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Aamir Khan in Ladakh

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Army confirms huge loss to school

Ajay Sura, Times of India (TNN, Chandigarh, 7 August 2010) download article in PDF format - Army sources confirmed the huge loss to the Druk Pema Karmpo School known for its architecture and meant to educate deprived children of Ladakh region.

During the film crew's visit, Aamir Khan wrote in the school visitor book on September 15, 2008: "What a wonderful school. The kids seem very happy, and such a great location. Keep up the good work. Regards, Aamir."

The school came into limelight after '3 Idiots' hero Rancho disappeared and was tracked down by his former classmates in Ladakh. They found that it was here that all his dreams and inventions were being brought to life.

A film crew of about 130 people had descended on the school for a three-day shoot. They auditioned the students, selected a couple of boys for small roles and a alarge group to take part in the crowd scene when the stars arrived at the school. Inspired by the vision of His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa, spiritual leader of Ladakh, the school aimed to provide a modern education for Ladakhi children - an education grounded in their own culture and which could prepare them to lead happy and productive lives.

The school was started at the request of the people of Ladakh who wanted an institution that would help maintain their rich cultural traditions, based on Tibetan Buddhism, while equipping their children for a life in the 21st century.

Residential blocks allow children from Ladakh's remote areas to attend and a programme of sponsorship ensures that the poorest are not excluded. It is managed by the Druk Pema Karpo Educational Society and funded by international aid.

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7 bridges restored, foreigners back from 14,000ft

The Indian Express (11 August 2010) download article in PDF format - Working towards restoring connectivity to the Ladakh region, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has reconstructed seven of the 13 bridges that were washed away in the flash floods and is likely to reopen the Leh-Kargil road within a few days. While continuing regular sorties to evacuate foreign tourists stuck in the region, the Air Force rescued 28 foreign nationals, including two children from the Rumste monastery, located at a height of over 14,000 feet.

While the BRO is engaged in restoring surface connectivity, an Air Force aircraft carried a 6.5 tonne generator for BSNL that has helped restarting limited mobile connectivity of the service provider in Leh city. “Airlifting of the BSNL equipment was foremost on the list of priorities to restore normalcy for ease of operations and coordination among agencies engaged in relief activities. In addition, two bulldozers and excavators (JCB) each were also airlifted by IAF IL-76s,” Wing Commander T K Singha, IAF Spokesperson, said.

The Air Force, which is operating Cheetah helicopters to evacuate “ill and dehydrated foreigners” from inaccessible areas adjoining Leh, also airlifted seven tourists from Marko valley, besides the 28 from Rumste, in 40 rescue sorties. “The Army also evacuated nine foreigners stranded at Bimah to Kargil,” Singha said.

The Army provided relief to the villages of Phyang and Thanyang, which had been totally cut off, on Tuesday evening when water bowsers and vehicles carrying food reached the villages. Earlier, Army helicopters had airlifted dry and fresh ration including medicines to the villages on Tuesday. The Army has currently deployed 18 columns of troops for relief activities in Leh region.

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Floods may wash away "good' tourist season

Geeta Gupta, Indian Express (New Delhi, 6 August 2010) download article in PDF format - Flash floods in Leh that killed 115 people have got travel agents in Delhi worried. Not only are several Indian and foreign tourists stranded, the disaster is feared to badly affect the good tourist season that lasts only till September.

"A lot of tourists are stuck in Leh and Ladakh, and all communication channels are down... August is the peak tourist season for visit to the Himalayan region (and the tragedy will affect it)," said President of the Indian Association of Tour Operators, Vijay Thakur. Though he did not give the exact number, Thakur said there have been "major cancellations for next week, at least."

The stranded tourists, however, are believed to be safe. "A lot of Indians as well as foreign tourists are stranded here, but we believe they are safe. The hotels and the guesthouses, though affected by the floods, are still safe," said Lorapa, a Buddhist monk at Hemis Monastery, whom The Indian Express spoke with on phone late Friday eveyning.

