Soon after touchdown at Ladakh Airport, my face felt the fresh mountain air. The next one week that I would spend there would be exhilarating and an experience of a lifetime.
An Army officer’s daughter, I grew up all over the country and travelled extensively across the Himalayas. It was during one of my visits to Ladakh that I realised I liked working with rural communities and interacting with the locals.
This is what led me to start an experiential travel company called Offbeat Tracks. I wanted to promote sustainable rural eco-tourism across communities living in the Himalayas.
It was during one of my visits to a village in the region, where I realised there were a lot of houses devoid of electricity.
People were still using kerosene lamps to illuminate their homes. This method has severe health hazards. The fumes affect the elderly and young in the region.
Realising this, I decided to start a rural solar electrification project in one of the villages. From July 14 to 21 this year, I, along with a group of 14 people from California, worked on a rural solar electrification project in village Takmachik in the Sham region of Ladakh. We spent five days in this village, which is a three-hour drive from the capital city of Leh.
The villages in Ladakh are further broken into ‘dhoks’ that are up in the mountains, totally off the power grid. I decided to work on one such dhok called Hammer.
Hammer is a dhok nestled up in the mountains. A three-hour trek from the main village gets you there, where you’ll find 10 houses and a monastery. Each of these houses are at a distance of a 15-minute trek from each other.
Our primary objective was to power the ten houses, which were totally off the grid due to their geographical location.
We decided to do that by using solar lights
The solar units were created by middle school children in the US, and designed keeping the village and its geographical location in mind.
The challenge I faced during this trip was transporting solar equipment into this region. Our solar batteries weren’t allowed to be flown into Leh by the airlines and we had to transport them by road into Ladakh which took seven days.
In the meantime, we spent time with the local families, learning their methods of organic farming among other things.
Our equipment weighed over 170 kg and we had to carry these on our backs into the mountains to the houses that needed to be powered. Local help and the support of a donkey who carried our tools proved helpful.
Trekking in the arid and high altitude, approx 10,500 ft, was a challenge for the group as well.
However, overall the experience was a fulfilling one, where we got a chance to experience rural Ladakhi life. A tiny gesture transformed the lives of many people in the region.
This project also helped promote eco-tourism within the village, and helped the villagers with an additional source of income. In a span of five days, the total earnings of the community came up to be ₹1,00,000, which gave a great boost to the locals and their village economy.
Through Offbeat Tracks, I want to promote this model of sustainable travel across India, foraging into various rural communities and integrating with the locals of this region.
(Written by Vandana Vijay, founder of Offbeat Tracks)