeral challenge last year in 8hrs 15m.

Padam who works as a mountain guide in Leh, won the inaugeral challenge last year in 8hrs 15m.

Gornam a good friend of ours who runs the fantastic  Jeevan Cafe in Leh, has run both Challenges and finished them too. Go Gornam!

Gornam a good friend of ours who runs the fantastic Jeevan Cafe in Leh, has run both Challenges and finished them too. Go Gornam!

Looking back down from where we had come and they had run. The final 10km are without doubt the hardest.

Looking back down from where we had come and they had run. The final 10km are without doubt the hardest.

One last runner, still looking strong....

One last runner, still looking strong….

Cat and I take 5 for a quick photo.

Cat and I take 5 for a quick photo.

Our winners getting the best of both. The climb took me 4hr 19min and the rewards are sweet, views of the Nubra Valley and the Karakorum range and Indus valley and the Zanskar range. Worth the schlep, I’d say.

So who won the real challenge? The first 3 places were not surprisingly taken by 3 locals, all from the Ladakh Scouts: 1st Rigzin Nurboo (6hrs55 more than 1hr faster than last year); Tsering Gyatso (6hrs 59) and 3rd Stanzin Wangail (8hrs 52). What is also noteworthy is that all three guys are under 25 years. There was only one foreigner who entered and dropped out early in the race.

For those interested in the marathon results the men’s winner, Shabir Hussain came in 3hrs 25 and the winning woman Tsetsan Dolker 4hrs54. Two German women took a tie 3rd place in the marathon and were the first foreigners in.  Race organiser Tsewang Motup said “the ultra marathon is known to few people but I hope in the coming years this marathon will become famous worldwide. As Ladakh is such a unique destination we hope this event will boost tourism too.” Besides this, he pointed out the importance that this event has in creating a sense of community and will become an annual event that is part of the Ladakh Festival. See www.ladakhmarathon.com 

Posted in 2013 Indian Himalayan Cycle Trip, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Residential Rumi: A Himalayan Dogumentary Part II


“Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love.” Poet Rumi

It has to be said that one of main motivations for wanting to return once more to Ladakh is summed up beautifully by poet Rumi’s quote above. Last year our trip was enhanced by one special and unexpected member – Rumi-dog. We met him a few days from Leh near Tso Kar and he ran with us all the way over 5300m passes, through snow storms, and even when we dispairingly thought we’d lost him he would turn up at camp.  He was partially named after Rumtse village but like the poet, Rumi-dog, taught and reminded us all of,the beauty of  ‘when you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.’ And it is with these very strong feelings I just knew I had to see our Rumi boy again. To see this story click here ‘Roaming Rumi – A Himalayan Dogumentary’ 

Rumi dog almost at the top of the Taglang-la pass (5300m) snacks on an egg. He

Our Himalayan hound Rumi dog who followed us for 200km to Leh in 2012. Here he is almost at the top of the Taglang-la pass (5300m) having an egg & chapati snack break. 

What a pleasure to find Rumi where we left him, with our Ladakhi family at Nurboo Guesthouse... utterly adored by his Ladakhi dad Angchuk.

What a pleasure to find Rumi where we left him, with our Ladakhi family at Nurboo Guesthouse… utterly adored by his dad (aba) Angchuk.

There was no doubt that Rumi remembered us, an excited whine, wagging tail and a recognition of my voice 'Rumi-boy!'.

There was no doubt that Rumi remembered us, an excited whine, wagging tail and a recognition of my voice ‘Rumi-boy!’.

Rumi's home in upper Changspa, Leh.

Rumi’s home in upper Changspa, Leh.

Rumi is literally the king of the castle and certainly the luckiest lad in Ladakh!

Rumi is literally the king of the castle and certainly the luckiest lad in Ladakh!

View from Rumi's castle in residential Leh.

View from Rumi’s castle in residential Leh.

Top dog

Top dog

Rumi looks on while Ama Laskit cooks delicious momos, dal and palak paneer.

Rumi looks on while Ama Laskit cooks delicious momos, dal and palak paneer.

There was no doubt that Rumi remembered us, an excited whine, wagging tail and a recognition of my voice 'Rumi-boy!'. (He does have the most impressive rasta tail)

(He does have the most impressive rasta tail).

