Love for Ladakh: ARCC’s Himalayan Project Strikes Deep in The Heart of Northern India

By Eben Coenen, Senior Regional Director

ARCC’s Himalayan Project plays an important role in supporting rural schools and communities that would struggle otherwise.

With the vast rocky plains, gushing glacial streams and staggering snow-capped peaks, the expanses of Northern India’s Himalayan range are a sight to behold for students on ARCC’s summer service program in India. Many come here to experience life at the top of the world and tour a landscape much different from Southern India’s urban centers. As you make your way North rising through the foothills in elevation, you can observe cultural shifts. The valleys and lower regions are heavily imprinted by Hinduism, but give way to Buddhist and Tibetan influences as you climb. These cultural shifts can be observed in the people too, who even appear more Tibetan due to heavy migration a millennium ago.

The city of Leh was once the capital of the Himalayan Kingdom called Ladakh. The Leh Palace was built there for the royal family by King Sengge Namgyal in the 16th century, and the city itself has been a popular trade destination for even longer. Given it’s popularity as a trade route along the Indus River valley, various elements of sport and culture have thrived there including a strong pastime in archery and polo. Archery is an ancestral sport in Ladakh, and to this day tiny villages still hold archery festivals in the summertime where small teams compete for prizes and bragging rights.

Although polo may seem like a sport birthed on the paying fields of Western Royalty, its origin is actually from Asia and the Middle East. In Ladakh, nearly every major village had a polo field and the sport was not exclusively for the wealthy. Played on small hardy ponies with teams of 6 players, these games lasted an hour with each goal being met with an exciting burst of music. In the 19th century the game was adapted to the Western sport we know today British travelers in region.

Ladakh literally means the “land of high passes”, as the Ladakhi range has an average crest line of 20,000 ft and contains the highest motorable pass in the world. About 25 miles outside of Leh, the Khardongla Pass takes cars and passengers over 18,380ft dropping them into regions where nomadic yak herding tribes still exist as they have for centuries.

Due to this regions remoteness, the majority of the schools are Government-run or self-funded and suffer from a lack of resources, limited infrastructure, teacher shortages and almost no exposure to the outside world. With inconsistent learning opportunities in this area, some families make the choice to commute long distances to urban centers for a better education. ARCC’s work in this region strives to slow the flow of people to urban centers by bringing resources and improving the quality of life in these remote locations.

After spending a few days acclimatizing to the altitude, our groups source materials and prepare for a week long expedition immersing ourselves in these rural communities. With the help of our local guides and partners, we set up a base camp deep in a mountain community. Targeting their specific needs, our students repair buildings, install playgrounds, repaint walls, and teach students in the school. During our stay, we have a chance to play an important role in developing this communities future as we form strong bonds with our newfound local friends.

ARCC’s Summer program, The Himalayan Project, plays an important role in supporting rural schools and communities that would struggle otherwise. Our work there brings exposure and resources from the outside world to greatly benefit the people we visit. As you think about where you will make your impact this summer, consider the difference your adventure can have on your life and the community you visit. Ask yourself if you are willing to spread some Love for Ladakh


ARCC Programs has offered summer travel programs for teens for over 35 years. With travel programs for teens on six continents, there is something for everyone. Find a summer program on our website or request a catalog today.