It only took five days longer than expected, due to snow storms, but eventually we made it to Bodhkharboo. Only problem: more snow was forecasted throughout the region, from Kargil to Leh (Bodhkharboo is in between them), so the decision to stay was long and arduous, with multiple incarnations of stay and go proposed.
Ultimately, at the request of the General Secretary/President of the Kargil Ice and Snow Sports (KISS) I agreed to stay for two days, as he guaranteed that the weather would hold to get me back to Leh in time to continue my adventure. He is a very determined man, so it doesn’t surprise me that he would promise something he can’t control.
The next morning, the rest of my group agreed to stay as well, which included Paul and the two girls from mainland India that were also volunteers at SECMOL and had the fortunate/unfortunate (depending on point of view) opportunity to be my stand-in translators. Alex had made it out of Drass just before the storm hit, so he could not join us in Bodhkharboo. His support on the ice and behind the camera was invaluable. I look forward to sharing more experiences like this with him in the future.
From the outset, there were supposed to be seven days in Bodhkharboo. At the conclusion of that camp, I was debating heading to Dhomkhar, but scrapped that plan when it became apparent that 1) the “Under-16” players from Dhomkhar were not actually under 16 (it has since been learned that they are reasonably open about the fact that they cheated, although I’m not sure they consider what they did cheating), and 2) they won the Under-16 tournament in Leh. My goal in Ladakh is to help the players that need it most, but also reward the players that show integrity in their actions. Our tour around Ladakh was decently publicized in newspapers and radio around the region, so I hope the players in Dhomkhar are aware that they were purposefully ignored in our hockey clinics this winter. When it gets announced next year that we are returning, I hope that they request our support so we can explain why we didn’t give it this winter.
After the scheduled hockey camp in Bodhkharboo, the region quickly warms up to the point where it’s nearly impossible to skate. Bodhkharboo is close to Chiktan, where I participated in a tournament two years prior. I loved the scenery and the people in this town, but the ice quality was terrible two years ago (it was like walking on broken glass in ice skates), and was even worse this winter. As a result, the camp was hosted in a town that had never played ice hockey before.
Before our arrival in Bodhkharboo the Kargil Ice & Snow Sports Club hosted a learn to skate program that was run by Stanzin Dolkar, a Ladakhi woman that was featured in a documentary Thin Ice, that focused on a particular controversy surrounding women’s hockey in Ladakh, and the girls at SECMOL. Having spent enough time around people involved in this controversy, I will spare you any more details and depositions and let you see the documentary on your own and go from there.
Stanzin Dolkar has had a particularly unique life for a Ladakhi. She’s well-traveled, having gone to Sweden for the documentary, Finland for an IIHF training on behalf of India, and Malaysia to participate in hockey training on behalf of India as well. She’s got a firey personality, is quick on the sarcasm, and has a big laugh that can make anybody with half a heart smile. She’s got a toughness that many Ladakhis, let alone Ladakhi women, lack. As a core ideal of The Hockey Foundation, toughness is a quality that’s important on the ice and in life, and to see someone like Stanzin Dolkar have that quality is refreshing and gives me hope that we can continue to make progress with the rest of Ladakh. The goal isn’t to tell them how to live their lives, nor is it to change their culture. On the contrary. The goal is to help them strengthen their culture and quality of living, on their terms. Ladakh was closed off from the world for most of their history, and the recent modernization has started to eat away at Ladakhi culture, not just Ladakhi tradition. Local politicians have started saying the same thing, that Ladakh is losing its tradition on its own. The foreigners that come to Ladakh come because it has a deep tradition that has remained consistent for centuries, if not 1000 years. They don’t come to modernize Ladakh. It’s the ruggedness and tradition that is appealing, and although Ladakh is moderning, it is far from modern.
Stanzin Dolkar hasn’t been involved in hockey in Leh as a result of the Thin Ice controversy. The opportunities in hockey have been given to her by the Ice Hockey Association of India and the Kargil Ice and Snow Sports Club. It’s unfortunate. She has so much to offer the hockey players around Leh. Hopefully things can progress to a point where bygones are bygones and everybody can get back to focusing on the improvement of hockey and the betterment of the children.