In Delhi, Pooja Sharma, a resident of Sarojini Nagar, is worried. She has not been able to reach any of her six friends believed to be stranded in Leh. "They were travelling from Manali to Leh. There has been no communication from them for the past two days.... We have no idea whether they have reached Leh or are stuck somewhere midway," she said.

Though the runway at Leh airport was cleared of mud and stones by the evening, all flights from Delhi to the town were cancelled. Air India has cancelled Saturday's flights also, but Kingfisher Airlines said they woud fly as scheduled. Jet Airways would also operate three flights.

Gyalwang Drukpa, head of the Hemis Monastery, who arrived in Delhi from Kathmandu, could not fly to Leh. "As far as I can remember, this is the first time Ladakh has witnessed a cloudburst, and this is probably a result of global warming,"Drukpa said.

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'Rancho' to comfort students of his school

Ajay Sura, Times of India (TNN, 11 August 2010) download article in PDF format - Rancho will visit 'his own' school — five days after flash floods devastated Druk Padma Karpo School in Leh.

Aamir Khan who shot the climax of his hit film '3 Idiots' in the school called the principal and said he'd like to spend time with the students to get them out of their shock and also help rebuild the school building.

Principal Prasad Eledath said Aamir called him on Tuesday and asked him to send two proposals, spelling out short-term and long-term plans for rebuilding the school. He said the actor asked him to describe the happenings of that black day and inquired about the extent of damage to all the buildings on the campus. "With most classrooms and the campus being full of slush, a lot of labour will have to go into clearing this. We also told him how computers in the IT room got damaged," said Eledath.

When he told Aamir that the students were in shock after witnessing nature's fury, he promised he'd visit them as soon as possible to comfort them.

"After assessing the actual loss to the school, we'll send the proposal to him, seeking his assistance in rebuilding the only green school of the Himalayas," said the principal.

The clean-up and relief work at the school was started on Tuesday with the help of staff, the CRPF, nuns and volunteers. The principal said the objective was to restart the school in a phased manner, with class 8 commencing on Thursday, classes 6 and 7 the next week, and classes 3-5 in a couple of weeks.

Out of total 550 children enrolled, around 200 living in school residences were safely evacuated by Army and the local villagers. They are shifted to Shey Palace, on high ground, for safety.

23 foreigners dead as toll tops 170

IAF and Army Deloyed For Relief Services

M Saleem Pandit & Anand Bodh, Times of India (Srinagar/Chandigarh, 11 August 2011) - Three French, one Italian and a Spaniard were among 23 foreigners killed in the Leh cloudburst. Of the 170 bodies recovered so far, 155 have been identified. The bodies of five foreigners have been identified as: Augareils Hendri, Hellot Jacques and Daniel Hauryn (citizens of France), Marro Mas Maria Lourdes, Spain, and Ricardo Pitton, Italy.

Leh additional deputy commissioner Mohammad Hanief said over 150 foreign tourists, trapped at Lamayuru — a tourist attraction in Leh known for its Buddhist monasteries and monks — were airlifted to safer places on Tuesday. Thirty one persons were still missing, Hanief added. Army has lost its seven personnel. Three JCOs and 25 others are missing.

In New Delhi, the Union government has set up a special control room in the ministry of external affairs to streamline the collation and dissemination of information on foreigners affected in Leh. "Information about Indians and foreign nationals who have lost their lives, have been injured or stranded in different parts, is being collated by agencies involved in rescue and relief effort," an official release by the MEA said.

More than 70 people, including 49 security personnel, injured in the cloudburst, were on Tuesday airlifted by IAF to Udhampur from Leh for treatment, IAF group captain PM Vithalkar told a news agency. Relief and rescue operations were continuing in Leh town and 12 surrounding villages, Hanief said.

As Leh remains cut off with the rest of the world for the fifth consecutive day, thousands of people, including migrant labourers, are still waiting to be airlifted. With telephone lines not working and power supply snapped, stranded people could not contact their near and dear ones.