He remembered our walks and excursions and was eager to join us where ever we went.

He remembered our walks and excursions and was eager to join us where ever we went.

Visiting the donkey sanctuary, set up by South African, Joanne Lefson. Incidentallyalso the mother of the famous world travelling dog,  dear Oscar.

Visiting the donkey sanctuary, set up by South African, Joanne Lefson. Incidentally also the mother of the famous world travelling dog, dear Oscar.

We also checked up on RupeeO, Joanne's new companion who was literally at death's door until he found her. He was staying at the sanctuary until Joanne could get all his papers in order and whisk him away on a memorial trek for Oscar to Everest Base camp. Another lucky little lad.

We also checked up on RupeeO, Joanne’s new companion who was literally at death’s door until he found her. He was staying at the sanctuary until Joanne could get all his papers in order and whisk him away on a memorial trek for Oscar to Everest Base camp. Another lucky little lad. See www.worldwooftour.com

Meeting old and new friends. I literally bumped into Avi one dark evening on the streets of Leh. We studied together in Sweden 10 years ago and were delighted to reconnect. Avi is an ardent animal rights advocate, I so admire his principled dedication to cause. He followed Rumi's story last year so couldn't miss the chance to meet the 'famous' mutt.

Meeting old and new friends. I literally bumped into Avi one dark evening on the streets of Leh. We studied together in Sweden 10 years ago and were delighted to reconnect. Avi is an ardent animal rights advocate, I so admire his principled dedication to cause. He followed Rumi’s story last year so couldn’t miss the chance to meet the ‘famous’ mutt.

One of Rumi's neighborhood friends who would come to visit the house

One of Rumi’s neighborhood friends who would come to visit the house.

Family photo: Rumi with Dawa, Aba Angchuk, Ama Laskit, Nurboo and dogfather Carlos.

Family photo: Rumi with Dawa, Aba Angchuk, Ama Laskit, Nurboo and dogfather Carlos.

Niels holds onto Rumi who  desperately wanted to join us on our Chamsar kangri climb. He certainly is a residential boy these days and loved to the max.

Niels holds onto Rumi who desperately wanted to join us on our Chamsar kangri climb.  He certainly is a residential boy, not so much roaming anymore days but dearly loved.

Not forgetting all the other hundreds and thousands of homeless dogs,

“There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled.
There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled.
You feel it, don’t you?”  Rumi

Prior to cycling I met Jojo in Amhdebad while at a 3 day Eco-Schools India meeting. He captured my heart and never left my side for 3 days. I abandoned him, but will never forget his generous and unconditional giving spirit.

Prior to cycling I met Jojo in Amhdebad while at a 3 day Eco-Schools India meeting. He captured my heart and never left my side for 3 days. I abandoned him, but will never forget his generous and unconditional giving spirit.  I try to remember what Rumi taught me: ‘ The wound is the place where Light enters you”.

 

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and the pedaling continued: Sarchu – Leh


And so we pedaled on... more passes, road sign entertainment and enchanting views.

And so we pedaled on… more passes, road sign entertainment and enchanting views.

Ubiquitous yaks hanging out in surreal landscapes

Ubiquitous yaks hanging out in surreal landscapes.

Tip and topple, we saw this brand new digger being transported by truck the day before. As we climbed the 32 km up the Nakee-la pass we had literally and luckily missed the delivery!

Tip and topple, we saw this brand new digger being transported by truck the day before. As we climbed the 32 km up the Nakee-la pass we had literally and luckily missed the delivery!

False summit: Graham and his final metres of the Nakee-la pass (4950m) only to descend 200m and climb another 7km to top of the real pass Lachalung -la (5130m)

False summit: Graham and his final metres of the Nakee-la pass (4950m) only to descend 200m and climb another 7km to top of the real pass Lachalung -la (5130m)

Always fabulous views

Always fabulous views

Richard and Carlos at 5160m (Lachalung-la)

Richard and Carlos at 5160m (Lachalung-la)

Descending to Pang

Descending to Pang

More handsome fellows

More handsome fellows

Moray plains and Tsokar

Moray plains and Tsokar

Camping at TsoKar with the marmots, black necked cranes and a kaleidoscope of colours.

