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Islay To Ladakh And Back

Tonight I will take you on a trip to a very remote and stunningly beautiful corner of our planet, between Tibet and Pakistan, not far south from the ancient Silk Road and the Taklamakan Desert, an area that I'm particularly fascinated by. The reason for this detour from Islay is the fact that Carl Reavey forwarded a story from Rachell McNeill from Islay. Rachel wrote a fascinating account of her trip to Ladakh, India. Although it's not about Islay I think this is, like Carl mentioned, a story that deserves to be told. I'm very grateful to be able to publish it on the blog for you tonight.

Rachell McNeill: Ladakh is a semi autonomous area in the region of Jammu and Kashmir in Northern India. I travelled there to stay with a local family in their home and participate in their way of life. I crossed the Taglang La, which at 5,359m (17,684ft) is the second highest pass in the world. I arrived in Tackmachik and met my lovely family on the 3 August. There are four generations living in the one house. The oldest is Phutsok Dorge at 90 years, and the youngest - and wildest, is Jigmet Dorge at 2 and a half years.

I believe that life in Ladakh is similar to the way life was in Islay and Colonsay at the time when my Dad was a wee boy. The people grow their own food. There is not a predominant money economy. In the villages there are no shops - if you don't work and create the food yourself, you will go hungry. For me the difference between Islay and Ladakh is not specifically one of geography, but one of time. Continue reading....

I helped the family harvest apricots, turn the daal, fetch water, brush the floors with appropriate grass brushes. Life was peaceful, deep, hard working, joyous. Until the rain started. Heavy rain is unheard of in Ladakh. The annual rainfall is 26-30cm. This summer it poured for days. The roofs of the houses leaked, the apricots drying in the sun were ruined, the daal drying on the roof tops was soggy and turning mouldy. One night we heard shouting, everyone had to move to high ground. The river that serviced the village had swelled to become a huge raging torrent, it had burst it's banks, carrying fields and animals with it, and was now heading for the village. I ran along a ridge of rock 400 feet up. Looking down, it was like a mini tsunami, everything just crumpled before the awesome weight of the water. Fully grown trees snapped like dry matchsticks. The huge stone road bridge was swept away in an instant. Nothing could have held against the overwhelming power of the water. It had found its way from the mountains to the Indus. That night, and for three nights after, we all slept in a concrete built community centre up on a ledge on the mountain side.

Our village was now cut off from the outside world. Luckily, people could still walk out over a pedestrian bridge. We heard news of the terrible floods in Leh, 700 missing, five road bridges swept away. The village next to ours had lost 20 souls. There was not much we could do to help our villagers. Their fields had been swept away, we were eating their food supplies, there was only one hand pump to supply all our water requirements. There were no communication links to the outside world. Our families in the Uk didn't know if we were alive or dead.

Time to leave, I thought. So, I packed a small haversack with my sleeping bag, a first aid kit, a warm jumper, my diary and my toothbrush and like India Anna Jones, set off. It was a bit scarey, but it was better to be actively doing something, rather than waiting to be rescued. I crossed ravines by tree trunks lashed together, by metal step ladders placed over the stones on each side of the torrents. I got lifts in the back of huge stone dumper lorries. I also got a lift from a colonel in the army, who gave me an apple and whisked me along the burst banks of the Indus to Leh. On arrival in Leh, I delivered a hand written letter to the Lama son of my family, informing him they were all safe. I waited at the airport for 6 hours for a stand by seat to Delhi. In Delhi, I bought the last available ticket to the UK until August the 22, and slept in the airport until my flight was called. Before I left, both the grandmother and the grandfather of my Tackmachik family put silk scarves around my neck. They were to keep me safe on my journey. I arrived at Heathrow, took the first train to Glasgow, then got the ferry home. And when I was safely in my own home, I took off the scarves.

For more info about Ladakh and the organisation ISEC please see Rachel's blog on www.wildandmagic.blogspot.com

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