When you wake up in the morning and think about having to go to lectures, ever get that feeling that you can’t really be bothered to walk that far and so turn over and go back to sleep? I definitely know that feeling, even while staying in halls on campus throughout my first year, which meant that it conveniently took less than 10 minutes to walk to any of my main destinations!

And remember the days when you were at school and your parents would be yelling at you to get out of bed , and you were usually late just because there really wasn’t anything to motivate you to leave the warm comforts of your bed? Now imagine that you live in the Himalayas and that to get to school, you have to walk up a frozen river, which takes you six days. It’s dangerous because the ice could break and the water below is freezing. What kind of person would risk their lives just to get to school?

Well, anyone who has watched the series, Human Planet will know what I’m talking about, because it’s that exact reality faced by father Stanzin, whenever he has to take his two little children to the closest school — which is 100km away from their village in the heart of the Himalayas.

To get there they must undertake the journey across the Chadar; a six day trek up the frozen Zanskar River. After their mother tearfully waves them off, Stanzin uses a stick to test the ice, making sure that it will support the weight of him and his children, who, however young, have no choice but to cope with the hike to school. They then have to use ledges on the side of the river to avoid the water. Not only is there the danger of falling through the ice and/or into the river, but the family also have to deal with the risk of avalanches from the surrounding mountains. This sometimes means taking a trickier path around the ice to avoid this particular peril.  When they need to sleep, the family have to retreat to little caves that they’ve found on previous trips, and all they can do to keep warm is to huddle together against the biting cold. Once they finally reach their destination,  Stanzin bids goodbye to his children, wishes them well, and then turns around to make the six day trek back home.

This is a trek that has claimed many lives and plenty of full grown men will embark on it simply for the pride of achievement; and yet for this family, this journey, undertaken at the beginning and end of term, is just a general part of life. For me, the idea of walking to school would have been a joke; I’d have to face a two hour walk and a couple of hills, so it never crossed my mind! Next time I find myself deliberating as to whether or not to undertake the few minute stroll to my lectures, I’ll remember this little family trekking across the ice and guilt myself into going!

Ellis Schindler

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