Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Year in Focus - 2018

A Big Thank You to all our travellers and volunteers, for being a part of our journey during the year 2018. Your travels to Spiti, the kindness you shared, inspires us and enables us more & more every year to do whatever little we can to bring an improvement in the lives of those in Spiti. Heartfelt thanks and gratitude for travelling with us and taking out time to volunteer with us. We would like to share what you helped us do. 

10 Families have access to Green Vegetables through the Year

We built 10 greenhouses across Spiti this year with the help of volunteers. Add this to a count of 130+ greenhouses already in Spiti. We now have 140+ families and institutions eating green veges throughout the year enabling them to have better access to nutrition. Have a look at this video of one such greenhouse.

Volunteers building a greenhouse in Upper Langza
Volunteers building mud-bricks for a greenhouse in Lower Langza

Pangmo Village now has access to Drinking Water through the Year

Spiti faced a drought during the summer of 2018 and a number of villages lost their entire pea crop which is in most cases the only source of income for the local community. Pangmo village ran out of drinking water in the summer a problem that only afflicted them in the winters. In 2017 we had installed a solar water pump, so they could have drinking water in the winters. Fortunately the pump came to their rescue and the village and nunnery were able to have access to at least drinking water this summer. 

Given this problem is only growing in Spiti valley, in 2019 we plan on helping 4 more villages to have a year round access to drinking water something that we in the cities take for granted.

Meeting in Lara Village to discuss the issue

Site survey of the water source from where the water will be pumped to Lara village

Recharging the groundwater aquifers of Demul village

During the winter of 2017-2018 we received no snowfall in Spiti – an occurrence that has made history. Lower and lower amounts of snowfall every year is resulting in the ground water levels to drop in Spiti. As a result springs are drying out which are the main water sources for a number of Spiti’s highland villages. In 2017 we built a series of check dams with the help of volunteers behind which water has frozen forming a river of ice similar to a glacier.

An Artificial glacier 

In 2018 we took that one step further and dug contour trenches along the spring recharge zones of Demul Village with the help of Volunteers. Have a look at this video.

Trenches built by volunteers 

9 Patients have access to medicines

Medicine for special cases such as epilepsy, CP, Hepatitis B are not available in Spiti. These medicines are often expensive and patients cant afford them or even if they can, they don't have access to buy them. As a result medical issues are often ignored and no medication is taken. With the help of volunteer doctors we were able to bridge this gap, diagnosis and appropriate medication was prescribed and we were able to support the year round medicines for 9 such cases. We also had individuals that came forward to support medication for some of the Hepatitis B cases. 

Sonam Dolma suffers from epileptic fits and reduced movement in her right hand. 
With medication the frequency of her fits have reduced. 

Over 2000 patients have access to alternate & preventative healthcare

If you’ve visited Spiti with us, you will know Norbu – the person behind the scenes that manages it all. And during his free time (which trust us he gets very little off) he is a practicing Amchi (a traditional doctor). This is a practice that has been carried down from generation to generation and dates back many 100 years. He learnt it from his father who was a famous Amchi of Spiti. Norbu has been practicing for the past 3 years and his skills as an Amchi, ability to diagnose accurately and treat diseases has earned him a lot of repute in the valley so much so that his patient base has grown from less than 200 to over 2000 in a matter of just 2 years. 

Norbu's line up of patients out on site where he has come to provide technical assistance to build a greenhouse in Pangmo village

It is now customary that if Norbu goes to any village there is a line up of patients waiting to meet him. In the middle of meetings, or building greenhouses and digging trenches patients will come requesting for treatment. He cannot refuse even though he realises this patient base is now way beyond his ability to manage financially. The medicines made from herbs require a lot of time and money to collect/buy and make. As per traditional custom an Amchi does not charge for this services or medicines. Even when offered, Norbu refuses to take any money from the local community. Realising the great service he was struggling to keep doing, Ecosphere decided to intervene and take this financial burden off this shoulders and help him financially to procure herbs and make his medicines. 

In 2019 we plan on holding regular camps across the valley to enable access to alternate and preventive healthcare. 