Meanwhile, Border Roads Organisation personnel are engaged in restoring traffic on NH-1D. A 4-5 kilometre stretch between Leh and Khalsi have been washed away. BRO personnel are making five temporary bridges to restore traffic.

Around 150 trucks with essential goods and 100 oil tankers are stranded at Khoksar and Keylong. All other roads are closed. Essential commodities are being supplied through helicopters.

Two IAF AN-32s with eight tonnes of blankets and tents have been sent from Sirsa. An IL-76 with six tonnes of BSNL equipment and 15 trained disaster management specialists too have arrived. Army helicopters are engaged in supplying ration and medicines to Phyang and Nimu.

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An offbeat Ladakhi school that famously starred in the hit Hindi movie 3 Idiots

Shyam G. Menon, The Hindu Business Line, 23rd July 2010 - Ever since 3 Idiots captured the fancy of India and became a box-office phenomenon, a school on the outskirts of Leh has become an unexpected tourist attraction for having featured in the film. Every day, a handful of tourists arrive at the Druk White Lotus School at Shey to glimpse Phunsuk Wangdoo's idea of education.

That was Bollywood. In Ladakh, where tradition, modernity and small community pose questions at every step, education has at times attracted controversy. The best known incident is probably the rise of the Students Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) to iconic status and its subsequent cut down to size - a story that is still puzzling.

"Our vision is to provide a modern education for Ladakhi children, grounded in their own culture and spirituality, and in a sustainable manner," the official handout of the Druk White Lotus School said. It was June third week. The school was all ready to host a visit by His Holiness the Twelfth Gyalwang Drukpa, head of the Drukpa Lineage (a sect within Buddhism) to which the school belonged. Children waited in line to welcome him while in the school's courtyard, a mix of parents, followers of the faith, teachers and the media indulged prayer beads and each other.

The Druk White Lotus School courts a mix of tradition and modernity. There is English, IT and other paraphernalia of modern schooling, plus culture and tradition. Given the region's winter when temperature dips to minus 30, the school runs from November to mid-December, then early March to mid-July and early August to end-October. It had nearly 600 students. Characteristic of emergent Ladakh the school greets the sky with a battery of solar panels. Its environs are clean, free of plastic and the school is eco-friendly.

Built and run by the Drukpa Lineage, which also manages Ladakh's famous Hemis monastery, its architecture is engaging from afar and close.

At the orientation room for visitors (it had a poster of 3 Idiots placed at the door) a young lady explained the overall plan. The blueprint had a couple of reference points - there was a circular structure roughly in the middle of the complex and a large building at its far end, dedicated to the great sage Naropa and aptly named Naropa Palace. The classrooms and hostels were positioned around the circle. The circle was said to resemble the Buddhist Mandala, of great significance in the religion's practise of meditation and aspiration for enlightenment. Very simply put therefore, the overall plan had a touch of journeying through stages to the Naropa Palace beyond. For its environment-friendly architecture, the school has won several awards.

As part of its project called 'Living Traditions', the school is also setting up on campus a Heritage Centre and a Cultural Archive. Approximately $2 million has so far been raised for the school; its supporters span individuals, trusts, companies and volunteers. An estimated $800,000 is additionally required to complete the school. "We have a lot to do. We have started a journey," Prasad Eledath, the principal, said.

Like elsewhere in Ladakah, Shey too had monastic beauty. It was brown expanse nearby and mountains on the edge, led by the 6,150-metre Stok Kangri. According to the school's handout, the location was chosen so as to be near Leh and its resources, but far enough to distance itself from the increasing external influences brought by the large number of tourists. Phunsuk Wangdoo may have just changed that!

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All is well at Rancho’s school

Tarun Upadhay, Hindustan Times (11 August 2010) download article in PDF format - It may take a little while before all is indeed well at Rancho’s school. But the school featured in the hit film 3 Idiots — in which actor Aamir Khan played the role of Rancho, a brilliant engineering student who later starts a school in Ladakh — will reopen on Thursday.

