A lone woman stands against a wall made of brown slates, with her back towards the camera. As she prays, one can see the majestic snow-clad Himalayas in front of her. This is Tsering, the protagonist of the 74-minute-long documentary, titled Shepherdess of Ice.
She lives alone for almost 11 months a year with her flock of 300 sheep and Pashmina goats on 5,500 m-high Himalayan plateau in Ladakh. She is one of the last upholders of a disappearing tradition — of shepherding Pashmina goats — as the young people of Ladakh are now attracted by occupations in urban areas.
“This documentary is a tribute to my childhood and Tsering. She amazed me every single day as I shot the documentary, and made me wonder why I am not a strong person like her,” says Stanzin Dorjai-Gya, 38, about the film that has won the Special Jury Mention award at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala this year, and was screened at the India International Centre in Delhi last week.
The documentary is the third collaboration between Mordelet and Dorjai-Gya, who first met in 2007 when the former was looking for a filmmaker from Ladakh and visited his production house. Their previous collaboration was Jungwa: The Broken Balance, which was well received at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP 21 or CMP 11) in Paris last year, where Dorjai-Gya represented India.
Dorjai-Gya was just five-years-old when he first went to the mountains with Tsering and the flock. Tsering, the second among the five brothers and sisters, had started looking after their livestock when their father passed away when she was just 20. She chose to live the lonely and tough life of a shepherdess for the sake of her family. Dorjai-Gya continued to go with her till he hit teenage years. He
became a part of SECMOL, the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh, where many journalists, photographers and writers would come as volunteers and the Ladakhi youth would interact with them. It is here that he learnt the art of filmmaking.
This documentary was shot over a period of three years in Gya-Miru valley, where the temperature is sometimes as low as -32 degree Celsius. One gets to see Tsering guiding her flock through the mountains towards the pastures, fighting the cold, loneliness and physical fatigue.
With only a radio as a connection to the civilised world, Tsering takes care of the flock by believing in the Buddhist philosophy — being the more evolved being, it is the duty of man to treat the other animals with respect and responsibility.
“To shoot there for an hour, I had to prepare for a week. I had to sleep holding my batteries because if they had touched the cold ground, they would have drained very easily,” says Dorjai-Gya, who has used only natural sounds and there is no music in the film.
On the issue of the lack of enthusiasm among the youth to take up traditional occupations, he says, “The education system needs to change. The books should mention these things about Ladakh so that the people get motivated to preserve their traditions.”
The documentary will now be screened in Ladakh and travel to Paris in October.