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Ladakh Photo Adventure with Merrill Images

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Ladakh 12 days
SUN 12 SEP 2021 - THU 23 SEP (UTC+05:30)

A Photographic Adventure in Ladakh, India

(with an optional 4 day extension)

In partnership with Merrill Images and Ladakh Arts and Media Organisation (LAMO), Global Family Travels invites you on a 12-day photo adventure in Ladakh, India (and optional 4-day extension in Nubra Valley), where you will immerse in the vibrant Buddhist culture of Ladakh in Northern India, a magical place where verdant river valleys cut through arid landscapes dominated by the snow-capped Himalayas. 

On this trip, you will explore the rich cultural heritage and beauty of Ladakh, India while learning photography and visual storytelling skills from photo educators John and Lisa Merrill.  You’ll have the opportunity to use your visual storytelling skills to help Ladakhi Non-profit organizations (NGOs) doing vital work to strengthen communities, promote cultural heritage and foster sustainable development.  Whether an avid photographer or casual phone-camera user, you’ll dive deep into local life, explore the artistic and technical sides of photography, and create compelling images to treasure and share.

Global Family Travels’ 3 travel pillars of Learn, Serve and Immerse are woven throughout our itinerary. 

TRIP HIGHLIGHTS are below, click on ITINERARY to see all the details.

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Global Family Travels

Much more than a traditional tour operator, Global Family Travels’ mission is to “Learn, Serve and Immerse” through community-based travel programs.  In partnership with non-profit organizations and schools, we offer family-friendly and sustainable travel experiences in support of education, gender equality, access to clean water, preservation of local cultures, conservation and economic growth, all of which foster cross-cultural understanding and global citizens.  

Our trips include a unique mix of cultural and educational activities, home-stays and participation in local service projects aimed at improving the lives of people in the communities we visit.    
 
Expect to expand your family circle when you embark on a Global Family Travels trip!  Visit our website for more information: Global Family Travels

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About Merrill Images

John and Lisa Merrill create compelling images to evoke wonder, inspire action, grow businesses, and strengthen communities. Their images have been featured in books, websites and other media, including National Geographic Traveler, Smithsonian, Geo, Sunset, and Outside magazines. They relish opportunities to learn from and connect with people we photograph and use our visual storytelling skills to help non-profits doing vital work in the Seattle area and around the world. John and Lisa are Olympus Educators who enjoy helping people (with all types of cameras) nurture their creativity via private coaching, Pacific Northwest workshops, photo walks and international photo tours.

Learn more at Merrill Images

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About your Tour Leaders, John & Lisa Merrill

John & Lisa Merrill create compelling images to evoke wonder, inspire action, grow businesses, and strengthen communities. Their images have been featured in books, websites and other media, including National Geographic Traveler, Smithsonian, Geo, Sunset, and Outside magazines. They relish opportunities to learn from and connect with people we photograph and use their visual storytelling skills to help non-profits doing vital work in the Seattle area and around the world. They are also Olympus Educators who enjoy helping people (with all types of cameras) nurture their creativity via private coaching, Pacific Northwest workshops and photo walks, and international photo tours. 

Learn more at Merrill Images.

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About Ladakh Arts and Media Organization (LAMO), our local partner

Location : Ladakh, Leh

The Ladakh Arts and Media Organisation (LAMO) is a public charitable trust established to articulate an alternative vision for the arts and media in Ladakh. The organization set up the LAMO Centre in Leh, the main town of the region, to provide a space for the understanding and development of the arts.  If you would like to know more about LAMO, please see www.lamo.org.in or visit their Facebook page. 

