As we drove through the village of Sani, we all eagerly watched out for the final curves just outside the village: With one glance, you can overlook a vast plain. The monastery Karsha, situated higher up on a steep slope, at first caught our attention: then later the range of mountains on the other side of Zanskar river, still partly covered with snow. Finally, during late afternoon, we had a breathtaking view of the sun setting over the lowland and over the village of Padum, situated in the far distance.
After having driven for twelve hours on a bumpy track, we decided to treat ourselves to accom-modation in a hotel for the night, before continuing to our destination on the following day: Jamyang Ling School. We drove off the main road, on to the nearby village of Pipiting and finally found the well hidden Hotel Omasila. The many jeeps at the entrance didn't make things look too good, and so it turned out: there were no rooms available. After searching through the reservation book for quite a long time, we finally found ours, but the Hotel was completely overbooked because of a monastery festival taking place in Stongde the following day. There was not much to discuss, Karin and Gerhard Euler, myself and our companions, Lakhphel and Lhundup, got back into the jeep and returned to Padum. We stopped in front of the Kailash Hotel on the main road: I had often spent the night there with groups in previous years! There were still vacant rooms available and we were happy to be able to fetch our luggage out of the jeep and carry it into our rooms.
At dinner we met Alice and Otto Silber and their friend Barbara, with whom we had arranged to meet here in Padum. As an early riser, I noticed the following morning in the diffused light of dawn some peop-le dressed in festive clothing standing next to the large prayer wheel on the other side of the road. Then at breakfast, there suddenly was the sound of a drum and now I recognized also the faces: habitants from the village of Reru, some teachers and village elders, as well as some former students from Jammu. It was the reception committee for us as "guests of honour", as it was so nicely stated in the official invitation sent to us per email to Germany. Some of the older women wore their traditional turquoise headdress called „perak“. After breakfast followed a warm welcome from all sides and within a short time we were fully draped with kataks, the white welcoming shawls. Many hands were shaken, many hugs exchanged with familiar ones. Then we started to stow away our luggage, took a group photo in the courtyard of the hotel and finally drove off; 18 long kilometres lay between Padum and our destination, the Jamyang Ling Model School in Reru. In front of us were some pickup jeeps, upon which the loading areas were crowded with lots of young people. The village drummer was also somehow squeezed in and our caravan started to move along accompanied by the rhythm of the sound of drums, singing and dancing. We didn't get far: almost in every village we passed through, people stood festively dressed holding thermos flasks full of sweet and butter tea and plates of pastries. And again and again kataks were presented to us, some of them in blue, orange or yellow colours. How many times have I driven along this route during the past 25 years. The bad condition of the road has hardly changed in all of these years. Time and again, road construction was going on, repairs were being made, the steep slopes were being secured, and often we had to close the car windows so that the heavy dust could not get in. It took us almost 4 hours for the drive of 18 km between Padum and Reru. Usually, it only takes 1 ½ hours to reach Reru. Here, too, crowds of people were standing at the roadside, carpets were spread out over the grass and seating provided for us. Many more thermos flasks and plates of pastries were ready. With every "welcome" and "Julay", every katak handed over, I looked into faces that were only too familiar, with which many experiences and memories connected me. Again and again , the obligatory sweat butter tea, continual refilling and urging to take another pastry. We enjoyed this warm welcome and yet we felt pressured to get back into the jeeps and drive the last few meters to Jamyang Ling School.
The drummer gave his very best, our elder students danced on the open loading area of the pickups that were driving along just in front of us.
As we drove around the final bend to the school grounds, we were absolutly breathtaken. All students, teachers, cooks and school staff were standing in double rows to greet us. We made a big curve around the school grounds, since there was not enough space on the road in front of the school for all the cars that were expected the coming days. A large car park had therefore been set up on the open area towards the Manjushri Stupa, with a decorated path leading to the school. Standing along the path were the elder students with kataks and the younger ones with small hand-picked bouquets of flowers. We could not shake so many hands, the burden of the countless kataks weighed us down, and we could not carry the many bou-quets of flowers that were held out to us: How glad I was to be allowed to share this extremely warm, moving reception with our travel group, a wecome that was meant for all of us. We were curious about some new teachers and especially the head-mistress, Mrs. Tenzin Choney, who had grown up as a daughter of Tibetan refugees in Leh. And of course curious about the elder students in Jamyang Ling Model School and students from Jammu, who were almost all present for this anniversary. Sonam Dolma, a student of the very first class in 1994, had invited us for breakfast on the journey here, in Sankoo, just past Kargil, and had told us that she could not get a holiday to come to the school anniversary. She is an example of the number of female and male students who successfully completed their schooling in Jammu and were given a very good job within the Indian health system in a hospialt near Kargil.
After we had a good rest, we made our way to our campsite at the small lake above the barley fields of Raru village. Our old friend Amchi Tsering Lotos from Manali was already waiting to welcome all of us. And of course, with butter tea and biscuits!