On Google Maps, Lingshed is a small dot next to Leh. But in real life, what separates the two is the “Chadar trek”, a 23km walk across four-five days along the frozen Zanskar river. It was also a journey that separated children from Lingshed and surrounding areas from going to a better school in Leh. Until the IAF’s Siachen Pioneers stepped in.
Today, the nearly 40 children from the area get a free helicopter ride every year to schools with residential facilities and a return trip as well at the end of the session.
“The children are picked up from Lingshed at the beginning of the session and dropped to Leh where they have been admitted to different residential schools that offer much better education than the locally-run school. At the end of the session, they are dropped back to their respective villages,” Group Captain Sundeep Mehta, spokesperson, Western Air Command (WAC), told The Indian Express.
Lingshed, about 12,000 ft above sea level, is occupied primarily by herdsmen. Between November and June every year, the rising snow cuts off the village from the mainland, blocking access to Leh and Kargil. And according to Wg Cdr B S Sherawat, commanding officer of the 114 helicopter unit, better known as the Siachen Pioneers, the area has only one school.
When the IAF was made aware of the problem last year, its men undertook the “Chadar trek” to know what it took for the people of Lingshed to reach Leh.
“We realised that travelling to Leh involved a nearly 20-23 km of trek along the Zanskar river which freezes over during winters… While the older children from Lingshed negotiated the trek in groups, the younger ones were accompanied by their fathers,” said an IAF official.