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A small team with giant dreams practising on one of the highest ice rinks in the world


A small team with giant dreams practising on one of the highest ice rinks in the world

Minus 30 degrees temperature? What are you going to do in Ladakh in the middle of winter? Are you trying to freeze yourself alive?

I was flooded with all the above questions and expressions before I decided to travel in the highland of Himalayas. Not to capture the transient nature of the mountains, but to experience a sport which was introduced two decades ago by the Indian Army as a part of their winter activity.

Landing on this New Year and fuelled by the mind-numbing cold, the experience I had in the next three days was nothing short of spiritual. Unlike the summer months, winter in this part of the country gives you an opportunity to see a different side of Ladakh. The blue lakes, rivers, vegetation and brown mountains are all buried beneath a thick white blanket of snow.

While all activities reduce to a bare minimum and a sense of solitude takes over this region during this time, a group of girls are devoted to hockey – the ‘other’ hockey played on ice.

When one thinks of the sports in which we excel, cricket and a few Olympic sports usually come to our mind. But ice hockey? Yes. The sport that’s as foreign to India as cricket is to Brazil or marathon-running is to Antarctica.

While the sport may not have a big following, there are an increasing number of young girls who are learning about sharp blades of ice skates. Nestled in the frozen Gupuk lake in Leh, is one of India’s natural ice rinks. It is also the site of a basic coaching camp for passionate and enthusiastic women. For the last seven days, the Ladakh Women Ice Hockey Foundation, an NGO that promotes the sport and uplifts the stature of women players in that region, has been running a workshop for young kids. While most were from the town, some came from as far away as 100 kilometres.

A 10-year-old girl laced up her skates and stepped onto the ice as her mother anxiously followed every step of her daughter. She appeared steady on her feet as the members of LWIHF held her hand and gave a quick demonstration on how to turn and brake.

The Ice Hockey program is part of an ongoing effort to build up Leh’s fledgeling winter sports capabilities and to grow an ice hockey culture amongst the next generation. To make better sense of this, let’s fast forward a few years. These ice hockey workshops are strategic – they are part and parcel of the country’s need to build its winter sports future.

However, India is not a country known for its prowess in ice hockey, nor for its performance, for that matter.

(This article was brought to you in association with India For Sports)


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Thursday, February 16, 2017 - 09:38