Leh vs. Kargil

Ladakh is not one homogenous region.  Leh, being the capital, gets most of the attention, and therefore what happens in Leh is considered what’s happening in Ladakh.  The problem is that there are other regions, such as Zanskar and Kargil that are quite unique from Leh district.  This difference was heightened in a debate over ice hockey that unfortunately included me being in the middle.

Before I returned to Ladakh, I set an itinerary.  That being said, nothing in India goes as planned, so I always keep my options open.  Once I determined the state of hockey in Leh and in Changtang region (Tangste), and how it has grown, I started to make the itinerary permanent.  I looked towards the Ladakh Winter Sports Club for support, as they have been supportive through all of my endeavors to help improve hockey in Leh, and by extension, Ladakh.  

My plan from the beginning, was to go to Drass, a fairly remote town in Kargil district.  After that, I set out to return to Chiktan, where I had participated in a tournament two years ago, and then possibly go to Dhomkhar, where Health Inc, a non-profit run by a Canadian woman Cynthia, operates.  Part of her program includes providing hockey resources to some of the locals, so this was something that piqued my interest.  

A few days before departing for Drass, the head of the Kargil Ice and Snow Sports Club (KISS) got a hold of me so that we could discuss the plan for teaching hockey in his region.  To give some background info, that day was long and tiring.  We played two games with the Canadians, then went to another rink to film some scenes for an upcoming Bollywood (not in the traditional sense) movie about hockey in Ladakh (pretty cool, eh?!), and then went for a tour of a palace and monastery an hour outside of Leh.  By the time we returned to the hotel with the Canadians, I was exhausted and desperately wanting of a shower, as we had a banquet to attend that evening hosted by the local government.  At the same time, I wanted to meet with this gentleman, whom I had met years earlier, and whom I’ve got a fair amount of opinions regarding.

Our discussion was cordial, albeit difficult, as his English is substandard for the region.  I mentioned how I was planning to go to Drass for 5 days, and then could come to Chiktan to do 5 days, before heading to Dhomkhar.  He responded by saying he is responsible for Drass, and that the Ladakh Winter Sports Club (LWSC) should not be interfering in his territory.  His point is valid in that Drass is within Kargil district, and the Ice Hockey Association of India (IHAI) recognizes that fact, but life is full of gray areas, and this is one of them.  

The conversation continued that I shouldn’t spend so many days in Drass, as I won’t get many players, so maybe I can spend some time in Kargil and in Budhkharboo, a town about 25km (15 miles) from Chiktan, as their rink is not in good conditions.  I had already said I wanted to go to Drass, so I offered a compromise: 2 days in Drass with extended hours, 6 days in Kargil, open to both sides, as it’s in between , and then 2 days in Chiktan/Budhkharboo with extended hours.  In total, I would spend 10 days in Kargil district, and provide each organization with 8 days.  Win-win, right?

Not so fast.

At the banquet that evening, I noticed some glares from members of the Ladakh Winter Sports Club.  It didn’t register at first, but it was due to the fact that some of them saw me meet with the Kargil rep, and felt I was having a meeting behind their back.  I wasn’t.  Kargil is none of their concern.  What is their concern is Drass.

First I told the President of the LWSC of my meeting, and told him my plan to divide my time.  He didn’t have an issue, but he’s also been less involved in the work I’ve been doing in Ladakh, so I proceeded to tell the General Secretary, who’s been incredibly helpful and supportive.  He made the situation very clear by reminding me that I had already promised Drass 5 days at the outset, and that it’s been communicated to their organization, that’s in turn announced the program on the radio.  He also communicated that Drass is affiliated with the LWSC due to lack of support from Kargil and a request for support from LWSC, of which the members were happy to say yes and help.

I can attest to the fact that prior to all of this, there’s been tension between the organizations, and complaints have been filed at multiple levels.  Accusations have been common between the groups, with some points being fair, and others not so much.

There was only one thing I could do though: call a meeting of both sides and clear the confusion I created, as I had promised 5 days in Drass, but had then told the head of Kargil I’d do 2 days in Drass.  This was my mistake, and everybody needed to be present so that there was no confusion on what the plan was (sticking with original plan), why it would be that way (because I made a commitment), and who is responsible for this (me, as it is my plan).

