Last month (July of 2018), we had the pleasure to return to Ladakh on our Learn, Serve & Immerse trip with a wonderful and adventuresome group of 14 travelers, many of whom are supporters of the Siddhartha School. We were warmly greeted at the airport in Leh, the capital of Ladakh, by a group of students from the school and the School Secretary, who presented each of our travelers a khata, a traditional ceremonial scarf in Tibetan Buddhism, which symbolizes purity and compassion.
We were then transported to the peaceful Himalayan village of Stok, where we acclimatized for the rest of the day at the lovely new hotel. While it is hard to capture all of the amazing moments of our trip in a short blog, at our farewell dinner on the last night of our journey, each traveler shared a favorite experience during their time in India.
Here are some of the highlights that our travelers shared during our last night together (You can also see more photos and memories of our trip on Facebook page album: Learn, Serve & Immerse 2018 Trip!)
A highlight of our visit to Ladakh was the homestay with our local family in Stok. The ethnically diverse and joyful people of this region live in a sustainable, harmonious balance with the environment and have much to teach us.
During our homestay, we spent precious time with our gracious host families, helping in daily chores, tending animals, working fields, playing with the children and getting to know our families. We also got to try on some Ladakhi finery!
We also enjoyed traditional Ladakhi meals with our family, which always was accompanied by the famous ‘butter tea‘, a salty tea made of yak butter. (Making butter tea in the photo below!)
A Celebratory Day at the Siddhartha School!
We spent a lovely afternoon at Siddhartha School, first witnessing a ‘tsul rabnes’ ceremony during which both Founder of the School, Khen Rinpoche Lobzang Tsetan, and School Director, Geshe Tsewang officiated to bless the school’s new dormitories. The dorms are where resident students from remote villages of Ladakh who call the school their home live while away from home.
After the blessing, we enjoyed a wonderful celebration by SSP students performing Ladakhi dances and a Skit, the telling the 12 deeds of Buddha.
We had a special visit to two of Ladakh's beautiful gems, Thiksey and Hemis Gompas (monasteries), led by Venerable Tenzin Dasel, a good friend and Buddhist nun who imparted Buddhist philosophy with us as we enjoyed the sites.
Positioned inside a gorge and built in the 17th century under the patronage of King Singey Namgyal, Hemis Monastery is the largest monastery in Ladakh. Belonging to the Drukpa Order (or "Red Hat sect), it boasts of a very rich collection of ancient Buddhist relics.
Photo Credit: Rick Meinig
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.
Photo Credit: Rick Meinig
A Fun Afternoon Stop at The Ngari Institute for children
A highlight of our time in Ladakh for many in our group was engaging with the children at the Ngari Institute in Saboo. We also learned about how the 5 monks, including Geshe Tsewang Dorje, Director of SSP, who founded it are helping to give Ladakhi children from remote villages access to modern education and Buddhist wisdom. We spent a leisurely afternoon playing with the children, learning local dances from them and teaching them ultimate frisbee!
A drive over the highest motorable pass to Nubra Valley and a ride on a double hump camel!
We also enjoyed a spectacular drive over Khardongla pass, the world’s highest motorable pass (at 18,000 feet!) to the northern frontier of beautiful Nubra Valley with high mountains, great monasteries, white sand dunes, where we rode on double humped camels. We could have easily spent more days here and will do so on our next visit to Ladakh!
Spending time with the Siddhartha School students
Many of the guests on our trip are sponsors of Siddhartha school students and were thrilled to meet their student, spending precious time getting to know them. Learn more about ways to support this amazing school and project!
Travel to Ladakh with us!
Next summer (in 2019), we are planning two trips to Ladakh, similar to this adventure we did this July, as well as a yoga retreat with one of Seattle's top yoga instructors, Tina Templeman , in the fall of 2019! These trips offers travelers the opportunity to be immersed in the community and to contribute meaningfully and engage with the students from the Siddhartha School Project and the monks and children of the Ngari Institute! Contact us for more information and we will share the details with you!
More About our Partners in Ladakh:
We at Global Family Travels feel extremely blessed and grateful to be working with these amazing partners and in community of Stok in Ladakh!
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. There are many ways to support the school, such as a donation to the annual fund. Donations can be made in any amount and at any time to our annual fund for scholarships. This vital fund keeps tuition affordable for all families served and insures that no child is turned away based on his or her economic situation.
The Ngari Institute for children was started in 2012 by 5 devout monks from the Ngari Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, and its mission is to empower and enrich the poor and needy students in this remote region, by imparting a combined learning of both modern scientific knowledge and ancient Buddhist wisdom. They are doing a mandala tour in the U.S. this fall to raise funds to support their mission. Learn more here: Ngari Institute Great Compassion Tour.