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Melting glaciers thaw the growth of Ladakh’s ice hockey

At an elevation of over 3,000 meters above sea level, Ladakh is an ideal place for the region’s favorite winter sport – ice hockey.

By Charkha Feature
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ice hockey in ladakh is in danger

Deachen Spaldon, Ladakh | At an elevation of over 3,000 meters above sea level, Ladakh is an ideal place for the region’s favorite winter sport – ice hockey. The sport was started in eastern Ladakh around 50 years ago by the Indian Army as a downtime game for army men. Over the years, the sport gained popularity among the locals so much so that their relationship with the game has become natural now. Children growing up in Ladakh have many fond memories of holidays where playing on ice has been a key part of their winter activity routine.

Ice hockey has grown by leaps and bounds and it has become one of the most popular sports among Ladakhi youth. The women of Ladakh equally enjoy this sport. Today, there are more than 20 ice hockey teams in Ladakh including both men and women. Popular winter tournaments are hosted every season such as the LG (lieutenant governor) Cup and the CEC (chief executive councilor) Cup, where teams from various parts of Ladakh participate and proper gear is provided to the players. In February this year, a national championship was held as well. The Indian women’s team for ice hockey is an all-Ladakhi women's team that has proudly been representing India at various international matches since 2016. 

However, with rapidly melting glaciers, climate change looms as a huge threat to this popular sport. Hockey player Deskit, a member of the Ladakh Women Ice Hockey Foundation says, “I am among the first generation of women hockey players in Ladakh. I’ve been playing defense on the national team since 2016. Since we don’t have a proper artificial ice hockey rink, we are completely dependent on the frozen ponds. And now, climate change has created a greater problem for us. When I had started playing, we would get at least 3-4 months to play in the winter, but now, even in this cold area, winter arrives late and finishes early and so we get only two months of play.”

Over the last few decades, scientists have recorded a retreat in both snowfall and glacial mass in Ladakh. With the receding glaciers and greater influx of tourists, Ladakh’s native people are facing issues in every space.

“Throughout the year, we only get the winter season to practice and compete for international championships, unlike other overseas teams that have year-round facilities. This really impacts our training and performance,” Deskit adds.

Deskit shares that they have been promised an artificial ice hockey rink in Ladakh.

“If it is not built and the impact of climate change continues at the current pace, we might lose this much-loved winter sport,” she rues.

For the past few years, matches are being held at the NDS ice hockey rink at Leh which was built looking at the rising interest and potential of this sport in the mountainous terrain. But, the complete infrastructural development of the ice rink still remains pending. Prior to this rink, matches were usually held at the natural ice pond at Karzoo. The players practice at such naturally formed ice ponds.

As the threat of global warming puts practicing natural ice ponds at risk, the demand for more artificial rinks has gone up. According to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report, the temperature of the earth has risen by an average of 0.08 degrees Celsius per decade since 1880 and the 10 warmest years in recorded history have all occurred since 2010. While climate change has been taking place since time immemorial, the pace at which its happening is not giving us time to adapt to this change.

The threats of global warming are huge. If we look at the issue and its impact from a holistic perspective, it cannot be denied that ice hockey holds a prominent place in the life of Ladakh and efforts need to be put in to sustain the sport, especially this one that is a version of India’s national sport.

The article was published earlier in Daily Pioneer and India Water Portal.

Deachen Spaldon is an independent writer from Ladakh. Share your feedback on [email protected]

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