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Exploring Ladakh with Siddhartha School Friends

Jullay! That is Ladakhi for hello, thank you and goodbye!

Ladakh, India has always been at the heart and soul of Global family Travels, and is one of the most magical destinations we visit. This past summer I had that pleasure to lead a reconnaissance trip to Ladakh for two Seattle middle school teachers, and my two children and husband were fortunate to join us too. The teachers' trip was the beginning of a reciprocal exchange between the Seattle-based School and the Siddhartha School, located in the peaceful Himalayan village of Stok.

The Siddhartha School Project (SSP) was founded in 1995 by Khen Rinpoche Lobzang Tsetan, a Ladakhi Buddhist monk and educator, in his remote home village of Stok, Ladakh. What started in a one-room shed is now an exemplary private school with over 400 students from nursery age through Grade 10 and the school is one-of-a-kind in its efforts to preserve and enhance the local culture. Khen Rinpoche travels the world carrying the message that “children are the seeds of the future. We must care for them by providing love and education so that they blossom into good human beings.”

Global Family Travels is honored to be supporting the good work of Khen Rinpoche and the Siddhartha School, and we are happy to share our top 10 experiences from our visit to Ladakh this summer, which are listed in order of how they occurred.

1. Cultural Learnings from Unexpected Festivals

Our philosophy at Global Family Travel’s is to let the host country be your guide, and while we do all we can to offer you everything that is on the schedule, we often encounter unexpected events that become some of our best travel memories. Each time we have traveled to Ladakh, we have encountered these unexpected celebratory occasions. On this particular trip, the community in our village had an all-day "block" party, consisting of an archery competition, drumming and dancing well into the night!

2. Ladakhi Homestay

A highlight of our visit to Ladakh was the homestay with a local family in Stok, where we spent precious time with our host family, helping with daily chores, tending animals, working the fields, and playing with the children and getting to know our family.

We enjoyed traditional Ladakhi meals with our family, which always was accompanied by the famous ‘butter tea‘, a salty tea made of yak butter.

3. Visiting the sites of Stok with Khen Rinpoche

One of our cherished memories from this trip was exploring the beautiful village of Stok with Khen Rinpoche, where he grew up and has extended family. We visited one of his relative’s homes called the Gyab-Thago Hertiage Home Stay, where the family has preserved 200 years old ornaments, kitchen utensils, dresses and other items, showcasing the artifacts in a small heritage museum.

We then proceeded to visit Stok Monastery (or Stok Gompa, ‘remote place’). Its library contains all 108 volumes of the Kangyur (‘translation of the word’), comprising about half of the Tibetan Buddhist Canon.

Next to the monastery is the newly-built beautiful 700 foot-high statue of seated Gautama Buddha which was consecrated by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama on August 8, 2016.

We ended our day at Stok Palace, built by King Tsespal Tondup Namgyal in 1825 AD and where the royal family now lives during the summer months. The palace houses a museum of royal artifacts which include royal crowns, precious heirlooms, copper coins, prayer instruments and materials, and also many very old 16th century Thangkas, which represent the life of Buddha.

4. Our Day at the Siddhartha School

We spent a lovely day visiting the Siddhartha School, a school that is very near and dear to Global Family Travels. We first enjoyed a welcoming ceremony and morning assembly with local entertainment by the students in Ladakhi attire, and Buddhist dialectic debates.

We then enjoyed a lovely lunch with the teachers of the Siddhartha School and learned about the curriculum that supports the education of 400 youth.

Later, the two Seattle school teachers had fun teaching SSP students their respective classes in Social Studies and English.

5. A Visit to Thiksey Monastery with a Special friend

We had the honor of visiting one of Ladakh's beautiful gems, Thiksey Gompa (monastery) with a personal tour by Geshe Tsewang Dorje, Director of SSP! This large gompa in Ladakh belongs to the Gelugpa school (the “yellow hat” sect) of Tibetan Buddhism.

Built some 600 years ago, Thiksey Gompa is considered the most beautiful of all the Monasteries in Ladakh and consists of 12 levels ascending a hillside. The gompa contains 10 temples and below the monastery itself are chapels and "houses" stretching down the hillside.

6. Celebration of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama Birthday

We spent a wonderful day at a local celebration for His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama 82nd Birthday at his summer palace.

Our host family packed a picnic lunch and we sat with them and some Siddhartha School students witnessing this joyous occasion, and enjoying the local dancing and singing in honor of his birthday.

7. A Stop at The Ngari Institute for children

We spent a leisurely lunch at the Ngari Institute of Buddhist Dialects in Saboo to learn more about how the 5 monks founded it, including Geshe Tsewang. The Ngari Institute provides a loving home for orphans and Ladakhi children from remote villages access to modern education and Buddhist wisdom. Many of the children who live at Ngari attend the Siddhartha School.

8. Special Time with our SSP student and his family

For many years, our family has been a sponsor of a Siddhartha School student, Stanzin Tsephal, who is just a year older than my son. While I had spent time with Tsephal in past visits, this was the first opportunity that my children and husband met him. Tsephal and my son bonded and played soccer every day after school and even did a picnic outing together at Shey Monastery.

We visited his family’s home and exchanged gifts with his mother. She presented us with some hand-made socks and hats for us, and a special shawl for me. What touched me the most about this visit was the photo of my children on the kitchen wall, next to her children's photos, that I sent five years earlier.

9. Visit to Ladakh Arts and Media Organization (LAMO)

We spent a culturally rich day in Leh, which was once an important stopover on the silk-trade route between India and China, visiting the Ladakh Arts and Media Organization (LAMO). LAMO is located below the 17th century Lechen Pelkhar (Leh Palace) and provides a space for the understanding and development of the arts.

10. Scenery and Harmony in Ladakh

Set high in the Himalaya on the western edge of the Tibetan plateau, Ladakh’s scenic beauty of snow peak glaciers, stunning landscape dotted with Buddhist monasteries and stupas, majestic rivers and crystal lakes offer endless natural beauty. The ethnically diverse and joyful people of this region live in a sustainable, harmonious balance with the environment and have much to teach us.

One of our favorite things to do in Leh is to drive up to the Shanti Stupa, where we have good views of Leh and the Stok Kangri mountain range. The Shanti Stupa (Peace Pillar) was established in 1985 by Dalai Lama with an intention of Spreading Buddhist ideology and teaching all through the world.

We invite you to join Global Family Travels’ Ladakh: Learn, Serve, Immerse trip in July of 2018 for a unique experience in this special region in India and experience some of India’s grandest wonders along the way. The trip offers travelers the opportunity to contribute meaningfully with the village community of Stok by living, working and learning with a host Ladakhi family, and to participate in a service project with students from the Siddhartha School Project. During the home-stay part of our tour, families are immersed in the Ladakhi communal culture and gain a deep understanding of the Buddhist culture and traditions of this stunning region.

More about Ladakh: Often called "Little Tibet," Ladakh is one of the last places in the world where the Buddhist way of life is unrepressed and many Tibetan refugees have settled here. The region was once an independent Buddhist kingdom at the crossroads of the Silk Road between China and the Middle East. Ladakh is now part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir in one of the northernmost regions in India. Read more about the Magnificence of Ladakh.

Global Family Travels offers educational and immersive trips for schools interested in service learning opportunities. Choose from one of Global Family Travels' many destinations that we offer trips to and fill out our form to indicate your interest in learning more.

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