At 11,500 feet above sea level, the terrain is as spectacular as it is inhospitable with temperatures dipping far below 0°C. Till the 1990s, no electricity grid had stretched its steely claws this far and the rugged Ladakhis depended on diesel generators. With an exponential influx of tourists, the government launched hydro power projects with limited capacity.

Understanding the complexity involved in providing a conventional source of energy for Ladakh, an alternate solution was explored-Solar.

Tata Power Solar (TPS) with the Ladakh Renewable Energy Agency (LREDA), Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) and Ministry for New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), embarked on a journey providing solar energy to over 100 villages where grid connection was impossible. Not only did it help people secure the basic human needs of warmth, nutrition and light, but also pave the way to improvement in education and health.

Sacred spaces
The quaint Buddhist temple, made almost entirely of wood, is surrounded by fluttering prayer flags, between rows of silver-blue solar panels.
The chams is more than a dance – it is a tale of tradition that unveils itself as masked monks whirl to a drum.
Before the first rays of the sun awake, prayers begin at this 14th century masjid.
The faithful line up to do their ablutions with freezing cold water.
Two 5 KW solar home lighting systems quietly hum into action when grid electricity fails - sometimes power cuts last all day.
The Spituk Gompa was fitted with a 5 KW power plant, which fulfils most of its lighting needs. A home lighting system and solar lanterns illuminate devotees and monks at fervent prayer.
Tsering Angchuk stands guard over the inner chamber of the Spituk Gompa. Fading murals are lit up by a CFL bulb and a solar lantern sits amongst an unusual array of gifts — garlands often rupee notes, bottles of rum and vials of oil.
The Spituk Gompa is an 11th century monastery, 18 km from Leh. The usually terrifying Kali is like a shy bride in this shrine, her huge face hidden in a thick, silken veil, only to be revealed once a year on an auspicious day.
Some rooms in Matho Monastery need electric light even in the day. The dark rooms closely guard invaluable antique artefacts, from threadbare thangkas to sculptures and masks.
Today there is a unique effort at restoration spearheaded by a local leader, and executed by one of the world’s leading restoration authorities, Nelly Rieuf.
Teams of international and local youth have been trained to painstakingly research and recreate the wonders of Buddhist history. The work is intricate and adequate lighting is essential which is now powered by TPS solar panels.
Many local youngsters are trained in the skilled restoration work, like Dechan Angmo, a 26-year-old girl. This provides them with an alternative career to the earlier practice of leaving their village to find work in Leh.
TPS solar panels that power Matho Monastery, are silently lighting up Buddhist history.
Schools and hospitals
Smart classrooms with computers and projectors in Islamia Public School are powered by an LREDA-subsidized 7 KW solar power plant.
The school saves around Rs. 2 lakh a year, earlier spent on diesel for its generator, helping keep the school fees low.
21st century classrooms complete with interactive multimedia learning, powered by cutting-edge TPS solar PV modules sit in the lap of rugged mountains as old as time.
Sparkling eyes, eloquent with dreams look to a bright future.
7 km from Tangtse, in a school set up by the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies (CIBS), 45 teachers instruct students in subjects like Math, Science, Buddhism, Hindi and English.
The children wake up at 5 AM, even in winter. Classes are from 10 AM to 4 PM, where boys sit in rows, with noses deep in texts.
The monks-in-training enjoy football, their maroon robes aflutter as they race around what is possibly one of the most picturesque playgrounds in the world.
As the sun sets very early in these parts of the country, solar lanterns light up the evenings for these children, who sometimes play a game of carom under the flickering light. At 6 PM it’s back to prayers, dinner and revision of the day’s studies.
Besides lights in the two-storey building, the sun powers the incubators in the centre’s neonatal ward. But heating still runs on conventional electricity, which can be a problem in the punishing winter, when temperatures go down to -25 degrees.
Life and Livelihood
People and Tangste
Deskit Dolkar runs the Chang La Shop, a fixture in Tangtse for 30 years. The shop supplies to the everyday needs of the villagers, and stays open from 7 AM till 8 PM — unheard of before TPS brought solar power to Tangtse.
The tailor’s sewing machine whirs late into the night, under the gaze of a TPS solar powered light.
Barber Suraj has a dedicated clientele. Originally from Punjab, he moved to Tangtse five years ago.
The Tsewangs of Tharuk
The seven-member Tsewang family lives in a rambling wooden house in Tharuk, which is now connected to the TPS solar power plant in Tangtse, 3 km away.
Inside the Tsewangs’ kitchen-living room, the elders sip on “meetha chai” (as opposed to the Ladakhi salty butter tea) as the room begins to get darker. Deskit continues with her homework and five-year-old Tenzing Daldon torments their pet cat, Billa.
When winter freezes their fields, they resort to weaving. At precisely 6:30 PM, the three CFL bulbs in the ceiling go on. Without pause, Tsewang Dolma sits on her beautiful rug, spinning wool into yarn.
The inn-keepers of Spangmik
Spangmik is the last point that civilians with an inner line permit are allowed to travel up to. It is literally the end of the line.
With 20 campsites and 9 households, campers and bikers far outnumber the 50 or so locals of the impossibly blue Pangong Tso during the tourist season.
Spangmik has its own 15 KW power plant and home lighting systems supplied by TPS which power all houses and camping sites from 6 PM to 4 PM every day.
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