Reflections from my time in Ladakh


[NOTE: I wrote this the 1st time I left Ladakh, not knowing I would return less than a week later. I decided against posting it until I finished all of my posts regarding Ladakh. It has barely been edited since I originally wrote it, and only discusses some of the events that went down on my first tour. Since I discussed everything from my return trip already, there’s no need to delve back into that. Anyway, enjoy.]

I’m not one that’s known to form attachments – to people, to places (other than New York City), or to things in general (other than the internet). Hockey is among the few exceptions, but as I observed the inverse of a majestic landing into Leh, an overwhelming tidal wave of emotion dragged me under the surf. (I wanted to come up with a hockey analogy there, but the comparison escapes me.)

My face flushed like I had been in the sun, as it had a handful of times during my taxi ride from SECMOL through the desert and winding, mountain road to the airport in Leh.

Leh, Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir, India has become a permanent part of my life. There is no doubt in my mind about that. With some modest calculations, it became clear that my 4 weeks in Ladakh is the 5th longest tenure of mine in any particular region of the world (in order, the top four are New York, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal), and the only one not in North America. (Since that time, Delhi has surpassed Montreal, as I’ve spent 2 weeks in Delhi to date)

Our fates, in many ways, will rely upon our commitment to each other, and our cooperation in our committment to the sport of hockey.

This is an area with incredible natural beauty, a unique blend of religion – in particular Buddhism, tantric Buddhism even – a people that invited me in, and in way that are a bit uncommon for such a newcomer/foreigner who doesn’t speak the language.

Many Asian cultures live by a “saving face” code. That means they care more about looking good interpersonally and not offending others. To offend someone’s reputation in Asia is the equivalent of blatantly stealing someone’s life savings at gun-point in the West. For foreigners, it’s very rare to see the true colors of someone from Asia. There is no doubt that India is a unique country as compared the rest of Asia, and they interpret “saving face” and honesty differently from some of their neighbors, but Ladakh, while technically part of the subcontinent, is a hybrid of Asian cultures (Ladakhi, Tibetan, Kashmiri, Zanskari, Indian) and is not exempt from this attitude.

For some odd reason – or maybe it was all part of the plan – I became entangled in the local hockey culture in more ways than I knew were possible. In the process, I became an ex-officio member of the Ladakh Winter Sports Club; I had no say, could only make recommendations, but was also privy to a fair amount of information, as well as complaints.

Normally, when we hear complaints in the Western World, we feel the infectious nature of the negative energy, like a contagious virus. “Energy” may seem too metaphysical to be scientific, but Buddhism embraces the balance between both, and so do I.

When people come to New York City, you invariably hear that there is a penetrating “energy” that makes the city special. Everything makes up this energy – the people, the buildings, the companies, the arts, the sports, etc. This is why I love New York City. It’s why I consider it the greatest place on earth. As of yet, there is no greater positive energy I have experienced in a particular location, no matter how beautiful, or how clean.

The negative energy stemming from the complaints, as well as actions, of the LWSC members took a toll on me for a few days, but (there is a bright side) as always, it’s very easy to see the good from all of this.

The members were upset at the dramatic events from the National Tournament, starting with the match fixing, then stone throwing, then game protesting, then game boycotting, and finally, when resolution of the issues seemed apparent, protesting the decision. In some ways, they are a part of the problem, but the endearing part of this is that they want to improve. They constantly confided in me how betrayed they felt by what happened - the unsportsmanlike nature of it, but also their personal sacrifices. They sought avenues to remedy the problem in the future, and hopefully they will attempt to prevent these things from happening again.

Their disgust in the action of privileged adults reaffirmed their dedication to impressionable children.

Weighing the evidence I was aware of from all sides, I am happy to continue to work with the LWSC, as long as they retain some degree of idealism and uphold the value of the sport so many people around the world love: ice hockey. My primary mission as “The Hockey Volunteer” is to help everyone that wants to grow through the sport, and I will continue to do so as long as the main organizers are not interfering with the game and/or imposing their personal agendas onto the game.

Ladakh, not just Leh, has won the right of my return for another year, and we can once again trade the gifts that each can provide.

We owe it to each other.