February 19, 2020
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Chill Out

Chill Out
Now who in their right mind would visit Ladakh in winter? Well, your diarist for one. For years now, I’ve longed to see India’s most remote and exotic corner when the high-altitude arctic weather confines everyone to quarters, and makes parties mandatory. For, that is the reality in winter here. It’s minus 5 degrees celsius in the daytime, if you’re lucky, minus 20 at night. There are no crops to plant, no fields to tend, no summer duties.

The bedraggled travellers who turn Leh into a cosmopolitan nightmare in summer have taken their Lonely Planet identikit fun catalogues to Colva or Kovalam. Ladakhis devote their waking hours to festive activities, the rest to sleeping, staying warm and doing what comes naturally. Especially the latter I’m told, but I have only second-hand information. For married, fortysomethings like myself—local maidens not being an option—what better way to while away the idle months of winter than to watch the chhang fermenting merrily in the corner, occasionally dipping a mugful and sipping contemplatively. The fire flickers, conversation ebbs and flows naturally.

Ladakh’s major monasteries hold their main festivals when the people are snowbound and idle-minded. Never mind the Ladakh festival, the Hemis knees-up in September, these are for tourists. Real Ladakh hands party in winter. So, the summons to cover India’s national ice-hockey championships in one of my favourite places in the entire world could not be ignored.

It’s off to the Himalayas, and my assignment involves two of my favourite pastimes—endless party-going and the great Canadian sport of ice-hockey.

As I’ve been telling my Ladakhi friends, just call it "hockey". That other game, the one that India used to excel at, that’s called "field hockey".

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