The Druk White Lotus School in Shey, 15km from Leh town, was shut after last week's flash floods. Though all students of the school are safe and there has been no damage to the buildings (contrary to some media reports), a portion of the school is filled with muck. Students and volunteers are helping with the clean-up.

Memories of the film keep them in good spirits. Some students, lined up to remove the mud, hand over muck-filled pans to those next in the line with a smile and a quip from the film — “tohfa kabool karo (accept the gift)”.

Skalzang Dorje, a Class 4 student, greets you, perhaps a tad predictably, with an “all is well”, another popular 3 Idiots line.

Dorje, who has temporarily moved to another building in the complex, was on the campus when the film was shot.

“I have met Aamir,” he said, with pride. He said he wanted his school to be clean at the earliest so that he could “study and play”.

After Friday’s cloudbursts, flood waters entered five buildings of the school complex that were on a lower elevation, filling them with muck.

“Exams are in October. So we will start classes from Thursday in buildings that are clean,” said school principal Prasad Eledath. “We will conduct oral exams of smaller classes to compensate for the loss of time, as classes will be held in a phased manner due to space constraint.”

The Druk White Lotus School provides students with an education that aims to blend Ladakhi culture with modern education.

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Bad Karma Beware: Meet the Kung Fu Nuns of Nepal

by Hillary Brenhouse, Time Weekly - The word out of central Nepal is so startling that it sounds almost mythical. Every day at 4 a.m. in the Kathmandu Valley, far from the birthplace of kung fu, 200 nuns of the Tibetan Buddhist Drukpa sect - a school not associated with the Chinese martial art - are said to assemble to throw punches. Weather permitting, the young women have been seen practicing on the roof of the Naro Assembly Hall of the Druk Gawa Khilwa Nunnery, set against forested mountain and the open sky. The nuns describe their hour-long routines: spreading apart their feet and planting them down decidedly in the so-called horse stance, bringing thumb together with forefinger to form a crane's beak with their hands, striking down and then back again, lunging forward and taking off with soaring kicks. "We all like it very much," 17-year-old Jigme Konchok Lhamo says in a phone interview. "Everyone does it, except those nuns who are very old." In other words, morning kung fu sessions are only open to nuns under 25.

Kung fu came to the nunnery in 2008, after His Holiness the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa, head of the Drukpa school, saw nuns in combat training while he was on a visit to his followers based in northern Vietnam. "I was inspired because these Vietnamese nuns exhibited tremendous self-confidence and strength, not only in their movements but also in their attitude toward people outside their own enclosed community," he says. Kung fu has long been established in the country, having moved south from traditional martial-arts centers in China, including the famous Shaolin Temple, which was founded by a separate Buddhist sect, Chan (or Zen, as most Westerners know it).

His Holiness took back to Kathmandu not just the idea of introducing martial arts, but also four experienced Vietnamese Drukpa nuns to serve as teachers. The Buddhist leader was keen on keeping the program all female, insisting that bringing in learned monks as instructors would only reinforce gender stereotypes. The physical and spiritual empowerment of women is high on his list. "Before coming here," he says, "girls who had become nuns in different parts of the Himalayas in search of independence mostly ended up doing household chores in the monasteries and sometimes in their own gurus' family homes."

That the young Vietnamese women, all of them in their early 20s and themselves trained by men, are passing their new expertise forward is a testament to how far Buddhist nuns have come. Martial-arts historians agree that there were almost certainly nuns in the Shaolin Temple but that it's unlikely they received martial-arts training due to their lesser status. In any case, they would not have gone on to coach. But after just two years of instruction, a handful of quick-learning Nepalese nuns are said to have begun trying their hand at teaching and now reportedly help lead morning lessons.

Martial-arts training is great exercise, supplementing the nuns' yoga classes. But it was also introduced to help with their Buddhist practice. "Our meditation gets easy with the kung fu," says the young nun Konchok Lhamo. "It helps us to sit up straight, to learn how to concentrate." The continual repetition of moves builds control and focus, thought to be an asset to any discipline requiring intense concentration - all things useful for young women who are expected to sit in the same position for hours and sometimes undertake retreats during which they cannot speak for months at a time.

