The things we take for granted...

It was pretty obvious early on that “we’re not in Kansas anymore”, although if you asked me what my opinion of Kansas is/was, it probably isn’t so far off.  There are so many things we take for granted, especially in my neck of the woods on Long Island, and I wanted to take a moment to reflect on it.

Pictures are at the bottom of this post.

  • Paved roads: As I stated in my prior post, driving in Ladakh is not for the weak-stomached.  The roads are barely visible, let alone paved.  When there are paved roads, they are filled with potholes.  Usually, paved roads means a sign of population in the area, which means people walking in the streets, vehicles passing each other even on a 1-lane road, and animals…everywhere!  And by animals, I mean cows, donkeys, yaks, and dogs…tons of dogs.  When dirt and paved roads aren’t available, I was privileged to be in vehicles driving through the desert without any roads, or better yet, on snowy, icy, dark, winding mountain roads, with no shoulder, 1 lane, and the possibility of slipping out and plummeting a few hundred feet to a painful death.  Sorry, Mom.  Look at the bright side, it’s some of the most beautiful sights anyone on this planet can ever hope to see!
  • Clean Water: I left the USA with a handful of vaccinations and prescriptions, preparing me for the worst when it came to diseases, including Hepatitis A and Malaria.  In order to drink water not out of a bottle, you need to boil it to be sure of no bacteria/viruses.  In Leh, they have some springs, but most water comes from the top of the spring, where dogs will drink from.  Needless to say, I prefer the boiled water.
  • Hot Running Water: The definition of a hot shower throughout much of Ladakh is a bucket of warm water.  I have been in India for almost a week now, and I’ve had the privilege of 1 warm bucket shower.  I have yet to attempt a cold running water shower.  Do I smell?  Most likely.
  • Electricity: SECMOL utilizes solar energy for much of the power at the campus, and this is better than most places, where power is only available for segments of the day.  In a few hours I will be with a group of people watching the inauguration (I can’t wait!), and we need to bring in a generator in order to power the TV.
  • Fueled Heat: This is even more rare, as I have yet to find a source of heat that comes from oil, gas, electric, coal, or hamsters running in a wheel.  Heat comes from utilizing the sun properly, not necessarily harnessing solar electric, but just utilizing the closeness to the sun, and running fires in mini-stoves of wood & kerosene.  Black lungs must be standard in this part of the world.
  • Homes Built by trade: I had the distinct pleasure of staying with a family in Kargill (on the other side of Ladakh and then again with the family in Leh (including tonight).  Including all of the elements identified in the other bullets, the homes are built with mud, clay, stone, raw wood, straw, bamboo, and other raw materials.  There is no cancer-causing insulation, no indoor plumbing, minimal lighting, and no even floors, roofs (rooves?), or stairs.  Doorways are small, and have large foot posts, apparently meant to keep out the zombies (seriously!).  What the home lacks in modernity, it makes up for in coziness and hospitality, at least when it comes to the folks I stayed with.
I wanted to save the best for last:
  • Toilets: Yeah, you guessed it…hole in the floor.  In an outhouse.  In the cold.  Oh, and with no toilet paper.  Yes, I came prepared, hopefully for the duration.  Moisture control (to prevent stench) is done by shoveling dirt on top of the hole when you are done.  There is no sign that employees must wash their hands after using the restroom.  I have become addicted to my antibacterial wipes.
Check back often, as I will probably find more things we totally take for granted in the US, Canada, and the UK (ok, maybe not in Northern Canada, or Kansas, or the Scottish Highlands).

Expect a few more posts about random ridiculousness, with more and more hockey on the way!

So many pics and videos to sift through, but they’re coming in bursts (video tomorrow hopefully - for real this time!).

Jule (pronounced “Joo-lay” and means, hello/goodbye/thank you and can be used at any time in coversation apparently),



The Arrival

Getting to Ladakh is no easy task.  Just getting to the right part of Indira Gandhi Airport in Delhi was a project.  Flights get cancelled often.  Fortunately, that was not a problem I had to deal with.  The extra hockey gear I brought cost me only 1260 rupees ($30) to bring along, and my flight was not even 1/6 full.

