The end of the road To see the change on the ground, I catch a lift in an LREDA jeep to the village of Shayok, near the border with Tibet. A new road follows a glinting emerald river through a gorge that broadens into the Shayok river valley. The fresh tarmac ends at Shayok, perched on the valley’s west side. Snow-dusted peaks rise in every direction, blue with afternoon haze.
This tranquil village of 25 mud-and-stone houses dotted between harvested fields has a small monastery, village hall and clinic; cows and donkeys wander among the buildings. At the far end of the village, a tidy fenced array of 34 blue solar panels all face south, like sunflowers out of sync with the westerly evening sun.
Waves and shouts of ‘Ecology!’ greet our vehicle. We visit the village leader, Sonam Tsetan. His wife, Dolma, 44, makes fresh khante – salty butter tea. Sonam, 46, sits on a rug in the corner of his living room beside a large television crowned by a satellite box and DVD player. He’s busy with village ledgers and satellite phone calls, the TV flickering silently away to itself.
‘Now is a very exciting time for the village,’ he says over a mug of khante. ‘We finally have a surfaced road, and now we have real electricity. Our new solar system gives us constant bulbs in every room, small domestic appliances, even television. And the village has invested in processing machines for juice and oil.’
Lobsang Dorje, 45, headmaster at Shayok’s government school, arrives for dinner at Sonam’s house as usual to catch up on the day’s news. ‘I’m excited about the new solar system,’ he says. ‘Children can learn to use computers, and satellite internet will follow. They can now see their leaders in person on TV.’ But it’s not all positive news. ‘Homework is already suffering, and now they experience consumerism and violence.’
We eat skyu, thumb-pressed pasta shells in a vegetable and mutton soup. The four of us gaze at Star Gold channel between slurps. A Hindi action movie is broken up by advertisements for hair conditioner and life insurance.
Sonam’s father, Dsering, 71, recently moved into a modernised bungalow with a passive solar wall along its south side, which continues to heat the room long after the sun has set. In his front room, he listens to All India Radio for the 7.15pm Ladakhi regional news. ‘I listen to news and music, or read my Buddhist texts,’ he says. ‘We used yak-butter lamps before the 1970s, then kerosene lamps. About 15 years ago, the government supplied us with small roof-mounted solar panels. But since last month, we have as much electricity as we want.’
ABOVE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: the remote village of Shayok stands at 3,640 metres in southeastern Ladakh; parabolic solar dishes at the JNV school outside Leh. These motorised devices, which track the path of the sun, provide the power to cook lunch for the school’s 600 pupils; two men and a pony on the morning trail from Lingshed to Nyete, Zanskar; a solar photovoltaic array below the Old Palace in Leh
September 2013 | 27