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Learn:

Ladakh’s stunning scenery and deeply spiritual, traditional ways of life make it a special place for our small group to explore and learn. Ladakhi people are amongst the happiest people in the world, who have a genuine and uninhibited appreciation of life itself. Learn how their close relationship to the land enriches their communities' lives. Learning themes unique to this tour include:

  • Mindful photography and the art of seeing deeply
  • Impactful visual storytelling to share travel experiences and to help Ladakhi NGOs raise funds and recruit volunteers
  • Learning from Ladakhi NGOs
  • Environmental and social issues affecting in the Ladakh region
  • Himalayan Buddhist art, culture and history
  • Challenges of preserving sustainable living in the face of increased tourism, modernization and globalization
  • Northern Indian political, socioeconomic and cultural history

Photography instruction on the tour is personal, informal and optional. Hands-on photo coaching can be transformative, as you learn to understand light and compose for impact -- intentionally making, versus taking, photos. With two pro photographers as leaders, you’ll have double the expertise to tap into. In bustling markets, bucolic farms, and majestic monasteries, we’ll offer encouragement and help you master both the technical and artistic sides of photography.

Ladakh offers abundant opportunities to photograph nature and landscapes, create soulful portraits and hone street photography skills. We’ll help demystify your camera’s features and settings, so you know which to use in various situations. Throughout our adventure, we’ll share tips and techniques, provide feedback on your photography, and facilitate image sharing among the group for additional inspiration.

At Global Family Travels, we believe the most powerful way to learn is through hands-on experiences. We let the destination and its people be your teachers, and supplement experiences with reading lists, informal discussions, and a pre-trip orientation to better equip families with the practical information they need to understand the culture, history, and industry of their host destination.

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Serve:

You will have the opportunity to use your visual storytelling skills to help Ladakhi non-profit organizations (NGOs) doing vital work to strengthen communities, promote cultural heritage and foster sustainable development. With John and Lisa's guidance and encouragement, you'll create compelling images to help 1 or more NGOs tell their stories and expand their impact. An exhibition of the groups’ images will be on display at LAMO in 2021!

We believe how you travel matters and strive to positively impact the people we meet and the places we visit. Toward that end, we support hotels and restaurants owned by locals who share our commitment to environmental sustainability.

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Immerse:

We’ve designed this journey of soul-filling, immersive and off-the-beaten path experiences to dive deep into Ladakhi culture at centuries-old monasteries, multi-generational homes, farms, schools, traditional markets and crafts workshops. Personal connections with Ladakhis are facilitated by the strong relationships with our community partners and hosts. 

You will also have the opportunity to live with a host family in the quaint village of Stok for three days and two nights - becoming familiar with the rhythm of daily life in this peaceful little town and assisting the family with daily chores, tending the animals, working the fields and playing with the children. During this optional home-stay part of our trip, you will be immersed in Ladakhi communal culture and gain a deep understanding of the Buddhist culture and traditions of this stunning region. 

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About Ladakh, India

Once an independent Buddhist kingdom at the crossroads of trade routes between China and the Middle East, Ladakh is often called “Little Tibet” because it’s one of the last places where the Tibetan Buddhist way of life is unrepressed. Its people have traditionally lived a simple subsistence lifestyle. Ladakh’s dramatic scenery and deeply spiritual ways of life make it a special place to explore, connect, learn and create.

Ladakh has few natural resources and an extreme climate, yet it has been home to a thriving culture in tune with nature for over a thousand years. On this Social Impact Photo tour, we have the privilege of learning from many of Ladakh's NGOs and local leaders working to strengthen communities, promote cultural heritage and foster sustainable development.

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About Ladakhi Non-profits we engage with and Learn from

Learning from many Ladakhi non-profit organization, you will have the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to help take photos of their impactful work and even contribute in a meaningful way to their work. Photos have the potential to raise awareness about important issues, and thought our work with many community-based partners/NGOs listed below, we will help create powerful messages about their work. Here are a few of the organizations we will engage with and learn from: 

  • Central Institute of Buddhist Studies - Prior to 1959, Ladakhi scholars, novices and monks used to go to Tibet in pursuit of higher monastic Buddhist education, and to do research for years in the famous Mahaviharas of Drepung, Sera, Tashi Lhunpo, Gaden, Sakya, Sangag Chosling, Dege, Drigung and other monastic centres. In the 1950s, this practice came to an abrupt end because of the political situation in Tibet. Hence, it was held imperative that a Buddhist institute should be established for formal Buddhist education in Ladakh, which is how the CIBS began.  Read more here.