Art that will Inspire the greatest of Artist

During our health assessments across the Spiti valley in 2017 we met with Phunchuk. Disability had crippled his legs, right arm and his speech when he was a child - however nothing could stop Phunchuk. He sits at home all day and everyday. On of our visits we were amazed to find that he loves to draw and colour. So we got him a colouring book.

We knew we had got him the perfect gift when we saw that smile on his face

We didn't know what to expect - but what he made after a few days with a set of crayons and his left hand - had us all in awe.

In 2019 we are publishing a series of postcards for sale, proceeds from which will go towards helping him fulfil his dreams of buying a laptop. Many thanks to Bhavya who will be helping us design these postcards. 

Reduced over 10,00,000 kgs of CO2 in 2018 

We converted 12 winter rooms into passive solar rooms this year. This will enable 12 families to reduce upto 60% of their fuelwood consumption reducing a large amount of money spent on buying wood that comes all the way to Spiti in large truckloads just before the onset of winter. Over and above the saving on fuelwood, each household will reduce their carbon emissions by over 2000 kgs of CO2/ annum. Add this to the tally of 527+ solar passive rooms already modified and we have had an estimated reduction of over 10,00,000 kgs of CO2/annum from Spiti this year.

One such passive solar winter room

I Love Spiti

In 2017, Ecosphere initiated the #Ilovespiti campagin with a group of passionate volunteers to spread awareness amongst tourists and locals regarding the environmental and health impact that a commodity like plastic bottles pose. We created an installation with plastic bottles proclaiming our love for Spiti. 

This year once again volunteers spearheaded the campaign led by Michael our oldest volunteer (not in age but in number of years volunteering in Spiti!) who took it to another level with volunteers Nikhil and Paromita. Together they collected over 10,000 bottles from the valley and brought in a plastic shredding machine so that the plastic can be shredded and taken out of Spiti. Kudos to them!  

In 2018 it became bigger

In 2019 we will be setting up refill points across the valley at key points where travellers can refill their bottles enabling a reduction in waste from plastic water bottles.

Photographers for a Cause

Saurabh Narang, a well know photographer and more importantly a volunteer began this movement in 2017. In 2018 we had 2 renowned photographers, Tathagata Das & Bastien from France that volunteered to help capture our initiatives and help further the cause. Many thanks to both of you. 

Further to this Saurabh and Tathagat will be running Photo trips for a Cause with us in 2019 – proceeds from which will go towards enabling us to Light up more Lives in Spiti Valley. 

Sol Cafe - our cafe with a cause

Sol cafe shifted to a much larger and brighter space this year. It was buzzing with travellers, volunteers and locals. We had movie nights, cook like a local lessons, meetings and discussions, movie Sundays for the local kids, and much much more. Thank you to each of you Sol Volunteers that made this possible and helped shape Sol Cafe this year - George, Lakshmi, Avni, Shatakshi, Megha, Laurijn, Mrignaina, Paromita, Pratyusha, Sushmita, Damini, Shivani. 

Movie sundays for the kids of Kaza

Meeting with local women's group who feeds the stray dog's in the winter's  


Cook like a local

A special thanks to all our volunteers and especially those that worked behind the scenes to keep Taste of Spiti and Osel rooms – our Home – up and running. A big thank you to Shantanu, Sanjay and Nischal. 

Last but not the least - Team Ecosphere - nothing is possible without this awesome team of dedicated and hardworking people. 

"Kindness is the language the Deaf can hear and the Blind can see"                                                     - Mark Twain

Kindness is the language of the heart that doesn't need words to communicate. 
Lets together keep growing this love and kindness.
We are forever indebted to all of you for enabling us to do what we do. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

#StoriesfromSpiti: Dogs of Spiti


Spiti is known for its majestic landscapes, beautiful people and amazing wildlife. But the one thing that often goes unnoticed or rather, taken for granted by tourists is its canine population. Being a dog lover myself, I planned my first trip to Spiti this March with the intent of spending some quality time with its furry denizens. I spent a few days in Kaza and Chicham to document the lives of stray dogs and their relationship with humans during the winter season.

                                                      A Warm (and Moist) Welcome.