The Vietnamese Drukpa nuns only began their own martial-arts training in 1992, when their local religious head, the Most Venerable Thich Vien Thanh, initiated the practice at the Tay Thien nunnery. There were only three nuns then. Now all 80 of the nuns there are said to spend sunup sparring. Many of them are eager to join their four sisters in Nepal, so they can be closer to the Gyalwang Drukpa and also try teaching. Initially, the nuns were trained in combat techniques by soldiers from the Vietnamese military. But in the past few years the program has become more formal, and male students of kung fu grandmasters have gone from the cities to teach the women a mixture of Shaolin methods and specifically Vietnamese martial arts. Tay Thien's head nun Jigme Samten Wangmo, who is Vietnamese but goes by her Tibetan religious name, says that one of these indigenous styles, Kinh Thuat, "was created by the generals and warriors of the Tran Dynasty who defeated the invader Genghis Khan." Her nuns have never had to fight off intruders themselves. Says Samten Wangmo: "Perhaps that's because hearing that we have kung fu, strangers are afraid of getting close to our place."

In other times, it might have been odd for kung fu practitioners in Nepal to be learning Chinese or Vietnamese fighting forms. Thomas Green, editor of the just published Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia of History and Innovation, calls it "an adventure in globalism," noting that knocking down boundaries in this way is now commonplace. "In a very nationalistic period, for instance, Taekwondo was the Korean martial art," he says. "But with the Buddhist nuns, what you have is a community that crosses national lines." Regardless of the particular type of kung fu being disseminated there, "this effort at pride, strength, self-actualization is something that is certainly filling a need with these women."

And the nuns' effort is likely to go even more global in the coming year. Once they are prepared, several of the more skilled Kathmandu nuns may be asked to pass on their abilities at a third Drukpa nunnery, the Dongyu Gatsa Ling in the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, a former librarian from London who established the nunnery in the late 1990s, caught the Nepal nuns demonstrating their newfound knowledge one evening during the annual Drukpa Council last year. The presentation stunned the crowd. "Frankly, it brought the house down," says Tenzin Palmo. "I think the monks and lamas were very envious."

Tenzin Palmo says taking kung fu to her own nunnery "would help the nuns build self-esteem, which is one of the things, on the whole, young nuns lack. They're not trained to have confidence. They're trained to be deferential, especially in the presence of males." Learning martial arts would also give them the means to defend themselves should local men ever get any ideas. "You just need one group of young guys at a wedding or something to get drunk and suddenly remember that there's a whole community of young women in the vicinity," says Tenzin Palmo.

She is currently in negotiations with the other nunneries to invite girls over, but is concerned that her own nuns - whose days already are heavy with yoga classes, Buddhist philosophy and Tibetan- and English-language lessons - will not be able to fit anything else in. But the nuns couldn't be more enthusiastic. Says Tenzin Palmo: "They just see themselves as kung fu heroines."

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Rancho school reopens Thursday

Tarun Upadhay, Hindustan Times (11 August 2010) download article in PDF format - It may take a little while before all is indeed well at Rancho’s school. But the school featured in the hit film 3 Idiots — in which actor Aamir Khan played the role of Rancho, Foreign tourists and locals help students clean a classroom of the school where the Aamir Khan-starrer 3 Idiots was shot. The Druk White Lotus School in Shey, 15km from Leh town, was shut after last week's flash floods. Though a portion of the school is filled with muck, the building has not suffered serious damage. It is expected to reopen on Thursday.

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Coverage in Dainik Bhaskar

Dainik Bhaskar, 28th June 2010, download in PDF format - This story is purely on environment initiatives of Drukpa Lineage in Himalayas and the plantation of 1016 trees during this trip. The article also mentions Druk White Lotus school and why it is the only green school in the Himalayas.