The meeting started late.  Prior to the arrival of the Kargil rep, there was a bit of a shouting match between a LWSC member and gentleman that used to be a coach of hockey in Ladakh, but now is a bit less involved directly (maybe I’ll explain this at a later date…but I want to protect the identities of people where I can), which was uncomfortable but a long time coming.  

Once he arrived, the meeting started fairly well, in my humble opinion.  I explained that I made a mistake, and was going to keep my original promise.  As retribution for my mistake, I offered to teach hockey in Chiktan/Budhkharboo for 7 days instead of the original 5.  His response was that Drass is in Kargil district and that LWSC should not be interfering.  I don’t particularly care who is responsible for supporting Drass, as my only goal is to help teach hockey in the region.  He continued to complain that LWSC should not have organized my trip, and that they have influenced my decision making process.  They didn’t.  All I could do was reiterate that point.  From day 1, the Ice Hockey Association of India and the Ladakh Winter Sports Club have understood that all programming I run in India is specifically because I have either planned it, or agreed to it.  I have never been forced or coerced into any situation, and that includes correcting the Drass misunderstanding.  Since The Hockey Foundation promotes honesty and accountability, the only thing to do was set the example and be accountable for my words and actions.  I made a promise, then I made a mistake, and I planned to uphold my original promise for the betterment of the game and the quality of life in the community.

The argument continued in Ladakhi (I think) and touched on the fact that Kargil is always complaining to high ranking authorities and creating problems for LWSC and hockey in Ladakh, and that Drass never received support from KISS and that they were only helping an organization in need for the betterment of the game.  From there, it took a lot of begging on my part to get the KISS rep to sit down and remain in the room, and I tried to make it clear that both organizations had valid points, and that ultimately Drass would have to be officially ruled upon by the IHAI and/or Winter Games Federation of India.  I tried to make it clear that there are many levels of jurisdiction in organizations like USA Hockey and Hockey Canada, but the situation quickly got out of control again when a member of the LWSC threatened the KISS rep.  

The meeting went exactly as I expected and dreaded.  It seemed like everything was doomed in Kargil.
Immediately I got on the phone with Akshay Kumar, General Secretary of the IHAI, and informed him about the conflict.  I asked him to contact the KISS rep and let him know that I am still committed to teaching hockey in his area.  I made that clear by email as well.  He had already sent an email out regarding the difference between Leh and Kargil districts, and that we planned on hockey in his area at a day/time different than agreed upon.  Within two days, the plan he and I agreed upon, that he wrote down, and that I had to cancel, was already different than discussed.  I clarified the dates in the email, and made it clear the only goal is to support hockey in Ladakh & Kargil, with the IHAI.  That evening, I received a phone call from the Kargil rep, apologizing to me.  It sounded like we were back in business, but having a tough time understanding him, I wasn’t entirely sure.

The next day, we met up and confirmed that the plan was underway as originally intended, with 7 days in Budhkharboo.

Both sides made some convincing points in their arguments (assuming all opinions are true):

Kargil Ice and Snow Sports Club:

  • Drass is in Kargil district
  • Ice Hockey Association of India recognizes Drass as a part of Kargil Ice and Snow Sports Club

Ladakh Winter Sports Club:

  • Kargil hasn’t supported Drass; Drass doesn’t want their support
  • LWSC only agreed to support when a request came to them in response to lack of support
  • Their goal is to help improve the quality of the game in Ladakh, whether it be Leh or Kargil

Ultimately, there will need to be mediation on this conflict, in my opinion.  I appreciate the desire to help grow the game wherever the game needs help, but interfering in other regions can create tension.  That being said, organizations like USA Hockey and Hockey Canada have helped other nations with their hockey development.  Is that interference?

The problem with gray areas is that there truly is no right or wrong, just opinions and decisions that a large number of people will have a problem with.  I only see this as a headache for IHAI, and wish it can resolve amicably.  Where I can help, I will, offering the knowledge of international ice hockey organizations where I can, but this is India after all.  Politicking is the norm.