“With this light, I can now see what I eat every night”
Sometime in July, when I was scouring through the web looking for some inspiration, I came across an interesting article on the Little Black Book about an expedition in Ladakh to electrify a rural village. I did some background research on the company, they did some background research on me, and we found a perfect symbiotic relationship to take forward.
The trek was organized by Global Himalayan Expeditions (“GHE”), a social impact company that targets three areas of expertise: electrification, education and promotion of homestays in Ladakh. Throughout its 6 years of existence, GHE has brought about a symbiotic relationship between these three areas, by accessing over 35 villages and providing them with light in their lives. The electrification, in turn, brings in development to the village: Ladakhis can now work longer hours and expand their usage of electricity to have televisions, and other electrical products in their homes. All the electrified villages operate on solar power and Direct Current (“DC”), thus making the usage of the electricity efficient and sustainable. I say sustainable, because the lights we installed were 3-watt LED bulbs that use minimum current with maximum output. The future electrical appliances that the villagers install would only have to be compatible with the DC current, thus limiting the usage to only efficient appliances. You’d be surprised to know that there are scores of appliances that can work with minimum current, right from light bulbs to televisions, unlike the popular belief that they take up maximum consumption and hence require elaborate Alternating Current (“AC”) grids (i.e. the ones we use in our houses, that are connected to sub-stations, heavy electrical wiring, and fuse out the moment we use something heavy on electricity).
GHE’s flagship programme is Mountain Homestays, that promotes livelihood and impact tourism in villages electrified by it. These villages are usually used by tourists to set base during their trails.To the Ladakhis, these homestays bring in some extra income that benefits them economically. Socially, the potential for this income encourages the Ladakhi youth to return to their villages and explore the potential of earning through experiential travel by tourists. For tourists, staying in a homestay and living the life of a Ladakhi gives them an opportunity to experience a life of staying in a remote village, with no network access and basic necessities. That, coupled with the experience of working with the locals in the fields and the orchards gives a wonderful way of experiencing offbeat travel.
For me, though, this experience had a more spiritual input as well. It made me feel that in our complicated daily lives in cities, we forget the perspective of living life simply and humbly. All our problems with our bosses, our colleagues, or even the issues in our daily lives feel so small compared to the larger issues that the Ladakhis face even in today’s times. Imagine a life where you have never seen a lightbulb, and have to live in the light of a candle every time the sun sets; or live in a place so remote that even the road does not reach you in 2017. And when you do get that lightbulb, how such a small item of necessity can completely turn your life around. The GHE volunteers told us some very impactful stories: one grandma of a village they electrified told them that she could finally see the food that she was eating. Another villager asked them where they put the gasoline to fire up the light. In our village, one old man was in tears when he realised that he could live in a world where there would be light every day in his remaining lifetime.
Such experiences also make me wonder how narrow-minded our world vision is. Travelling for us has become a means of comfort, a ‘break’ from our difficult lives, and a way of escaping into a lap of luxury. It has reduced to nothing but a way to stay in a comfortable (and luxurious) hotel for a couple of days, and see only different cities within the limited boundaries of the city where the hotel is located. We also love stamping our passports with visas of different countries, but all we do is aspire to live as luxuriously as possible and then pretend to live the diverse lives of locals of that cities.
Travelling is much more than that. It has a stupendous potential to bring about a social change. It has the power of broadening our perspective: by truly living through the joys and difficulties of the locals living there. The impact is deeper as we go deeper into that country, to the rural areas, which have long been deprived of even the basic necessities of life. We can also change our own perspectives, and draw from the diversity of cultures when we remove our experiences from the lives we ordinarily live. For instance, if we live in cities, we know only a city life of waking up and going to our workplaces from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. When we insert ourselves into the life of a struggling farmer in a remote village, we get a deeper understanding and appreciation of his (or her) life, and of ours too. We begin to appreciate what we have, and what we are building for ourselves, instead of constantly frustrating ourselves of inconsequential things. Add to that the economic benefit to that struggling farmer – the wonders he (or she) can do with that added income from the homestays. It gives them an added purpose of bringing development into their own lives too.
Travelling for me is also a means of seeing the wonder of nature, which can only fractionally be experienced from a polluted and populated city. Just travel a couple of kilometers away from a city and you’ll find nature in its true glory. The clean and fresh air, the swaying trees, the occasional streams trickling down from the high paths of glaciers, the small patches of green amidst the towering heaps of mountains, the breath-taking view of the sky and a glimpse of the milky way at night – these luxuries can be afforded to us in clean environments far away from a polluted city. When I stayed in a Ladakhi village, I would happily roam around the orchards, pick the apricots from the trees, wash them in the nearby stream and eat them. On occasion, I would amble along the narrow paths of the village, pet the amused cows, donkeys and goats, and make my way to a pained farmer to help him harvest the wheat. The wind bellowed through my hair, fresh oxygen rejuvenated my lungs and the cool grass padded my sore feet. Isn’t that the true comfort that we seek?
I end my piece with a quote that I have begun to experience after I found my true calling. I’ve always wanted to be a change-maker and travel for me, is the vessel for that.
“Here’s to the crazy ones.
The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.
You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things.
They push the human race forward.
And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.
Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
Thank you, GHE and Mountain Homestays, for being the round pegs in the square holes. You are what the world needs.
Don’t forget to check out my video presentation on our trip to Ladakh here!