Striking out into the cool clean air, the sun shone down upon us creating eight shadows, warming our backs. Stanzin, Tsomo, Deachen, Tashi, Othzer, Mama Kunzes, Kayla, and I were on our way to the closest town, Phey, to visit the primary school there. Kayla and I both wanted to talk to the teachers there about our projects. The others seemed to be along just for fun as a vibe of adventure pierced everything around them.
Already signs on winter had presented themselves, not only in the landscape but also in our activities during the day. The leaves had fallen off of most trees, irrigation channels had become outlined with ice after each night, and snow had begun to creep down the slopes surrounding the SECMOL campus. We spent one work hour raking leaves and storing them, another picking and harvesting the last of the vegetables from the garden, and another cutting and drying surplus food for the coming winter months.
Passing the solar collectors on our right, we continued east down the only road leading to SECMOL. At the edge of the campus we descended down to the gleaming turquoise water of the Indus, following it to the neighboring town. We picked our way through the thorny sea buckthorn, a vicious plant bearing small sweet orange berries, and then hiked through soggy pastures. Rejoining the road, weathered stupas, over a hundred years old, came into view. Painted white and crumbling they resembled the still and snow capped peaks of Ladakh in the background. Walking on, Kayla, Kunzes, and I, chatted away with the SECMOL students behind us. As we walked we began to see the first houses of Phey, larger than most, highlighted in white against the many brown colors. Yak meandered through the recently plowed fields, while a flock of pigeons took flight. We caught up with an old man carrying firewood on his back, and passed a young teenage monk, exchanging "julley"'s.
Winding through town we found our way to the school, which was closed. Sitting down and snacking on fresh picked apples, we stayed in the town for a little bit, watching another Yak slowly make his way down the road, seeming to have no destination. Finally deciding to walk home, we got up and returned to the road, with another half hour walk ahead of us. The sun now at our fronts, we began retracing our steps back west to SECMOL. Sitting just a little ways above the mountains behind SECMOL, the sun urged us on with its warmth. I walked with Othzer in the back this time, our arms around each other’s backs, singing made up songs. In front of me, Kayla and Kunzes walked hand in hand, deep in their own conversation.
Everything around us seemed to be glowing, but maybe that was just our own aura bouncing back. Along the way, Katy joined us, out for her own walk and we arrived back at campus around 4:15, just over two hours after we left. In terms of our projects, the walk had been a failure, but I think it became one of the most enjoyable experiences of the trip thus far.