Camping at TsoKar with the marmots, black necked cranes and a kaleidoscope of colours.

A stupa and prayer flags mark this auspicious and protected Ramsar wetland site.

A stupa and prayer flags mark this auspicious and protected Ramsar wetland site.

TsoKar Abi-le shows us how to weave a yak wool carpet.

TsoKar Abi-le shows us how to weave a yak wool carpet.

Highest Eco-schools flag in the world (at that time)on the Taglang-la pass (5300m).

Highest Eco-schools flag in the world (at that time)on the Taglang-la pass (5300m).

Down to Rumtse village for our final night of camping before reaching Leh.

Down to Rumtse village for our final night of camping before reaching Leh.

Carlos finds a rasta doggie in the 'campgrounds' with dreadlocks weighing a few kgs,  Its decided that after our adopted dog had devoured our leftovers from lunch that some 'trimming' was in order. See the mighty dreads on the right.

Carlos finds a rasta doggie in the ‘campgrounds’ with dreadlocks weighing a few kgs, Its decided that after our friend had devoured our leftovers from lunch that some ‘trimming’ was in order. See the mighty dreads on the right.

What a cute guy and he seemed to really appreciate his more tidy himalayan hound look! Wish I could have taken him with us. Luckily he didn't follow us as did Rumi-dog last year

What a cute guy and he seemed to really appreciate his more tidy himalayan hound look! Wish I could have taken him with us. Luckily he didn’t follow us as did Rumi-dog last year.

Just love these villages!

Just love these villages!

IMG_0251 (Medium)

Sheepies going out to graze at Gya village.

Goaties going out to graze at Gya village.

We've arrived 600km later in Leh: Raju, Richard, Colleen, Paul, Graham, Carlos, Bridget, Sandra and Cliff

We’ve arrived 600km later in Leh: Raju, Richard, Colleen, Paul, Graham, Carlos, Bridget, Sandra and Cliff

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Himalayan Cycling Food


Food is what keeps everyone pedaling and for good reason. Here Richard and Colleen arrive at campsite at the end of a long day. A an afternoon snack of freshly cooked chilli bites and tea wait them, soon to be followed by a dinner that is impossible to beat at this alitude

Food is one of the reasons that keeps everyone pedaling, and for good reason.  Here Richard and Colleen arrive at campsite at the end of a long day. An afternoon snack of freshly cooked chilli bites and tea await them, soon to be followed by a dinner that is impossible to beat at this altitude or any other for that matter.

For all of the 8 nights of camping our fantastic cook Sundar managed to whip up no less than seven dishes every night. Not once was any of them repeated. My favourite was the Indian; Matter paneer, makni dal; paneer tikka masala as seen above

For all 8 nights of camping, our fantastic cook Sundar managed to whip up no less than seven dishes every night. Not once was any of them repeated. My favourite was the Indian; Matter paneer, makni dal; paneer tikka masala as seen above

Spoiled for choice, I could never decide what it was I wanted on my plate. Here I have taken a brinjal curry, palak paneer (spinach and cheese), matter paneer (pea & cheese) and aloo jeera (cumin potatoes) with chapatis and rice. Still another 3 choices to go, inevitably I would eat all seven!

Spoiled for choice. I could never decide what it was I wanted on my plate. Here I have taken a brinjal curry, palak paneer (spinach and cheese), matter paneer (pea & cheese) and aloo jeera (cumin potatoes) with chapatis and rice. Still another 3 choices to go, inevitably I would eat all seven!

Amazingly all meals are freshly prepared daily. There are no fridges and no quick stop supermarkets to quickly nip into. All our fresh veg were stored in crates and lasted the 9 days.

Amazingly all meals are freshly prepared daily. There are no fridges and no quick stop supermarkets to quickly nip into. All our fresh veg were stored in crates and lasted the 9 days.

One night it was Italian: lasagne, pesto pasta, pasta  napoli, fresh salad, olives and pizza, no ovens to be seen all at 4000m on a kerosene  stove!