The flight was short, about an hour and ten minutes, and upon descent into Leh, it was clear the world I am accustomed to in New York and on Long Island was nowhere in sight.

Landing in Leh should require an additional pilot’s license, because the landing requires the pilot to weave in and out of the mountains like a ski slolom.  Snowy, rocky peaks are in all directions, and the final descent literally requires the plane to do a 90 degree turn to avoid crashing into the side of the mountain.

Throughout this airport voyage, I was the human freak show carrying 2 bundles of hockey sticks, and this was heightened in Leh by the fact that the aiport was the size of a garage and I was the only American on the voyage to the coldest region of India.

It was cold, but not as bad as I expected.  The air was crisp and seemed easy to breathe.  I stood in the middle of a taxi driver circle, half bewildered, half firm in the price I would pay to get to SECMOL’s campus in Phey, about 10-20 miles away.

The ride was interesting, to say the least.  On one hand, you were surrounded by the Himalayas, Mother Nature’s Crown Jewels, with the Indus River cutting through it, and on the other hand, the scene on the road was full of Indian military bases, ad nauseum.  The second half of the drive was on a narrow road that followed the curvature of the mountain face.

I wasn’t entirely confident my driver knew where SECMOL was, but sure enough, after a few awkward exchanges, we made it to a dirt road with a small sign pointing the way.  When I say “road” this is highly exaggerated, as it was nothing more than 2 tire marks to follow in the desert while trying to avoid any major boulders or ditches.  I was just able to make out the SECMOL campus, when we came to a sudden stop.  I thought my Ladakhi driver made a wrong turn and was about to take us down a cliff, as this would’ve been the preferred option, because the road to SECMOL had been blocked off as it was undriveable.  I was well over a mile away from campus, with a winding road of boulders to walk with 3 bags (luggage and equipment) and 2 bundles of sticks.

Oh, did I mention this is at an altitude of almost 12,000 feet?  Leh is twice the altitude of Denver, which towers over North America at 5,280 feet.  You know how you hear about the altitude issues for athletes in Denver, and how Major League Baseball actually uses a different ball for games in Denver?  Well imagine that within 30 minutes of arriving at what feels like the top of the world (the two highest civilizations in the world are in Peru & Tibet, both over 16,000 feet), and carrying 100 pounds of crap well over a mile on a rocky path, while having a hard time breathing.  

What better way to get acclimated to the altitude?

Oh, how about playing hockey an hour later.

The rink at SECMOL is about 2/3 the size of an NHL standard rink, with no boards.  I was fortunate enough to find netting in the US that fit the oddly constructed goals perfectly.  I attempted to show the students how to take a proper wrist shot and after a little while, we got to the fun part…scrimmage.

There is a tremendous room for improvement for hockey in Ladakh, as you will find out in detail in my future posts.  Suffice it to say, if we scrimmaged 2 North Americans on 10 Ladakhis, we’d have a decent match.

Unfortunately, my body was quickly failing, and by early evening, after 2 days of travel and a +12,000 foot change in altitude, I was feeling dizzy, nauseous, confused and with a massive headache that didn’t subside until the following afternoon.

That is where we’ll pick up the next chance I get to find a stable internet connection.

Here are some pictures of the beginning of the trip.  Video and additional pictures to come soon.


I'm Here!

I’ve made it safe and sound to beautiful Ladakh, where mountains surround you! I am in the process of writing a big intro blog post, which will be posted in the next few days.

Long story short, there is a lot here that is completely opposite from what we know in the Western World, and it’s simultaneously frustrating and refreshing.

In regards to hockey, there is a lot of work to do in the coming weeks. Right now the SECMOL guys are involved in a tournament in Leh involving 8 teams, and today’s game (Starting in 2 minutes!) will determine whether they make it to the Semis. Later today, all of us are leaving for remote Chiktan to participate in a tournament, including an American team!

I’m definitely going to run up the score!

Anyway, gotta run. Expect a large post soon!