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August 12th, 2013

Welcome to Leh

I was glad I had a window seat from Delhi to Leh, flying over the Great Himalayan Range was like passing the barrier into another world. With incredible multi-coloured mountains and their luscious green pastures hidden in between them.

It felt like a mirage to see such thriving foliage in the middle of the Himalayan cold deserts. These natural beauties are easily explained. Between mountains the melt water meets, create streams and eventually rivers. Where there is water, there is life. As plant life appears, the roots reduce soil erosion and eventually more and bigger life can exist, creating these mini forests and groves. Because of this people can live here. The plant life retains the water in the soil and there is enough for farming, therefore human settlements. Whilst this sounds idyllic and pristine, and believe me sitting in the front garden of the Leh meditation center listening to the apple groves sway in the wind, it feels just like that. However there is trouble in paradise. The ‘3rd pole’ is melting at an alarming rate.

Upon arriving in Leh I was greeted by Paras, organizer and creator of the expedition, JP from India as well as Laura and Andrew from the UK were on the same flight. Once we were all together and introduced we headed up to the first night’s accommodation. We were sharing huts on the mountains with views down the valley to the mountains opposite. In perfect earshot of the cows and dogs which apparently kept people up at night. The first day as mostly unscheduled to allow us to acclimatize to the weather, time zone and altitude. Arriving at over 12,000 feet can have some strange effects! I did manage to go to see the E-base in its current state. Robert Swan and I went to see Paras at the e-base to see how it was progressing.

The dinner there was served in many sessions featuring a mixture of traditional Indian and Chinese food.  The next morning I got up at 6:30am to make it to the yoga session, my first ever!  I was grateful for the opportunity to show off my incredible lack of flexibility, but of course a strong focus of Yoga is focus and breathing, I was amazed that after just 50 minutes of it my breathing capacity had practically doubled. I felt so much more grounded by so relaxed at the same time, I can’t wait for the next session!

Paras Loomba, a member of IAE 2012 left the expedition inspired and with a promise. He would create another e-base. Yesterday Robert Swan and some of the team got to see the base for the first time. Paras told us about its renewable construction, using a building technique called ‘Rammed Earth’ the e-base is built in the same method as the nearby fortress and most ancient monasteries. It is great for two reasons, it lasts, and is made sustainably using local materials. The solar panels arrived just 5 days ago and are already set-up, wired and powering the base.

Today we moved from our hilltop huts to the Mahabodhi Meditation Centre, just downhill from the E-base and it’s nearby school we were created with the traditional Khataks. Rather than great with flowers, of which there are few in Leh, we were given Khataks’s around our necks to wear.

We got to visit the Leh school for boys today and were greeted with rapturous joy! The kids were so welcoming and fighting to have their pictures taken it was so incredible!

Oli Wheeldon reporting from Leh, India