On my first morning in Kaza I walked down to the bazaar where I received a warm welcome from all the strays. They were very curious about my camera, sniffing and licking it all over. Most of the dogs prefer to stay in the bazaar area where they feed on leftovers from restaurants and vegetable stalls. In the winter months they are heavily dependent on humans as food becomes scarce.

                          During consequent walks in Kaza I came across these oddballs:

                                                          The Enlightened One (Below)

                                                              The Old Monk (Below)

                                                       Puppies With an Attitude (Below)

                                                          Sleeping like a hog (Below)

                                                 A Snowball In The Snowstorm (Below)

                                                        All Aboard The Gnaw Train!

                                                              A Handful of Puppers

In a small lane behind the main bazaar I found these four puppies hiding in a makeshift shed. Devraj, a vegetable vendor told me he was personally taking care of them, feeding the mother daily so she has enough milk for them.

                                                        Lunchtime With Mommy (above)

It was heartening to see the locals taking it upon themselves to look after the dogs during the harsh
winter months.

                                                             The Good Samaritans

Although the people of Kaza are quite tolerant and empathetic towards the strays, their growing numbers do have some serious consequences especially during the winter months. When the temperature drops and the snow accumulates, food becomes scarce. This tends to make the dogs violent and attack each other, even the livestock and people. To make sure this doesn't happen, Spiti Ecosphere teamed up with the locals to start a daily feeding program. Donations of Pedigree (dog food) now come all the way from Shimla and are distributed to volunteers. A group of women cook food on Sundays and feed it to the dogs during the week. Sadly, I was unable to meet the women as they were not in Kaza during my stay but I managed to meet a couple other Samaritans.

Mr. Angrup who works at the Kaza Circuit House feeds a bunch of strays that live nearby. It was fun to see the dogs pop out of several nooks and crannies the moment he walked out with a bag of Pedigree.

Another Angrup who works as a cook in Kelsang Kitchen (their Momos are delicious!) keeps aside sheep bones and feeds them to a few dogs in an alley. He told me how they used to be extremely malnourished and aggressive earlier when they had a hard time finding food.

Takpa, who lives in the village of Chicham was my main point of contact for the whole trip. Apart from hosting me in Chicham for several days he also showed me around Kaza on the first day and introduced me to all the right people. This trip wouldn't have been possible without his help.

Takpa was taking care of two dogs in Chicham: Nono and Zikpoh. More on them below.
Ecosphere has also teamed up with the Forest Department and Nature Conservation Foundation to sterilize the strays. The locals help to capture and bring in the strays while a few vets volunteer to operate on them. The dogs are kept under observation for a few days till they fully recover from the operation and then tagged before being released.

                                                        Chilling Out In Chicham.

After spending three days in Kaza I headed off to Chicham in Takpa's car to search for Snow Leopards (that's another story). The first day was spent taking a long walk with the handsome duo Nono and Zikpoh.

                                     This is Nono. He loves basking in the sun all day long (below)

                       This is Zikpoh. He loves rolling in the snow and barking at the Yaks (below)

Walking down to Chicham Bridge with the boys. We had a small standoff with a band of strays that looked like they had become feral. This is a growing problem in Spiti as feral dogs can have a negative impact on the wildlife of the area.

Zikpoh (below) found a sheep carcass and got busy gnawing it while Nono (above) went around marking his territory.

                                                                 Puppy Patrons (below)

One day I met these kids who were going to build a shelter for some newly born puppies just outside the village. I joined them on their quest while they performed some antics for the camera.

                      Building a cozy tent to keep away the harsh sun and cold, piercing winds...

                                                                     ...and it's ready!

Bhuyang (below) a traveller from Delhi who was staying in Chicham decided to adopt a puppy and take it home. Here he is posing with the little bundle of joy during a snowfall.

                                                                 Saying Goodbye.

I stayed in Spiti for almost two weeks and it still felt like I was just scratching the surface of this place. I was spellbound by the bond that exists between the people and the canines. Yes there are problems to be solved but everywhere in Spiti I saw the communities coming together to find the most inclusive and humane solutions, with Ishita and her Ecosphere team being the catalysts. This trip felt like the beginning of a long relationship with Spiti, its people and its crazy canines.

Article Contributed by Sarang Naik, you can follow him on Facebook -