Ice Hockey in Ladakh, Part 8: Departure From Ladakh

When I left Ladakh for Delhi, I believed there was a good chance that I would be accompanying the team to Abu Dhabi as their coach, but nothing was finalized. My plane ticket out of Ladakh was confirmed in advance of my arrival to coincide with the approximate melting of the ice and allow me to see some sights in such an incredible country as India (their official tourism slogan/campaign is "Incredible India").

Upon my arrival, I went right to the office of Akshay Kumar, General Secretary of the Ice Hockey Association of India, and gave him my progress report on how the team is looking, as well as an update on hockey in Ladakh (although he's been up there many times, including twice during the start and finish of the National Tournament). Akshay updated me on his progress garnering support for the national team, as well as the numerous uphill battles he was (and still is) fighting to raise funding for the team.

Due to a lack of funding at the present, all players selected to play on the national team were required to pay for their passport, airfare, and equipment in order to be able to participate in the tournament. This is obviously a huge expense and burden for the civilian players, as the military players get all of those things covered by their respective branches.

I spent a few days catching up on work that had been heavily delayed. While I was in Ladakh, I stayed at SECMOL 90% of the time. SECMOL is located approximately 20km (12.5 miles) out of the center of Leh, in the middle of the desert...literally. The whole area is barren and rocky, and to go back and forth between SECMOL and Leh was getting incredibly expensive in taxi rides. That being said, I was spending most of my time in Leh as it was, due to all of the hockey tournaments that were taking place. To make matters worse, telecommunications in Ladakh went down, smack-dab in the middle of my residency in this remote region. An already poor telecom network was effectively wiped out by massive snow and avalanche in the mountains, destroying the cables in the process. Sources tell me that this is something that could have been prevented if BSNL (the major telecom company in India & Ladakh) had followed up on the concerns of some of their employees. So factor in the travel, the busy days of hockey, and then a technology failure, and you can understand why I was backlogged with work when I got to Delhi.

One of my first tasks was to write up some of the past occurrences, as well as upload pictures and videos to Flickr and YouTube, respectively. The picture uploading went somewhat smoothly, but uploading my videos to YouTube was a royal pain in the arse. First, I am a terrible videographer. There's no other way to put it. Second, my camera is worse than I am. I purchased it on the day of my departure, and while it is incredibly cost-effective, portable, and convenient (it switches between high-res photos and videos with a flick of the finger), it isn't easy to maneuver, the zoom is awful, and it doesn't do well in many lighting conditions (is it really high res?). Third, I had to go through a boat-load of raw video, mostly of random clips, no set-up/narration, unsteady camerawork and general stupidity on the part of the director/producer – me. Fourth, whenever I would attempt to upload videos to YouTube, my connection was too slow and fragmented to successfully post. Fifth, my computer began it's systematic failures in every conceivable way, reminding me that my terrible technology karma will follow me to all corners of the planet (I've now had 2 high-capacity iPods stolen/lost on vacation, including my newest one in Ladakh). I ended up spending a few days fighting and pleading with my computer to work, whether that meant just turning on, or connecting to the internet consistently, or having screen resolution that wasn't reminiscent of a 1930s television screen.

With all of that drama off my chest, I am proud to announce that I have just enough video posted on YouTube to be content in sharing it with you. I will endeavor to continue uploading videos consistently, and I promise not all of them will be terrible. Check it out here.

In regards to the pictures, I have been posting links to the photos that have been taken of hockey in Ladakh by myself and others. You can view my pictures on Flickr, as well as pictures taken by Russ Taylor of, Ashley Morton of VIS (Vermont Intercultural Semesters), and Akshay Kumar during the 4th National Ice Hockey Tournament.

To be honest, I was really looking forward to my time in Delhi. Obviously I wanted to catch up on my work, and it was among the most time consuming aspects of my time in Delhi, but I wanted to do some sight-seeing. When I was in Ladakh, I did very little sight seeing. As a matter of fact, I missed a few festivals and events that were going on while I was there just so that I could write and be at the hockey games. Not that I minded. But I was also going from a freezing, high altitude climate to what I consider Summer-like conditions, where I could shower as much as I wanted!

I got to see a couple of sights, but briefly. I took a cycle rickshaw around the famous mosque in Old Delhi, and then stood outside the Red Fort, but never went in. One of the days, I attempted to walk to the National Museum, and ended up walking in the wrong direction right back to Akshay's office. I stepped into the office I had left just an hour earlier, and then turned around and properly made it to the museum (which I breezed through in 2.5 hours) and took a picture in front of India Gate, a WWI memorial arch. That was it on the tourist front.

The rest of the time in Delhi was devoted to catching up on work as I mentioned, fighting/begging my computer to work, and then going on a scavenger hunt to find a reasonably priced MacBook…which has yet to be purchased. My repetitive failures with PCs have finally enticed me to make the switch. I was a loyalist since we bought our Windows 3.1 system in the early 90s with Prodigy and AOL 2.0, but I'm ready to make the leap!

Another portion of my time in Delhi was spent discussing with Akshay the prospect of traveling to Abu Dhabi to coach the Indian team. There has not been any formal coaching for these players, save for a random clinic that lasted for a few days every other winter. This was our opportunity to start to change the system, and give a lasting coaching presence to these players that were full of passion but no formal instruction or understanding of the way the game is played. Ultimately, it came down to finding the money to cover a few expenses, which got worked out.

Once Akshay confirmed that he could cover the change fee for my flight back to America, as well as some other expenses, we officially agreed upon my becoming the head coach of the national team until I could find a suitable replacement. Part of my mission is not just to be the coach, but to be the consultant in developing the whole Indian Ice Hockey program, training coaches, referees, players, and developing the program at all levels – youth, girls, adult, professional, etc. There's a lot of work to be done, starting with returning to Ladakh to return to the team and prep them for the Asia Challenge Tournament taking place in Abu Dhabi!

And that's exactly what happened. Akshay confirmed me a one-way ticket back to Ladakh, just five days after departing, with an open-ended date of return. The purpose is to give the team a crash-course in international hockey, and depart Ladakh (again) when the ice conditions become unbearable and/or I feel I have achieved everything I could in the short amount of time available.

The night before departure from my comfortable accommodations in Delhi, I made sure I had an extra long shower and stayed up extra late chatting with friends online, because I was going back into the year 1000, where technology was nonexistent, along with running hot water and air conditioning/indoor heating.

There are a lot of things we take for granted in life, and going to Ladakh is a stark reminder of that. When you don't have any comforts, you learn to re-appreciate the simpler, yet more important, aspects to life. Coming to Delhi for 5 days brought back those comforts and now I had to leave them. And you know what…I could care less. I get to go back to Ladakh and get to work as the head coach for the team, with so much yet to be accomplished, and I couldn't be more enthusiastic and determined to make this into a success for Ladakhi and Indian ice hockey!