I arrived in the town of Kaza, the nerve centre of Spiti Valley on the 14th of August’13. After a 10 hour bumpy ride from Manali, I reached the town around 4 pm and by the time I figured out my accommodation and settled in my new abode in Kaza, it was close to 7 pm. There was no electricity in town that night, so my plans to charge my phone and camera went dead. I thought it was a one off situation and definitely power supply would be restored the next day, as is the case with any other town. But, there was no power the next morning either and on further enquiry, I realized that the town has not seen consistent power supply since the month of June, that is for more than 2 months!! So, effectively, on the morning of 15th of August (ironically Indian Independence Day), there was again no hope of power being restored. As an outsider, especially from a city which boasts of 24 hour power supply, it was quite a shocker to me. But, the localites seemed quite used to this and they did not seem to worry much about the power situation. To some extent, it is a reflection of the great Indian ability to get used to poor service.
|Nuns in Kungri(Pin valley) with the panels|
Around the same time, Ecosphere was planning to expand the solar power capacity in their office to meet the increasing demand and deal with the worsening power supply situation. More importantly, they were planning to equip around 6 monasteries/nunneries in Spiti Valley with solar power; these installations were to happen in September’13. More details on these later. From my conversation with the Ecosphere staff, I understood that this is their 3rd solar power project in the region. The first 2 projects being in Demul village and Kungri monastery. The Demul village project is an interesting model where the whole village is electrified with solar power and each household has a stake in the development and maintenance of the project. In my previous job, I had worked on solar charger technology, as one of the products we had was related to charge controllers and high brightness LED drivers. Since I had plans to volunteer with Ecosphere from mid August to end September, I felt it would be a good idea to join the solar installations and see if I could be of some help. During the first week of September, a 3 member team arrived from Pondicherry to do the installations and they were joined by an equal sized local team.
|Nuns cleaning the panel in Pangmo nunnery|
By the time the installations started, I had spent more than 2 weeks in Spiti and was slowly getting used to life without electricity. During this period, there was power for hardly a couple of hours and the whole town was primarily surviving on diesel generators and solar power. The lack of consistent power supply was limiting the business opportunities in Kaza. As long as I was in Kaza, I thought this was the biggest impact. It was only when I moved out of the town and into the interior villages did I witness the more basic impact of the lack of power supply. It was on the 3rd of September that I joined the first installation in a nunnery in Pin valley. Setting up the panels, batteries, inverter and LED lights was lot more work than I imagined and it was late evening by the time the installation was complete (since we had to work with torches as the sun went down, it delayed the work further). I wish I had the vocabulary to explain the sheer joy on the nuns faces when it dawned upon them that the whole building was equipped with solar powered LED lights. The atmosphere was one of pure joy and jubilation, it was as if like their long cherished dream just came true. The celebrations made it clear to me that these installations are more significant than what I thought them to be. But, during this installation, I did not have the chance to talk to the nuns and understand what the newly acquired solar power means to them. I fortunately got this chance during the later installations.
|Rinpoche in Pin valley monastery turning the lights on|
So, during the first 2 weeks of September, there were a total of 6 installations: Pin valley monastery, Pin valley nunnery, Pangmo nunnery, Morang nunnery, Dhanker monastery, Komic monastery. I had the chance to join most of the installations and each place showed more enthusiasm than the other. I would definitely rate this as one of the most humbling and learning experiences of my Spiti stay.
|Rinpoche in Pin valley felicitating Ecosphere representative|
About the author : This post is by one of our volunteers, Madhan from Bangalore, who volunteered with Ecosphere from mid-August to end-September'2013. You can also visit his blog sharedmusings86.