Stanzin Dolkar - I refer to her by her full name because Ladakhis don’t always go by the first name, nor do they always go by the last name. It seems to be a random application of the names, more so than in the West. Since there are as many Dolkar Stanzins as there are Stanzin Dolkars, I prefer to follow the other form of the acronym: “KISS”, Keep it Simple Stupid - had to hold learn-to-skate lessons for extra days due to us being stranded in Drass. When we arrived, the first thing we did was check out the ice rink that was claimed to be to international standards. They were not (no surprise there). The rink was a fraction of the size that was claimed by the head of KISS, there were no boards, the ice was beyond choppy, and oh yeah, there were no goals. You know…minor details.
Another problem facing the players in Bodhkharboo: poor skates. This has been a problem throughout Ladakh. We thought it was bad in Drass. It was much worse in Bodhkharboo. Children were wearing enormous skates with dull edges on poor ice. We weren’t able to coach more than 20-25 people at a time, and even though that’s ideal in North America, we can usually accommodate a few more in Asia. Overnight they built some hockey goals for us to run a learn-to-play program, as intended. Unfortunately, since nobody in Bodhkharboo had ice skated previously, this was just a continuation of the learn-to-skate program that Stanzin Dolkar ran before our arrival.
We did end up running some passing drills to at least make it appear that it was a hockey clinic, but these drills were performed with incredible difficulty in comprehension and execution. The concept: pass to the player across from you, then skate to where they were standing. They will do the same to the next person in line, and so on. Got it? We had to do this drill for two days, and it still wasn’t close to done well.
Separate from the educational limits, there was only 1 player on the ice other than myself and Paul that had a hockey stick that would be considered adequate. Some players had sticks that were 2 feet shorter than they were. Other players had sticks that were heavily taped together to keep it in one piece. Some players had hockey sticks constructed with local wood. They were not tempered, so had lots of flex and minimal support, and the blade was rarely curved more than 1 cm, and to make matters worse, was a separate piece of wood that was usually nailed and wrapped with twine. This is arguably the most important part of the whole stick, the base of the shaft near the heal of the blade, as most sticks break here due to the shock and vibration when passing and shooting (or slashing in some cases). These days, wood sticks are usually fused together by blending with plastics and composite materials and are tempered to the point where it becomes one piece. If the shaft and blade are in two pieces, all the vibration in the blade will stop at the nails and twine, limiting the stress the hockey stick can handle. I tried to explain this to the guy making these sticks. He responded with a blank stare.
The biggest problem during the passing & skating drill was that most of the passes were significantly off. Usually the passes were 10 feet wide, which is where another player in line was standing. I would not accept that their shotty sticks were the culprit, so I traded sticks with a player and showed them that even a local stick can give and receive accurately, and that their local sticks are sufficient to execute a drill properly. They still couldn’t control their passing, so I gave each group an ultimatum: 3 large mistakes as a group and the next one goes. Keep doing it right, keep practicing. This was a pretty effective shift, instead of just letting each group go for a set time. It motivated them to pay better attention, try harder and assist the players that were struggling.
Since our time was limited, I ran a classroom session after the 1st practice. I spent an hour, translating through Stanzin Dolkar, explaining the rules, penalties and basic concepts of the game. Some of the kids were great, asking detailed questions about scenarios, while others laughed and dozed off. They got one warning, then they were kicked out. 30 minutes in, I gave them an opportunity to leave as a group, so the youngest took that opportunity, which is sad in one aspect, but considering it’s the older ones that will teach the younger ones, it’s fine by me.
Ultimately, it’s unfortunate that we weren’t able so spend more time in Bodhkharboo, but there’s also a frustration, considering we were promised a particular scenario about the condition of hockey in the area that was not true at all. The clinic was not for beginners, it was for children that never set foot on the ice. It’s the beginning of being beginners. Hopefully though, this was enough for them to take notice and start playing every Winter. Considering the fact that Bodhkharboo is pretty remote from the major cities of Ladakh (Leh is 5 hours, Kargil is 2), it’s definitely something for them to do in the harsh Ladakhi Winter. This was also an incredibly beautiful area, with mountains practically on top of the rink, which was a 3 minute walk from some pretty steep cliffs. It was also one of the last Buddhist towns heading towards Kargil, even though it’s in Kargil district, which is predominantly Muslim, which makes it quite unique for the region. There’s a feeling of being at the crossroads of Ladakh.
