(question mark intentional)
So many people seem stunned when I tell them about ice hockey in India. Adding in the explanation that it takes place in the Himalayas makes it both more logical and more alluring, all at the same time.
The most common comparison people make is to Jamaican bobsled (popularly portrayed in Cool Runnings), and on the surface it's easy to understand why, as both countries are primarily tropical and the associated sports are not native, and not easily performed, within the respective nations.
But that's about it.
While bobsled was a sport that a handful of Jamaicans were able to undertake and compete in, ice hockey is growing in popularity in India, especially in Ladakh, a remote region in the state of Jammu & Kashmir, which is sandwiched between Pakistan and Tibet (China). It's also being played in Shimla, in the neighboring state of Himachal Pradesh, on and off in Dehra Dun, the capital of the state south of Himachal, Uttarakhand, and even at a small indoor facility on the border of New Delhi and Gurgaon (Gurgaon is kind of like the Bangalore of North India...corporate parks, call centers, suburbia, middle class & upper class boom, trendy clubs, Western restaurants, and many many malls).
Hockey has been played in India since the British introduced it in the early 1900s (in Shimla), and has been growing in popularity in Ladakh since the Indian military brought it with them in the 70s. Today, hundreds of Ladakhi children and adults play hockey for 2-3 months every winter, when temperatures in the region are consistently below freezing. Schools are off during the winter, and tourism is low (other than people trekking the Zanskar River), so hockey has become the literal pastime, the sport that passes time. But it's become more than that. It's become a way of life, as so many Americans, Canadians, Swedes, Czechs, Russians and more can understand.
We've interviewed children (boys and girls) and adults about what hockey means to them, and the answers are wonderful. So many of them remark that hockey has given them confidence, it's allowed them to work together better as a team, it makes them happy, it keeps them healthy. One women, in particular, said she's happily married to hockey.
This love of the game can't be tought, it can only be noursihed. The Hockey Foundation strives to not only nourish that love, but to focus the understanding of the game, and to reinforce many of these qualities that so many intrinsically understand once the game captures their hearts and minds.
We strive to teach not only the young players, but the organizations that ultimately interact with them every day, that they need to work together (organizationally, regionally, nationally), that they need to be accountable for their actions on and off the ice, responsible for their own success, that they need to be resepectful, humble, yet confident, that they need to be tough when necessary, but gentle otherwise, and that they need to have fun!
It's not easy to survive a winter in Ladakh. There's very little indoor heating and running hot water. It's cold, all the time, everywhere. You see your breath when you sleep, you have to use buckets for showers, and bathrooms are either outside or the ones inside don't flush. There are very few options for food, and not much in the way of entertainment, but there is hockey in one of the most beautiful mountainous regions of the world, with a vibrant history.
Resources are limited though. Coaches are few and far and getting equipment is both difficult and expensive. The Hockey Foundation's coaches go with great expense to themselves, not only to travel to Ladakh, but the time away from home not taking in income. It's a burden in many ways, but one we all feel a calling to undertake. We also bring as much equipment as we can transport with us, in addition to any equipment we ship to India through the year (more on that in another post). In the past 5 years, The Hockey Foundation has donated 300+ pieces of equipment throughout Ladakh (Leh and Kargil Districts) and we've coached over 500 children and adults. This year is looking to be another record-setting year in all measurable categories, and it's with your support that this is possible, so thank you to all that have donated, and to those that have helped in countless ways!