Greetings from Leh,

After a long drive back to the "big city," everyone is now contentedly
munching on western delights at "Il Forno," a local "Italian" joint
upstairs. After a week of eating nothing but veggies and
dough-in-various-forms, everyone was totally buzzing over all the
possibilities on the menu! I thought I would take this opportunity to
update you all that we are safely back while we wait for our food to
arrive, always a lengthy period of time when ordering for 13.

Our journey began with several side trips to visit SECMOL school and
Alchi monastery. SECMOL is a school outside Leh that hosts and teaches
Ladakhi students who did not pass their 10th grade exams, sadly
something only less than half of Ladakhi students do. Students board
at SECMOL for a year and are taught material directly relevant to
their lives in Ladakh, and hopefully given the critical thinking
skills needed to re-enter school the following year, or to enter into
other vocational professions. We were so impressed by their campus, by
all the green methods that make the place run: solar power they
harness and educate students about, vegetable gardens and greenhouses,
cows, and recycling facilities. They have beautiful boarding lodge,
kitchen, library, and classroom spaces. SECMOL is on the forefront of
alternative and experiential education in Ladakh, really the only
place like it. They are even producing Ladakhi-relevant textbooks to
replace the outdated and irrelevant textbooks used by government
schools in the rest of India. For more information, please check out
their website: http://www.secmol.org/

Our second side trip on our way out to Domkhar was to Alchi monastery.
Alchi is a small monastery complex with only a few temple spaces, but
it boasts the most beautifully preserved 1000 year-old fresco wall
paintings to be found in Ladakh. Unlike most monastery paintings, the
ones at Alchi were influenced by the Kashmiri Buddhist style, uniquely
different to the Tibetan aesthetic. Walking into the dimly lit
temples, I know my mind is stilled in awe of the incredible art which
stands as a testament to human relationship and devotion to the
divine. It was such a treat to be able to stand under these remarkably
preserved paintings and statues and marvel at the exquisite work
depicting mandalas and hundreds of buddhas present as they were 1000
years ago.

After those stops, we continued on our way to Domkhar, a village about
110 km from Leh – such an epic drive through the high desert. Domkhar
lays about 1000 ft lower than Leh, so we were welcomed by a more
pleasant and moderate climate. Domkhar is a green oasis which rests
above a raging river, complete with relatively lush gardens and
fragrant fields – a nice treat after the dryness we were used to.
Everyone split into pairs and were welcomed by their new homestay
families, and we spent 5 days getting to know them and the surrounding
areas. We explored surrounding towns, volunteered at the school
teaching classes, and took an excursion yesterday to Dha Hanu further
down the valley to see the Dard community. Students helped their
families with chores like picking vegetables and milking the cows, and
also helped in the kitchen and will hopefully have some new recipes to
share when they get home! You should all be so proud of how they
seamlessly and enthusiastically integrated with this new community.
They even sang several songs for the school on our last day
volunteering there, and their performance inspired an exchange of
performances from the local school kids.

Tomorrow is the Dalai Lama’s birthday and although he will not be in
Ladkah for another few weeks, all the Tibetans and Ladakhis get
together each year on July 6 to celebrate their devotion in a giant
picnic – of course, we will be attending! Afterwards, everyone will do
some final shopping and then depart the following day for Delhi. We
have been invited to Shreya’s grandparent’s house which will be a
welcome refuge in the Delhi heat/madness. And not long after that,
they will board another plane back home!

It has been such a treat getting to know and travel with this
wonderful Nueva group. We hope you’re excited to hear all the stories!

Thank you,
Kristin, Adrian, and Amrit