One night it was Italian: lasagne, pesto pasta, pasta napoli, fresh salad, olives and pizza, no ovens to be seen, all  prepared at 4000m on a kerosene stove.

Cakes were baked at 4600m, again with no ovens and rose to the occasion

Cakes rose to the occasion and were baked at 4600m, again no oven!

What will it be tonight: Pizza, stir fried mushrooms, cauliflower cheese, stuffed peppers, pasta, sweet potato and hot chips!

What will it be tonight? Veg bake, stir fried mushrooms, cauliflower cheese, stuffed peppers, pasta, sweet potato and hot chips!

As close as we ever got to a supermarket, yet our super Sundar, was so well organised we never ran out of anything.

As close as we ever got to a supermarket, yet our super Sundar, was so well organised we never ran out of anything.

Then there was Race Food. Wedgewood, our famous nougat family run business in Howick kindly supplied us with heaps of Race Food for those moments when Sundar wasnt around to ply us with his amazing meals. Race Food did the trick - simple and delicious stuff www.wedgewood.co,za

Then there was Race Food. Wedgewood, our famous nougat family run business in Howick kindly supplied us with heaps of Race Food for those moments when Sundar wasn’t around to ply us with his amazing meals. Race Food did the trick – simple and delicious stuff http://www.wedgewood.co.za

hat's vege fried rice, vege burgers, vege fried rice, chinese pepper & brinjal, roast potatoes and sweet and sour vege. The meat-eaters all confessed that if they could eat like this every night being vegetarian wouldn't be a problem!

That’s vege fried rice, vege burgers, vege fried rice, chinese pepper & brinjal, roast potatoes and sweet and sour vege. The meat-eaters all confessed that if they could eat like this every night being vegetarian wouldn’t be a problem!

Richard tucking into a chocolate banana pie.

Richard tucking into a chocolate banana pie.

Our maestro of the camping kitchen, Sundar. He definitely should become the next cooking channel series: 'Cooking at no less than 3000m!' I often wish I could import him to SA to start some real Indian Kitchen cooking ..

Sundar, the ‘Jamie Oliver’ of  the Himalayas. Now, this would be a cooking channel series that would be hard to beat: ‘Cooking at no less than 3000m!’

Posted in 2013 Indian Himalayan Cycle Trip, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Remembering old friends of Chumigiarsa village


Every year we take a rest day in Sarchu and since 2011 have taken the hour and half long walk to the remote  village of Chumigiarsa. I love returning as I have got to know some of the wonderful people who live in this very isolated village. I can only at marvel at their resilience and ability to survive in these really harsh conditions. This year I was particularly looking forward to seeing Padme who I have known for all of 3 years and Dom Dom, probably the oldest man in the village. I could tell from a distance that this was little Padme and her mom in the fields.

Every year we take a rest day in Sarchu and since 2011 have taken the hour and half long walk to the remote village of Chumigiarsa. I love returning as I have got to know some of the wonderful people who live in this very extreme environment. I can only at marvel at their resilience and ability to survive in these really harsh conditions. This year I was particularly looking forward to seeing Padme who I have known for all, of her 3 years and Dom Dom, probably the oldest man in the village. I could tell from a distance that this was little Padme and her mom in the fields.

I always take photos from the year before and this time also a new dress for Padme.

I always bring photographs that I have taken from the year before and this time, also a new dress for Padme.

Dorjay and his Ama in 2012

Dorjay and his Ama in 2012

And Padme in her new dress.

And Padme in her new dress.

Dorjay and Padme's meme-le (grandad)

Dorjay and Padme’s meme-le (grandad)

Humbled with a cup of cardamom tea so generously offered with biscuits from Tenzin's spartan kitchen, we continued to the end of the village in search of Dom Dom .We followed the soothing irrigation channels in an otherwise harsh desert and took time to appreciate the purpose and place that everything had in  this village.

Humbled with a cup of cardamom tea so generously offered with biscuits from Tenzin’s spartan kitchen, we continued to the end of the village in search of Dom Dom .We followed the soothing irrigation channels in an otherwise harsh desert and took time to appreciate the purpose and place that everything has in this village.

Yak and cow dung collected and dried for the very long and freezing winters, minus 20 to 40 degrees are not uncommon.