I look forward to spending a proper amount of time there next Winter.
It’s been two years since I was last in India & Ladakh (in many ways, they are different worlds, even though Ladakh is a part of India). It’s a surreal experience. I spent three and a half months in India in 2009, of which 5 weeks were spent in Ladakh. Other than New York, there’s no place on Earth I’ve spent more time. It’s something I never would have imagined, even as I was preparing for my first trip here. When I returned home, it was obvious Ladakh & the rest of India left an undeniable mark on who I am as a person. It was upon arriving in India again that it became so apparent.
Upon landing in Delhi, I borrowed the phone of the gentleman sitting next to me, still on the tarmac, and called a friend to see if I could stay over for the evening. It was no problem, as I suspected. That pattern has continued thoughout. My plans have consistently been last minute, yet always worked out as I intended. With so much to do, I’ve scheduled very little, knowing that it will all play out as it should, as long as I follow up with the right people the right way. When people have asked me what my plans are tomorrow, next week, or next month, all I can do is shrug and say “I don’t know”, even though my agenda of tasks to complete is long and under way. Everything progresses as it must. In response, Americans, Ladakhis and Indians have all said the same thing: “that’s very Indian/Ladakhi of you”. All I can do is agree. Twenty months wasn’t going to diminish that characteristic. If anything, returning hightened the desire to operate in a state of controlled chaos.
I spent a long time upset that I couldn’t return to India last year, as I promised upon departure in 2009. For simplicity’s sake: it wasn’t feasible for me to return to India, financially and emotionally. The previous trip went much longer than expected, and the road to recovery was also longer than expected. At the same time, there were factors that held the organization back and other factors in India that made it less enticing to return. That’s the short of it. For a while, that was it.
But things started to change in life, for The Hockey Foundation, and regarding ice hockey in India. Finances stabilized, the organization got a new identity thanks to Kevin Sterling working with me to develop a new logo, and I got news that the arena in Dehra Dun was finally completed. From there, all it took was the support of the companies I work for, and the businesses I work with, and 8 weeks after making a decision and 5 weeks after making that decision public, I departed for India on the same date in 2011 that I did in 2009, only this time with support.
Alex Harney has joined me for the first leg of this trip, recording pictures and video of our work here. Alex played hockey throughout his childhood, has a background in photo/video, and is a great guy that is as passionate about this project as I am. He’s already in love with Ladakh! I’ve been delighted to introduce him to my friends in Delhi and Leh, and he’s been able to record what has made this experience so surreal for me.
In so many ways, it’s like I never left, and everything feels like home. The excitement of going somewhere new has been replaced by the familiarity of Delhi and Leh. At the same time, there’s a much greater sense of purpose and confidence that focuses my intent and allows me to enjoy things in a whole new light. The familiar is raw. And that’s India…raw. Everything flows as it should, and people and situations thrive where others never could.
The situation is a bit different this time. Last time, I came without an understanding of hockey in India & Ladakh. Now that I have immersed myself in it, there’s a lot more to do and a lot more to tell you about. Future posts will give you an understanding of what we are here to do, what has been going on from our side of things, and what others are doing to support hockey in Ladakh/India. There’s a lot, so I’ll save it for now.
Two years ago, a dream became reality. There are so many variables that contributed to it, but at the end of the day, I would never have heard of Ladakh if not for my friend and former colleague Angela Ruggiero. Once her random email about Ladakh came through, my life instantly changed, and on the shoulders of warm-hearted Americans & Canadians (in alphabetical order), I was able to begin a project that would redefine how I viewew my place on this planet.