  • Flowering Dharma – SEL - Flowering Dharma is a youth initiative aimed at preserving the old Classical Indian Philosophical Tradition & Culture. As a center for the study of classical Indian wisdom traditions, the prime area of focus are:

    • Secular Ethics
    • Inter-Faith Harmony
    • Preserving Ladakhi Culture and Tradition
    • Study the convergence of Philosophy and Modern Science
    • Preservation of the environment
  • Ladakhi Ecological Development Group (LEDeG): Dedicated to Ecological and Sustainable Development which harmonizes and builds on traditional Ladaki Culture. In addition to learning first-hand about how to make apricot jam, other important LEDeG projects of interest we will learn about are: 

    • Liveable Leh -  Ladakh, at 13,000 feet high in the Himalayas is in difficult terrain for urban settlements. Like other mountainous regions, it faces magnified risks from climate change – floods, failed crops and landslides, which can decimate lives, livelihoods, infrastructure and the environment. This project will strengthen capacities of the local government, the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) to make Leh, its prominent capital city and surrounding areas more environmentally friendly, and a symbol of resilient and sustainable urban development.

      Specific objective: We alone cannot reverse climate change, but we can prepare to cope with it. LAHDC will (i) train its officials and strengthen institutions to conceptualize and develop Leh as a resilient and liveable mountain city; (ii) prepare implementation plans to aggressively improve public services that have deep environmental impact (sewage treatment, waste management, green public spaces and transportation); and (iii) educate its 30,000 residents and 250,000+ tourists on issues around climate change.

  • Ladakh Heart Foundation - In Ladakh, most of the population lives at an altitude between 3500 - 5000 meters and in the winter temperature goes down to -36 celcius degrees. These factors are the reason why there is a high risk of cardiovascular diseases in this area. The nearest hospitals that deal with these problems are more than 500 km from Ladakh and because of the extreme weather and the winds, sometimes the roads close for months. Ladakh Heart Foundation seeks to give people the opportunity to have access to proper health care free of charge and to learn what are the risks that lead them to develop diseases in order to detect the symptoms and take precautions in time.

  • The Ngari Institute is a youth hostel in a quaint Himalayan village called Saboo and was started in 2012 by 5 devout monks from the Ngari Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, and under His Holiness the Dalai Lama's auspices, with His blessings. The Ngari Institute’s mission is to empower and enrich the poor and needy students in this remote region, by imparting a combined learning of both modern scientific knowledge and ancient Buddhist wisdom. (more in seperate description too!)

  • Local Futures -  Since 1978, Local Futures has been providing Ladakhis with information about the impact of conventional development in other parts of the world, while exploring more sustainable patterns of development in Ladakh itself, based on the use of local knowledge and resources. Local Futures has helped to establish and still collaborates with several important indigenous organizations in Ladakh, including the Ladakh Ecological Development Group (LEDeG) and the Women’s Alliance of Ladakh. Read more here: Local Futures’ History in Ladakh.

  • New Ladakhi Girls (See PDF from Davis Project for Peace): Founded by two graduates of the Siddhartha School Project, the main purpose of New Ladakhi Girls (NLG) is to educate young girls and their mothers about their bodies and how to take care of themselves in a society that considers it taboo to talk about women’s health issues. The 2018 goal is to build a local, core team to help all generations of Ladakhi women break their silence on topics traditionally restricted by society, enjoy more-open dialogue with women and girls from other villages, and listen to each other’s previously unheard opinions.

  • Looms of Ladakh - a woman's cooperative which aims to bring unemployed women artisans from remote villages of Ladakh who are trained by designers to produce trend setting knitted and woven products.

