Shepherdess of the Glaciers: A tale of human endurance

SHILLONG: Stanzin Dorjai the award winning documentary film maker from Ladakh was in Shillong to screen the film Shepherdess of the Glacier at different locations. On Friday the documentary was screened at Martin Luther Christian University.
The film features the last of the women shepherdesses who continues to live with her flock in the heights of the Gya-Miru valley in Ladakh. 50-year-old Tsering drives her 350 goats and sheep and lives for eleven months of the year at an altitude of 4,500 to 6,000 meters above sea level, in sub human temperatures ranging from – 35°C. She lives in a makeshift tent and often her flock is attacked by wolves or leopards but she wards them off.
Tshering has to walk several days to reach her village once in a while when she needs to replenish food supplies for the sheep and goats and herself. Up in the mountain, higher and higher, she walks all day long, in all weather, seeking meager pastures to feed the herd.
The landscape of Ladakh is stark and without any greenery except for a short while in summer when there is grass for the flock. Tshering says the first flush of grass is medicine for her flock. She walks at least 30 km on a given day over rocky and snowy paths when everything is covered snow. Her endurance is a lesson for many who live cushy lives and don’t know what hardship really is, says Stanzin who is the younger brother of Tshering.
Stanzin Dorjai has made the documentary in collaboration with Christiane Mordelet, a French woman director. Tshering lives a solitary existence amidst harsh and precarious life alone in the wide expanse of wilderness which must be seen to be believed. Her only companion is the radio which keeps her in touch with the world.
The extreme weather conditions have turned Tshering’s hands calloused and her fingers stubbed on account of constantly touching snow. She handles the new born goat and sheep like she would a human baby and supervises over the feeding by the mother goat/sheep.
The elder Ladakhis who are unable to face the harsh and demanding life anymore have had to give up the shepherding although they weep at not being able to continue this practice.
In summer the hair of the sheep and goat is sheared and merchants come to buy the hair which is then taken to the mills in Srinagar where they are refined and woven into Pashmina shawls cashmere and mohair which sell at exorbitant prices in the market. Addressing the Environmental Sciences students of MLCU, Stanzin said he made the film because when he was 13 years old he had lived with his sister in the mountains and seen her endure the harshest aspects of nature with a smile and with a stoic resolution that that is how life should be lived. Stanzin later studied at the Student’s Education Culture Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) a special school started by Sonam Wangchuk, the man on whom the film Three Idiots was loosely based. Later he attended college at Jammu and learnt film making for which he already had an aptitude.
Tshering took up the responsibility of being a shepherdess when her father died. She was only 27 at the time.
Stanzin has also made a 20 minute documentary called Jungwan – Broken Balance a documentary on Climate Change which was shown at Climate Conferences across the world.
Shepherdess of the Glaciers has won 17 International Awards including the Grand Prize at the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival 2016.
Interacting with students, Stanzin said he learnt three important things at SECMOL. They are the 3 H’s which g beyond the 3R’s. They are Bright Head, Skilful Hand and Kind Heart. “These three H’s are more important than reading writing and mathematics said Stanzin.
Stanzin Dorjai was brought to Shillong by the Shillong-based GIZ – the German Foundation funded by the Federal Government of Germany since 1945. GIZ has been working across India on Climate Change Adaptation. In the North East, GIZ is working in Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim. Also involved in connecting GIZ with Stanzin and Soman is Wara Kharkongor, teacher in Pine Mount School, who visits Ladakh regularly to answer to the call of the wilderness too.
GIZ Regional Coordinator and Technical expert, Kenneth Pala said that Stanzin was supposed to be accompanied by the educational reformist Sonam Wangchuk to share his experiences of changing the whole idea of educational to make it relevant to the Ladakhi children who were earlier forced to learn in Urdu and Hindi – languages alien to them.
They students failed miserably in school because they did not understand what they were learning. Sonam tailored the curriculum to meet the core needs of his students. SECMOL is a school cum garden and farm cum laboratory all in one. He has revolutionised the meaning of education.
Sonam’s visit had to be rescheduled on account of the uneasy situation here.

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