I remember the first time I saw a light bulb on a trip to Leh. I was 11 and I was drawn to it like a moth. In its milky glow, some of the biggest challenges of our daily life at home suddenly seemed surmountable. What if we also had bulbs in our village? What if we could also defy the darkness and lengthen the day, long after the sun has crept behind the coppery mountains of the Markha Valley?
I am a solar engineer with Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE). I have electrified over 50 villages in my home state of Ladakh and Meghalaya. But my journey started in a small village called Sumda Chenmo.
Growing up, our lives were deeply connected with nature. (It still does, to some extent.) We lived in harmony with the wild animals in the Ladakh countryside, and our days revolved around the sun, getting shorter and shorter during the deep winters. A typical day started early with housework, followed by school and farming. Without electricity at home, we had a limited number of productive hours. So we rushed from school to help our parents on the farm. And we rushed home to finish our homework and cook before sunset. Neither of us were allowed out after dark, of course. Because it was the animals’ turn to roam freely and claim the valley.
For mountain communities, education comes at a price. Forget basic infrastructure and equipment – by that I mean electricity, water and a solid roof, not computers, internet or high-tech classrooms – in remote villages like ours, it’s a luxury of finding a school with permanent teachers! So, while I was finishing my primary education in the village, I had to move to Leh to continue my studies up to grade 9. It is never easy for a child to leave his parents. But in Ladakh, we often have to make this choice for better education.
At school, I have always been interested in science, which has served me well over the years, eventually supporting my quest to help the community. At the time, however, I had no intention of enrolling in graduate school, even though I wanted an independent life. So I applied for jobs in the public sector, which is still considered the best option for anyone looking for a career in Ladakh. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the jobs I wanted and a few years later I got married. But the idea of being independent has never left me. And as they say, when you put your heart on something, even the universe conspires to make it happen. My plans finally fell into place after the birth of my second child.
It was an unexpected turn of events that led me to GHE and a career in Access to Clean Energy. My brother, who was already part of the organization, told me about the opportunity to train as a solar engineer. However, the first hurdle was to complete a six month training program in Rajasthan. I was nervous about leaving my family behind and traveling to a new place with unfamiliar language and food. But my husband encouraged me to take the plunge. Eventually the fear of uncertainty gave way to dreams and I left for Rajasthan.
The first month at Barefoot College in Tilonia was difficult. My body was still adjusting to the extreme heat, and food was also a challenge… In Ladakh we are used to sweet spices, while in Rajasthan the spice levels are higher to counterbalance the red fever temperatures. outside. But little by little, I got used to the rhythm of student life at Barefoot. It was my first exposure to the world in general, and it made me realize its vastness and diversity. There were participants from all over the world here. Due to language barriers, we have been divided into two groups – one for Indians and another for foreigners. But we ended up communicating with everyone anyway, inventing our own sign language as we went along. I also made many friends, some from states as far away as Manipur, and I am still in touch with them.
It was at Tilonia that I first held a screwdriver in my hand. But I gained confidence with each class and quickly learned how to repair LED bulbs, charge controllers, and solar lanterns. (Later, I got more information about solar panels and batteries from the GHE team.) In addition to technical know-how, we also learned the basics of finance, weaving techniques and skills at Barefoot that I have used since.
I joined GHE after returning to Leh from Rajasthan. And soon after, I set out on my very first mission with my colleague Achen to electrify the sacred Lingshed Monastery in the nearly 1,000-year-old Leh district and its adjacent village. We were particularly excited because we knew it would directly benefit the community. But it was a Herculean task! We had to electrify the monastery and 97 homes in less than 10 days. We managed to do it in 9! I remember the Chief Lama telling us how happy he was to see Ladakhi women set an example for others. It was a very proud moment for me, and I still remember it like it was yesterday.
Over time, people across Ladakh have learned about us and our work. Today, it’s so good when women in my own community see me as a role model. Wherever I go, they tell me, we want our girls to be like you. It only makes me more aware of my responsibilities. So I try to educate women and girls in every village I visit. I also speak on many platforms to motivate them, and tell them that if they are determined, they can solve any problem in their life, and that of others. As we did in Meghalaya …
This was the first GHE project beyond the borders of Ladakh. It was also my first time traveling alone to a place as far away as Meghalaya. And my first time on a flight! As you can imagine, I was pretty nervous about the trip. But the team reassured me and we left for the other side of the country. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to see the Indus and the Ladakh mountains from an airplane. Everything looks so small from high in the clouds – the snow-capped peaks, the high passes, the lakes and the trees – it’s like a scene from a movie.
After landing at Guwahati airport, we drove to Garo Hills, climbing into the clouds. We stayed two weeks here in the villages of Rongmegre and Rongroasimgre, and electrified more than 50 homes. The trip was quite an adventure for me. Everything – from the scenery and the climate to the language and the food – was completely unknown. But I quickly realized that all villages in India have at least one thing in common: people are full of gratitude and warmth for visitors. So I felt right at home in a place I had never visited before. Here, too, the women were surprised and happy to see another woman installing solar micro-grids to light up the lives of entire communities. They said they wanted to be like me, and I assured them they could be!
There is another great advantage of my assignments: financial independence. I think it’s very important that women win. It builds our confidence and helps us support our families in making their dreams come true. I remember buying an earthen lamp for the temple in our house and clothes for my children with my first paycheck. My husband told me that I can spend my money however I want. And so far, I have helped build our house and educate my children. They study in one of the best schools in Ladakh, where they don’t have to worry about permanent teachers or leaving home to pursue higher education. And to me that matters a lot.
I have come a long way from living in the dark to setting up solar micro-grids in remote villages, and I hope to continue. I also hope that other women in rural areas will have a trip as beautiful as mine. To them, I would like to say: Start small! Don’t wait for a big break or a government job. Instead, learn solar engineering, crafting, or any other skill you can get. There are so many training programs and opportunities for us today; make the effort to find them. And in the end, do what you can, with what you have, wherever you are!
About the storyteller
Gurmet Angmo is from the Markha region in Ladakh. She is a solar engineer, entrepreneur and mother. His dream is to work for the upliftment of the Himalayan community. It has electrified more than 50 villages in Ladakh and Meghalaya with Global Himalayan Expedition. She is an inspiration among the local women of Ladakh. His work has been recognized on several.