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Lighting the Himalayan mountains

Global Himalayan Expedition.

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The Global Himalayas Expedition (GHE) is an annual 12 day, experiential trip to the ‘Roof of the world’, Ladakh. Initiated in August 2013 by a group of passionate individuals, GHE is the brainchild of Paras Loomba, an Engineer by profession and an avid trekker, who, post his Antarctica Expedition, conceptualized the first of its kind, the Impact Tourism, initiative in India.

GHE focuses on reaching out to marginalized communities based in rural and inaccessible terrains throughout India and empowers its participants to go beyond where they have never gone before, solving problems that nobody has ever attempted to solve.

Lighting Up A Remote Village In Ladakh

There may be communities in the world which are considered to have an advantage over others due to the kind of land they inhabit, their proximity to an airport etc. But all these differences start looking petty when we bring into picture a village which has never seen electricity before, a village where the darkness of the night seems impregnable using the flickering kerosene lamps, where families go off to sleep with the sun and rise with it.

One such village was Sumda Chenmo, in the Zanskar valley. The village is nearly 1000 years old and was a small outpost in the ancient silk route. No mainstream electricity grid had reached anywhere nearby, shrouding the whole community in darkness as soon as the sun bid adieu in the evenings.And while they stayed back at home in winters, the difference between day and night disappears, as the design of the houses allows very little sunlight to enter (the houses have very few windows to prevent the inside heat from escaping).

Global Himalayan Expedition

All this changed on 18th August 2014. A team of 24 hyperactive individuals from all over the world descended on the village, equipped with solar panels, batteries, LED light bulbs and a strong resolve to make possible something which had never been done before. Their aim was to make sure the nights are never dark again at Sumda Chenmo.

Model ‘Impact Tourism’

This group was from the Global Himalayas Expedition or GHE as they call themselves. Started by a bunch of passionate people from India, the groups brings together people from all over the world, who strive towards solving problems of remote communities, while also having a great adventure trip in the process. The GHE team calls this model Impact Tourism. The aim is to explore all the breathtaking settings, going on back-breaking treks, cycling, rafting while also being able to connect with the locals who make the place what it is.

The group set to work on the evening of 17th August when they arrived, digging deep to install the solar panels, running electric lines over lush barley fields by erecting poles on either side, wiring up centuries old Ladakhi houses.

Within 24 hours of the work commencing, the village was all wired up. The team had installed 3 DC Solar Microgrids of 320 W capacity each. This marked a technological first, as this was the first time a DC solar grid had been installed in the Himalayas. Being more efficient with respect to the charging and discharging of batteries, DC current never gives an electric shock on exposure. All these factors were critical in the team going for DC technology, which is just starting to be adopted in a few pioneering solar projects in various parts of the world. The 121 LED bulbs bathed the whole village in a pool of incandescent white light as soon as the grid went live on the 18th night.

More than the satisfaction of overcoming such a huge technical challenge, what actually drove the team to tears of joy was the extreme happiness of the villagers and their ceaseless celebrations through the night, when the grid went live. Each household saw family members spontaneously breaking off into traditional Ladakhi songs and dances.

The electrification of Sumda Chenmo is meant to be a template in best practices for community electrification of villages in an easy and scalable manner. The team from GHE wants other such groups to pick this up and replicate it elsewhere with similarly spectacular results. The idea is to share all the know-how with such groups so that this doesn’t remain an isolated success story but becomes the beginning of a phenomenon.

By Gokul Badri

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