Druk Padma Karpo School in Ladakh, popularly known as ‘Rancho’s School’, is delighted about the fame the Aamir Khan-starrer ‘3 Idiots’ has brought to it, but the 18-year-old institution does not want the Bollywood-connect to overshadow its original identity and values.
The local people still call it Druk Padma Karpo School and they take a lot of pride in the Buddhist tradition and philosophy with which it was created, principal Stanzin Kunzang said. The institution in this cold desert of Ladakh imparts world-class education to children of this Himalayan region, including those of nomadic tribes, she said.
Like Kunzang, teachers and students of the school in Shey, about 15 km from Leh city, want people to identify it as ‘Druk Padma Karpo School’ and not as ‘Rancho’s School’. The school’s sprawling campus is designed like a Buddhist Mandala, and the main gate does not have the word Rancho. Only two big, polished wooden panels on either side of the gate show the name ‘Druk Padma Karpa School’ and the architect firm which built the institution.
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“We are very happy about the fame the film ‘3 Idiots’ brought to our school, but beyond a certain point, the crowd of tourists became practically unmanageable, as they would just try to wander in from all possible entry points to catch a glimpse of that famous ‘Rancho Wall’ as seen in the film, and click photos,” she said.
People need to understand that this is a school and the primary purpose of this place is to impart education in a proper atmosphere, Kunzang said, adding “tourist influx had made life difficult, and we have girl students as well, so safety is a concern too.”
The 2009 blockbuster was partly shot in the campus of the school which began in 2001. The wall of a building on its campus was featured in the closing of the film in which one of the characters, Chatur, tries to urinate on it but gets an electric shock as two kids dangle a wire with a bulb from the first floor.
While the original wall – the ‘iconic idiotic wall’ — part of a building which was damaged in the 2010 flash floods still remains on the campus, the first floor, earlier made of bricks has been replaced with wooden structures typically used in Ladakh. Khan had visited the school once after the floods, Kunzang said.
The wall shows a dangling glowing bulb, a flying Himalayan crane, a rainbow behind the clouds. Students of class 6 and above are generally aware of this famed wall.
Keeping in mind, the influx of tourists from all parts of India and few parts of the world, a duplicate wall has been created on the other side of the school in another area, with an iron mesh door separating the two sides, carrying a sign – ‘Private gate, no public thoroughfare’, so that no tourist can wander in the academic campus.
“We have created a visitor’s centre and a Rancho’s Cafe, photo zone to allow them to enjoy without disturbing the school which has over 800 students,” said the school’s vice-chairperson Tsering Motup.
“His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa founded this school which started with an infant block in 2001. Padma Karpo means white lotus and it signifies the values embodied in Buddhism, so it is important that people know this fact. We would like people to identify our school with our real name and not just a school with Bollywood fame,” he said.
Kunzang adds that locally, “we are not very excited by the Rancho factor and His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa is a much bigger factor to feel proud”. Several teachers and students, while aware of the overwhelming fame and spotlight the film has lent to the school, also want people to refer to the school as Druk Padma Karpo School and not as ‘Rancho’s School’.
Rinchen Dolma, who teaches class 2 and class 3, said, “Every outsider who comes here says it’s Rancho’s School. Some even mistakenly think it is now owned by Aamir Khan. But, our school has its own legacy and people should appreciate that fact”.
“I got married and settled here and learned Ladakhi language and culture. If we forget the original and just remember the Bollywood connection, it is not good,” said Anita Kumari, a Kinnauri native married to a Ladakhi, who teaches Hindi at the school.
Class 6 student Tsering Anghcuk, who is 11 years old, proudly shows the ‘idiotic wall’ and the bulb and recalls the scene in the film with laughter. “I have seen the film, and I know the film was released when I was just a year-old. Our school became very famous after that, but personally, we students identify ourselves as students of Druk Padma Karpo School, and that’s the main identity we would want to have of this school in people’s mind,” he said.
Tourists from Delhi to Kolkata continue to flock to Shey to see the ‘Rancho wall’, many not even knowing it is a duplicate one. On the highway, signage of the school, mentions ‘Rancho’s School’ in bracket below its actual name.
Vikram Ghosh, who came from Asansol in West Bengal, said he and his wife came to Shey, “just to see the wall”. Asked, if he knew the actual name of the school, he said, “I just know it as Rancho’s School, don’t know the original name”.