  • Life of Shepherding -  Local photographer Stanzin Dorjay,  from Himalayan Film House, will accompany us to his village to learn about traditional ways of sheparding. View The Shepherdess of the Glaciers before visiting.

  • The Siddhartha School Project was founded in 1995 by Khensur Rinpoche Lobzang Tsetan, a Ladakhi Buddhist monk and educator, in his remote home village of Stok, Ladakh. What started in a one-room shed is now an exemplary private school with over 400 students from nursery age through Grade 10 and the school is one-of-a-kind in its efforts to honor, celebrate and enhance the local culture and traditions.

  • Women’s Alliance of Ladakh - The Women’s Alliance of Ladakh was founded by Helena Norberg-Hodge in 1994 by Helena Norberg Hodge with twin goals of raising the status of rural women and strengthening local culture and agriculture. Since then, WAL’s membership has swelled to over 6,000 women from almost 100 different villages. We encourage you to read the book or watch the film Ancient Futures. The book written by Helena Norberg Hodge, raises important questions about the notion of progress and explores the root causes of the problems faced by a highly industrialized society.
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About the Siddhartha School Project

Location : Ladakh

The Siddhartha School Project was founded in 1995 by Khensur Rinpoche Lobzang Tsetan, a Ladakhi Buddhist monk and educator, in his remote home village of Stok, Ladakh. What started in a one-room shed is now an exemplary private school with over 400 students from nursery age through Grade 10 and the school is one-of-a-kind in its efforts to honor, celebrate and enhance the local culture and traditions.   

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About Ngari Institute

Location : Ladakh

The Ngari Institute is a youth hostel in a quaint Himalayan village called Saboo and was started in 2012 by 5 devout monks from the Ngari Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, and under His Holiness the Dalai Lama's auspices, with His blessings. The Ngari Institute’s mission is to empower and enrich the poor and needy students in this remote region, by imparting a combined learning of both modern scientific knowledge and ancient Buddhist wisdom.  

The Ngari Institute has about 35 youth without family nearby living there full time, ages 5-14, boys and girls, and the monks working there take care their daily needs, giving them room, board, tuition fees, book and clothing allowances, and access to medical care. Students follow the standard government educational curriculum during the day at schools such as Siddhartha, Tibetan Children’s Village, and the Saboo Government Schools and will learn about Himalayan Buddhist culture and spirituality during the after-school hours. 

Ngari has just finished building a new meditation hall this year (2020). 

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About Stok Village

Location : Ladakh, Leh

The peaceful village of Stok is 15 kms from Leh, Ladakh's capital, and is where the Siddhartha School is located. It is one of the biggest villages among Ladakh villages, and the greenery and tranquility is enjoyed by everyone who visits.

It is also home to the 14th century Stok Monastery, with its 71 feet high seated Gautama Buddha statue, and the current residence of the royal family of Ladakh. Stok palace is a 19th century palace which houses a museum as well.

Further south to the village is the famous Stok Kangri (6153 meters) situated in the Hemis National park and is famous among trekkers.

During summer, villagers take their herds of animals to the mountains for grazing. On the way, one can have sightings of various birds and animals, petroglyphs, beautiful gorges, water bed formations, passes, etc.

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About Thiksey Monastery

Location : Ladakh, Leh

Built some 600 years ago, Thiksey Gompa is considered the most beautiful of all the monasteries in Ladakh belonging to the Gelugpa school (the “yellow hat” sect) of Tibetan Buddhism. The gompa contains 10 temples and below the monastery itself are chapels and "houses" stretching down the hillside. 

After entering the main courtyard to the monastery, to the immediate right and up several steps is a new temple containing a large Buddha statue. This Buddha figure, 15 meters tall was constructed in 1970 to commemorate a visit to Thiksey by the Dalai Lama. The statue is the largest Buddha figure in Ladakh and took four years to construct. The statue is made of clay and covered with gold paint. Inside, the statue is filled with both the Kandshur and the Tandshur - volumes of Buddhist canonical texts. 
 
