Snow-clad mountain peaks, colourful prayer flags, unexplored cultures, and magnificent vistas—Ladakh’s unparalleled beauty, along with the thrill of venturing into a territory that is safely accessible for only a few months every year, has long fascinated travellers from across the world. Every year the region witnesses an influx of international tourists volunteering with organisations like SECMOL to help educate Ladakhi students and do their bit for the region. And while it may seem like Ladakh’s stunning landscapes and tall poplar trees are enough to attract travellers from far and beyond to sustain the local economy, the reality, in fact, is quite different.
Ladakhi villages, away from the opulent pleasures experienced by the rest of the country, have a main central village, which is usually well-known and most-likely to be a travel destination for tourists, along with a number of tiny hamlets–known as ‘dhoks’– based around this central village. These dhoks serve as an integral aspect of Ladakhi livelihoods, sheltering them for almost 6-8 months a year. But, alas, these village extensions are practically unheard of and travellers almost never come across them. But all that’s about to change as a sustainable travel organisation called Offbeat Tracks is mapping these dhoks and organising impact-based travel expeditions for adventure enthusiasts looking to make a difference.
Offbeat Tracks, a brainchild of former Facebook employee Vandana Vijay, organised its first Rural Solar Electrification Project in Ladakh in July last year, where 14 people from California embarked upon an arduous yet fulfilling journey of installing solar panels in 10 houses that were completely off the grid in the Sham region of Ladakh. This year, the Rural Solar Electrification Project is open to Indians and will not just be about interacting with the local communities and solar powering their houses but also setting up libraries in these villages. “We wanted to take our vision of giving lights up a notch and we thought of how if you have light, you can read so we want to give people the joy of reading. So we are tying up with an organisation called Food For Thought to set up 10 libraries in 5 villages around the region that we’re electrifying”, says Vandana, whose fascination with the Himalayan communities is what led her to take up sustainable travelling.
At the core of Offbeat Tracks’ philosophy is the need to use sustainable tourism as a model to bring about defined development amongst communities. “People have to understand that it is not a luxury vacation but more of an impact-based vacation so you’re going to be staying in villages with locals. Trekking at high altitudes can be a bit of a challenge just like Ladakhi toilets which are traditional dry toilets outside the house”, Vandana tells us.
The week-long adventure will begin with the participants spending the first two days acclimatising at Leh and driving to Village Takmachik in Ladakh’s Sham valley. Upon reaching the village, expect a warm welcome in the form local villagers dressed up in their traditional costumes. Each participant will have a designated host for the next 6 days. The next few of days will involve spending 10-11 hours a day trekking to the nearby dhoks, interacting with the residents, and installing solar power plants and libraries, before heading back home and falling asleep after a hearty sumptuous meal prepared by the respective hosts. “We are not looking at a one-time installation. We want to generate new marketplaces for people so we will have technicians who will help us not just install but also identify vendors in the region who can work as suppliers in the future.
Known for its 2000-year old monastery, Takmachik is a completely organic village. The last day of the expedition will be reserved for a delightful cultural show set up by the villagers for the tourists who can walk through these organic fields, pick up handicrafts, or simply witness traditional performances and interact with the villagers one last time before heading back to the urban commotion that awaits all of us.
While there is no specific age limit, Offbeat Tracks does prefer people who are not below 18 years of age, “However, if we find some very enthusiastic kids then why not. Last year one of our guests was a 60-year old lady who had had a hip replacement. There were certain portions where she could not walk so we had a local monk with us and he carried her on his back. It took her 45 minutes more than the rest of us but she made it anyway,”, Vandana tells Homegrown.
From indulging in local ways of fabric manufacturing to letting your palate explore delicious Ladakhi cuisine, Offbeat Tracks’ eco-tourism outreach programmes are a pinnacle of hope in a world where travel has been reduced to a luxury indulgence. With this solar powering project, Vandana seeks to not just light up homes but also bridge the urban-rural gap and disparity that has emerged as a heartbreaking reality.
Dates: 17–23 September, 2018 (tentative)
You can register and find more details on their website.
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