Yak and cow dung collected and dried for the very long and freezing winters, minus 20 to 30 degrees are not uncommon.

Dom Dom would usually be in the fields too. I spotted some figures that could be his.

I spotted some figures (and a yak!). Dom Dom would usually be in the fields too….

Working together, everyone is involved in the barley harvest. I recognise Dom Dom's friend from last year.

Working together, everyone is involved in the barley harvest. I recognise Dom Dom’s friend from last year.

Dom Dom had gone, he had died about 1mth before. I was taken by surprise and saddened at the thought that he was no more. What had happened? I later found out he had been taken to hospital in Leh for some months and then returned to his village and a week later had died.  I felt relieved that he had at least been in his village and shuddered to think of how such a gentle and earth-bound man had handled the foreigness of being in a hospital so far of away of anything he knew. While I felt sad, his friends reminded me that in Buddhism death isn't as harsh a place at we make it seem. He had been reborn into another life most certainly.

Dom Dom and Mutup in 2012. Dom Dom had gone, he had died about 1mth before. I was taken by surprise and saddened at the thought that he was no more. What had happened? I later found out he had been taken to hospital in Leh for some months and then returned to Chumigiarsa and died a week later. I felt relieved that he had at least died in his home but shuddered to think of how such a gentle and earth-bound man had handled the foreigness of being in a hospital so far of away of anything he knew. While I felt sad, his friends reminded me that in Buddhism death isn’t as harsh a place at we make it seem. He had been reborn into another life most certainly.

Remembering  Dom  Dom Namgyal in 2011 - my favourite photo. Although we had very little conversation he was clearly a humerous and delightful soul!

Remembering Dom Dom Namgyal in 2011 – my favourite photo, with Caroline. Although we had very little conversation he was always a humourous and delightful soul!

Dom Dom's friend Tsering Mutup and his wife Tsering Diskit.

Dom Dom’s friend, Tsering Mutup and his wife Tsering Diskit.

A family photo for another return trip one day: Mutup, Diskit and son, Stanzin.

A family photo for another return trip one day: Mutup, Diskit and son, Stanzin.

My final visit was to find Tenzin and Renzin, two brothers who lived with their Ama in the truck stop of Sarcchu. Tenzin and his Ama Tsering Tsemo were fortunately there. Renzin was at school 1 day bus ride away in Manali. Poor little Tenzin was 'house bound' due to a recent op on his lame leg which had been reset in plaster. All I had for him were some EnviroKids magazines, which was at least some entertainment for a few hours. His face was shows shear delight. A humbling sight for all the spoiled and indulged.

My final visit was to find Tenzin (11) and Renzin (9), two brothers who lived with their Ama in the truck stop of Sarcchu. Tenzin  and his Ama, Tsering Tsemo were fortunately there. Renzin was at school 1 day bus ride away in Manali. And poor Tenzin was ‘house bound’ due to a recent op on his lame leg which had been reset in plaster. All I had for him were some EnviroKids magazines, which was at least some entertainment for a few hours. His face : shear delight. A humbling sight for all the spoiled and indulged of this world.

Tsering and Tenzin outside their truckstop cafe 'K2' in 2012.

Tsering and Tenzin outside their truckstop cafe ‘K2′ in 2012.

Goodbye sweet Padme, I hope to see you again ...

Goodbye sweet Padme, I hope to see you again …

For previous entries of this village and their ingenious sustainable practices as well as to see how Padme has grown see:

http://bridgetsbikeblog.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/meeting-old-and-new-friends-on-manali-leh-highway/

http://bridgetsbikeblog.wordpress.com/2011/12/19/himalayan-villages-chumikgiarsa-at-4000m/

Posted in 2013 Indian Himalayan Cycle Trip, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Manali-Leh Highway 2013: Rhotang Pass (4000m) to Baralacha-la (4980)


Quaint Old Manali and Doongri village, mark the start of once more of the legendary Manali-Leh highway.

Quaint Old Manali and Doongri village, mark the start of the legendary Manali-Leh highway. Although my 5th time along this 600km epic route it never ceases to leave me in awe and amazement.

