It’s only a four minute video, but we all watched it this week and were affected. The world and by extension the many many people in it is so much bigger than any of us consider on a daily basis. We’re too busy in this life we’re busy living. Even in our line of work, creating life changing travel opportunities the world over, we sometimes forget the (incoming cliche) bigger picture. With this in mind, I asked Jim to recount a short story of a far-flung travel moment that still resonates for him. Read on for the harrowing tale of getting to the Nubra Valley in northern India. -Elin
Donna and I were in India on a scouting trip for our Namaste program, meeting with in-country associates, community service partners and generally checking things out. We’d heard tell of the amazing splendor that is the Nubra Valley, but we’d also heard of the truly terrifying road we’d have to traverse to get there. The road, the Khardung La, holds the distinction of being the highest motorable pass in the world at a mere 18,380 feet. The road is so narrow that from dawn to 10am it is open for traffic in one direction and then from 1pm to 6pm for traffic in the opposite direction. (DISCLAIMER: Please do read on, but please also know that we don’t cross this pass on our Namaste program, it’s just too unpredictable!).
Despite our fears about the road conditions, we decided to press on for the Nubra Valley. Our destination was the town of Diskit, it’s monastery and the school we’d heard about. We strapped Donna into the car and her knuckles went white within minutes and stayed that way for the three hour crossing. But we made it and once we’d shaken off the drive, we stepped out of our car and saw what all the fuss was about. 26,000 foot peaks soared on either side, Bactrian camels (famous for their double-humps) milled about, and we were both very aware that we were seeing a place few had ever seen.
I had a bit of time to myself and opted to take a walk as I was still trying to calm my pulse from the drive. The town isn’t all that large and inevitably I found myself drawn to the monastery, the path to which was lined with the enchanting mani stones that are central to the Buddhist faith. Once there I quietly watched as the monks worked in teams of 30 to haul thick tree trunks from a truck to the building. The teamwork was amazing and no one seemed to mind me being there.
Off to the side I noticed two young children playing their version of hopscotch. Even though we didn’t share a common language, I was able to communicate my interest in their game and slowly they came to trust me and try to teach me the rules of the game. It was a magical afternoon, immersing myself in this new community. I was definitely an outsider and they recognized me as such, but no one seemed to mind too terribly much. As I set off for home, I offered the two young kids each a pencil because it happened to be what I had in my shoulder bag. They weren’t even new, but they were thrilled with them, giggling to each other as they scampered off.
Once back in the lodge, there came a commotion from outside. The proprietor got out his broom and started yelling in Ladakhi. Donna and I got up to see what all the fuss was about. There in the forecourt stood 40 young children, led by the two hopscotchers from earlier. They all wanted pencils! Donna and I were taken aback, but only for a second before we ran back to our room and upturned our suitcases in search of more pencils. “Why didn’t we bring more pencils?!,” Donna screamed, half laughing. We gave the kids all of our writing implements: pencils, pens, sharpies, jelly beans, everything! They nodded their appreciation as did we and they ran off, happy.
Perhaps the moral of this story is reading and writing are universal everywhere around the world we have traveled. The most significant commonality is every parent’s desire to give their child the best education they possibly can. Or perhaps the moral is that the ties that bind us as humans, even when we don’t share the same language or history or anything, are simple enough to forge if we are genuinely curious and search for that connection point. Everything you do will always leave mark.
We’ll close out this tale with a couple photos from this year’s past on our Namaste Service Learning program in India.