Ladakh is a remote region in the Himalayas in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. Ladakhis are most similar to Tibetans, in the same way that Anglophile Canadians are most similar to Americans. They have their own social identity, their own variations on the language, but to an untrained eye, they are interchangeable. Ladakh is a predominantly Buddhist region, in a predominantly Muslim state, in a predominantly Hindu country, sandwiched between two disputed borders, with China (Tibet) & Pakistan (Kashmir). It’s a region that has been conquered and attacked many times over the past millennia. Needless to say that Ladakh is a unique region. It leaves an impression on everyone that goes there, in an almost mystical way. It’s like Ladakh is in a time capsule from a thousand years ago, even with many of the things we have in our modern lives.
Through my experiences teaching ice hockey in Heilongjiang Province in Northern China & in Ladakh, I got to see how effective sports (namely hockey) can be in improving the quality of life for people who deal with more hardships than we do. I spent a month teaching hockey in Ladakh, playing with children, and providing them with tools to further their potential in a region and country that seem to limit so many.
The trip to Ladakh was motivated by the desire to impart values that we have come to identify as human beings as being crucial to our success: honesty, accountability, team-work & toughness (mental & physical).
As a result of the work that was started, I was honored to become the national coach of India’s first ice hockey team, and got to represent India in the International Ice Hockey Federation’s (IIHF) Annual Conference. What started as a humble volunteer trip quickly ballooned into something bigger, and the platform to use hockey as a means to make a difference in Ladakhi’s lives spurred The Hockey Foundation.
A few weeks ago, we debuted a new logo (graphic design by Kevin Sterling) that communicates so much of what The Hockey Foundation is about: using the ideals of hockey to foster cultural understanding and to communicate and instill virtues (identified above) that motivate change in the way people live their lives. This pursuit contributes to a better life for us all, and is recognized by the UN & USA as an effective charitable means to attain this end.
For this upcoming Winter, we are proud to introduce Goal0 as a sponsor. Goal0 provides portable solar power for every day situations as well as massive expeditions. They are providing some solar panels & batteries to be delivered to SECMOL, a local alternative school that is providing Ladakhi children of all religions with an opportunity to get a real education and broaden their horizons. They have also developed very promising young hockey players!
In less than a month, the next excursion to Ladakh begins. The work started two years ago will be continued, with many bags of equipment donated by people from around North America, as well as the solar power products provided by Goal0. This is going to be a big expense to drag to the other side of the planet, and your support is greatly needed to make this possible. Space to store the equipment is running low, and the desire to help these children is strong.
There are so many factors affecting the lives of Ladakhis, but without a doubt, there’s a lot of hardship. The region was hit by the flooding of the Indus/Sindhu River that devastated Pakistan. The town I spent weeks training the Indian Ice Hockey Team was hit the hardest. Hundreds of people died. Even without this tragedy, there are many difficulties to overcome. I’ll tell you all about that in my next post.
For now, please consider donating. Your support will make a big difference, no matter the size of the contribution.
-Adam Sherlip, Executive Director
As you may or may not be aware, when I was in Ladakh, India, working on developing hockey in the region and writing about my experiences, my laptop completely crapped out on me. I was able to get by in internet cafes, with spotty internet connections and virus-filled computers. Then my camera broke…5 days before I coached India in their first international tournament at the 2009 IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
This made taking pictures difficult, but I pushed forward, collecting cameras and SD cards from the players and manager of the team, and put them onto my hard drive. Well, that drive crashed with no explanation. Every time I tried to access the drive, on any operating system, the computer would freeze, the drive would have a mini-seizure, and I would mumble under my breath that I will not let faulty technology prevent me from getting these pictures off of a little piece of magnetic film stuck under a bunch of circuits and transistors and whatnot.
I am VERY PLEASED to announce that I have cracked into the drive, accessed about 75% of the pictures, and uploaded them to my Flickr account. Adam: 1, Technology: 9, down from 10. Maybe I deserve another point for replacing my laptop. 2 it is.
Sorry for the big letters, but this is a big moment for me. This was perseverence at its finest. It validates the notion that we can overcome big obstacles with enough patience, knowledge, hard-work, and effort. In every way, this is directly relevant in ice hockey, where these traits can not only translate into success on the ice, but success in our personal, interpersonal, and professional lives.
Head Held High,