School for Nomads

by Sagarneel Biswas


In the remote Himalayan region of Changthang in Ladakh, many nomads, wiser after a lifetime of harsh life in sub-zero temperatures, face the dilemma of whether to leave their children behind in the new residential primary school or take them along on their seasonal trek across the hills with their livestock. And the choice is not easy…

The Nomadic Residential School offers classes from nursery to class eight and currently houses around 120 students and has a humble teaching staff of 14 people. It also has a couple of lady helpers to cater to the special needs of the very tender children of nursery. Mr. Karma Samtan Yeshey, who teaches Boti, a local language in the school apprised us that the school runs on donations from occasional European tourists. They have been trying to arrange for government aid for the last couple of years but as of now there hasn’t been much progress on that front. One of the reasons which is inhibiting extending education up to class ten here is the absence of steady cash flows. Beside this, hiring people willing to stay here and teach is also extremely challenging. Last year a European group had set up a computer lab for the children. However, Mr. Sonam Dorjee who teaches math and is presently acting as head of the school told us that he could not get anyone who could teach computers there. The lab remains closed since its inauguration.

None of the children housed here have ever gone to any city other than Leh, which is around 240km away. None of them have heard of Shoppers Stop, Facebook, McDonalds…may be that is why happiness abounds.

Editor’s Note – Anil Cherukupalli
There is a certain easy appeal to this photo essay that I cannot quite explain. There is something about it that appeals to me. One the surface it is a solid but straightforward documentation of a school in Ladakh. But its appeal lies somewhere deeper. Perhaps it is the cheerful disposition of almost all the people in the photographs. Documentary photography often ends up being so serious that once in a while you like to look at something simpler and cheerful. But that is not it. It is perhaps the dedication to education apparent in these photographs that touches you. The brave parents who only know a nomadic lifestyle but who are beginning to believe education will change the otherwise harsh lives of their children. The dedicated teachers working in such a remote region. And most of all the children, who have to stay away from their parents and homes and adjust to a disciplined lifestyle. It is this collective faith in the power of education that permeates these photos and gives them that added depth. While most people come back from Ladakh with photos of the astounding landscapes, Sagarneel has instead come back with a quiet but arresting photo essay on how the children of Changthang are forging a different future.

About Sagarneel Biswas
Sagar is a self taught photographer from Bangalore. Besides his software job, he felt the need of telling untold stories. Since 2012, he has started working on photo stories.



  • Reply November 11, 2013


    Taking this opportunity to be the first one to give a comment here…
    Its vibrantly brilliant, very simple obviously but not easy. (as usual – Sagar from my school days!! )

    • Reply December 6, 2013


      Thank you Niladri 🙂

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