Our friends and tour partner Ravi Thakur with his wife Rekha and little Reva, Aba-le and Abi-le at home.

Our friends and tour partner Ravi Thakur with his wife Rekha and little Reva, Aba-le and Abi-le at home.

Little Reva like all himalayan babies has been potty trained since birth and never wears a nappy! Hard to believe but i witnessed this little 8mth old show me her impressive training myself - Yay for Himalayan moms!

Little Reva like all himalayan babies has been’ potty’ trained since birth and never wears a nappy! Hard to believe, but I witnessed this little 8mth show her amazing ability to wee when prompted – Yay for Himalayan moms and their sustainable choice!

And then the cycling began up the 60km  Rhotang pass climb.... Richard and Colleen making good headway.

And then the cycling began up the 60km Rhotang pass climb…. Richard and Colleen making good headway.

We shared our first campsite with about 30 young lamas (young monks) who were paying tribute to one of their monks who had died recently on the pass.

We shared our first campsite with about 30 young lamas (young monks) who were paying tribute to one of their lamas who had died recently on this notoriously perilous pass.

Of course a few dog friends are obligatory on these trip. 'Marhi' camp dog gets a pat from Cliff and scrambled egg and toast from me.

Of course a few dog friends are obligatory on these trips. ‘Marhi’ camp dog gets a pat from Cliff and scrambled egg and toast from me.

The passing Tata truck. Hold you breathe and hang on, that's what I do and I think Colleen did the same.

The passing Tata truck. Hold you breathe and hang onto your bike. That’s what I do, and I think Colleen did the same.

Goaties on their way up as we hurtle down the 20km descent on the other side.

Goaties on their way up as we hurtle down the 20km descent on the other side.

Following the Chandra river to the Baralacha-la pass.

Following the Chandra river to the Baralacha-la pass.

At a rest stop en route we met cycle tourers Cat (US), Niels (Belgium) and Tim (UK) all on their own journeys. We teamed up for the rest of the way and enjoyed the company of these 3 intrepid explorers.

At a rest stop en route we met cycle tourers Cat (US), Niels (Belgium) and Tim (UK) all on their own journeys. We teamed up for the rest of the way and enjoyed the company of these 3 intrepid explorers.

Slowly we edged along the winding highway into the rain-shadow of the himalayas.

Slowly we edged along the winding highway into the rain-shadow of the himalayas.

Paul and Carlos marvel at the hanging glaciers which typify this section of the route.

Paul and Carlos marvel at the hanging glaciers which typify this section of the route.

One of my favourite campsites. Most of the summer flowers were over this year, however these pinks were still colouring the mountain slopes shades of mauve.

One of my favourite campsites. Most of the summer flowers were over, however these pinks were still colouring the mountain slopes shades of mauve.

The Baralacha-la pass is a 28km climb from Patseo and although now completely tarred comparing with the gravel i cycled up 5 years ago, still feels as hard.

The Baralacha-la pass is a 28km climb from Patseo and although now completely tarred, comparing with the gravel we cycled up 5 years ago,  it still feels really hard.

Baralacha-la (4980m)This year I decided to fly the Eco-Schools flag on every high pass I cycled over. It is also seemed auspicious as India had just become the 52nd country to join this International programme!

Baralacha-la (4980m). This year I decided to fly the Eco-Schools flag on every high pass I cycled over. It is also seemed auspicious as India had just become the 52nd country to join this International programme!

Beautiful Baralacha-la

Beautiful Baralacha-la

The rewards are sweet: when you go up you must come down. Sandra and my most favourite green, purple, red and orange moutains (coming down Baralacha-la)

The rewards are sweet: when you go up you must come down. Sandra and my most favourite green, purple, red and orange moutains (coming down Baralacha-la).

Bicylce blips on the landscape

Bicycle blips on the landscape

More rewards - superb campsites with beers included - Paul, Graham and Cliff soaking up more than just the landscape!

More rewards – superb campsites with beers included – Paul, Graham and Cliff soaking up more than just the landscape!

Sarchu plains at 4300m.

Sarchu plains at 4300m.

Posted in 2013 Indian Himalayan Cycle Trip | 3 Comments