This morning at SECMOL started off with an emotional goodbye. Our Nat Geo expert Sandesh, who I have decided is the most interesting man I have ever met in my life up until this point, left our group. Although we all knew he was only set to stay with us for this short amount of time, it was still extremely sad to say goodbye to such an amazing man who taught our group so much about photography, India, and ourselves. Luckily, we kept the knowledge we learned from him for the rest of our trip to help with our travels.
After saying goodbye to Sandesh, we ate breakfast then met in our “on assignment groups.” My cultural geography group was very small compared to the photography group, as there were only four of us. This was nice, however, because our leader Robbie could talk to us one on one and answer all of our questions much easier. On this day, we were given an assignment for our project. Since our plan for the day was to travel to a large city in Ladakh, Leh, we were told to talk to the people we’d see around the city. More specifically, we were assigned to ask at least two people to draw us each a map of where they were from. I was so excited for this, because talking to strangers happens to be one of my favorite pastimes.
After our meetings, we all got onto a bus with a few SECMOL students and made our way to Leh. The first thing everyone did was search for 1) wifi and 2) an “American” cafe. As it turned out, on this particular day the wifi was down across the whole city. We did manage to find a cafe, however, but the food was not top quality. I ate a chicken burger, fries, and a shake, which is similar to what the rest of our group bought as well. Even though it wasn’t great food, it was nice to get a little bit of variety from eating lentils almost every day.
After lunch, we all started exploring the city and going to markets to shop. I broke out my amazing bargaining skills once again, and never paid more than 50% of the original price I was offered. To keep myself under control, I put 2000 rupees in my pocket (about $30) at the beginning of the day and decided I wouldn’t spend any more than that. By doing this, I set a limit for myself and also set my sights to ramp up my bargaining. I left that day with jewelry, statues, clothes, and more- all within my budget.
While shopping, I was also completing my map assignment. This turned out to be probably my favorite assignment I’ve ever received for anything before. I would walk up to strangers and first ask if they spoke English. If they did, I’d ask them to draw a map of where they were from. The results were fantastic. I realized that this assignment shows what is important to these peoples’ culture, because the items they draw in their home village highlight what is most important in their lives. For example, a young Buddhist boy highlighted where the monasteries were located in his home village, which is important to him because of his religion. Similarly, a shop owner highlighted where all of the ATMs in Leh were located, which are clearly important to him because of his job. I loved the way that I could learn so much about people and their culture through just a quick, simple drawing.
By the end of this long day, we were all completely tired out. We sat down for dinner at a nice restaurant in the city where we ate momos, then all hopped on the bus to go back to SECMOL. Once back, I watched an Arabic movie with some of the Ladakhi students, then washed my hair in the spicket of cold Himalayan mountain water before going to bed. As I lay in bed, I reflected on how amazing the day was: I got to talk to so many new people, learn so much more about different cultures, and even walk away with some amazing treasures from the city. I decided that the freedom that I felt in this day was something I so greatly wanted to feel again, which inspired me to think of more trips I could take like this in the future all night long as I fell asleep.