 

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About Apricot Tree Hotel

Location : Nurla, Lahdc Leh

Ule Ethnic Luxury Hotel Resort is the first fully solar powered tourism project in Ladakh, taking ahead the local sustainable tourism initiative. The resort is set at the cliff bank of river Indus, 55 Kilometers into Sham valley of Ladakh is the village of Ule Tokpo. The village is home to the family running Ule Ethnic resorts since 1974. A premier property, Ule Ethnic resort has 15 ensuite deluxe cottages and 15 ensuite huts.

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About the Golden Retreat in Stok Village

A Journey of Serenity with 12 elegant cottages (each a spacious sanctuary with private porch), or in one of 6 luxury tents spreading in an area. Learn more by visiting their Facebook page for more photos and check out this video to get the full picture of this peaceful place. 

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About Claridges Hotel in  New Delhi

The year 1952 was a major landmark in the history of Indian hotel industry for it saw the birth of The Claridges Hotels & Resorts. Ever since the inception of the hotel, The Claridges, New Delhi has strived to be the best in the business and has been successful in winning accolades of guests and fraternity. Over the years, they have ensured to provide a world of exceptional luxury, housing some of the finest restaurants of the city, huge banquet halls, a rejuvenating health center, adequately furnished rooms, a salubrious pool and lush green lawns to make your experience worth cherishing.

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Day 1: Arrival & Delhi Tour

Welcome to India, a country steeped in tradition, where spirituality and religion are part of everyday life. We arrive late September 11th or very early in the morning of the 12th and will be met and transferred to our hotel, and then have time to rest and unwind after the long flight.

  • After breakfast, you will be greeted by your guide and local expert photographer to begin your Delhi Experience. Note that Photo Tour Leaders John and Lisa Merrill will meet the group in Ladakh on Day 2 after they scout locations.
  • We will do a driving tour of New Delhi, with brief stops at the India Gate (World War I Memorial), the Presidential Palace, the Parliament House and the nearby Secretariat buildings - an interesting blend of the Victorian and 20th century architecture. 
  • Next, we will visit Humayun’s tomb, built by the widow of the second Mughal Emperor Humayun, and the Qutab Minar, a high tower which dates back to the 13th century and is one of the greatest bequests of the Islamic culture. The tallest tower in the world for centuries, erected by first Islamic rulers of India and still the most imposing, artistically carved and engraved sandstone pillar anywhere.
  • On our next stop, we pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi at Raj Ghat, his memorial which is located on the banks of the river Yamuna. 
  • Next, we visit the unforgettable Old Delhi. A maze of narrow lanes, pulsing with energy and color, Old Delhi is the walled city founded by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1639. It remained the capital of the Mughals until the end of the Mughal Dynasty. We will enjoy a rickshaw ride through Old Delhi, where a colorful history of thousands of years unfolds. By Rickshaw, we will also visit Chandani Chowk, Silver Square (once the center of Delhi), which is the nerve centre of Old Delhi and explore its narrow lanes bustling with traditional workmanship.
  • Our final stop by Rickshaw is Jama Masjid, India's largest Mosque. With 3 imposing black and white marble domes, and twin minarets framing its great central arch, it was built in 1656 by the Emperor Shah Jahan on a natural mound. It took six years and 5000 workers to construct at a cost of million rupees. The huge 92 square feet courtyard can accommodate 20,000 people at Friday prayer sessions.
  • In the late afternoon, we enjoy a lavish 3 course High Tea on the rooftop of Haveli Dharmapura. It is breathtakingly beautiful to look at and photograph the sky filled with colorful kites from the Haveli rooftop, especially when a cool breeze takes them higher.  
  • Return to Claridges Hotel to rest before heading to our local hosts' home for an evening cooking demonstration and dinner.

Accommodations: Claridges Hotel

Meals: B, L, D
 

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