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Skating

Photo Story: Ladakh On Skates

Photo Story: Ladakh On Skates
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Updated: 23 Jan 2022 11:42 AM GMT
India is not a country known for its prowess in winter sports, nor for its performance, for that matter. But Vishwaraj Jadeja is charting a new journey in a lesser-followed sport in the hope of becoming the country's first Olympic speed-skater. Currently training in Utrecht in Holland, Vish, as he is fondly called by friends, has broken the national record 65 times across various distances ranging from 500m to 10000m. But skating in the Himalayas, in the remote region of Ladakh, 12,000 feet above sea level, is a first for him. Nestled in the soaring peaks of the Himalayan range, Ladakh is known for its mighty peaks. But few are aware of the passion this remote region has for winter sports. Every winter as the temperature falls to -20 degree Celcius or 30, thousands of people hit the ice.
Unlike the summer months, winter in this part of the country makes you see a different side of Ladakh. The blue lakes, rivers, vegetation, and brown mountains are all buried beneath a thick white blanket of snow. Vishwaraj Jadeja had the option of being an engineer or a skater. And his choice was obvious - to be the latter. Although he started off as a roller skater, he chose to shift to speed skating since it is a Winter Olympic sport and roller skating is not. A few years back, the 32-year-old Ahmedabad skater has shifted base to the Netherlands as skating for the Dutch is what cricket is for Indians. Some of the scenery and the rinks that Vishwaraj was on, it felt like "he is in heaven". "I've never skated this high," he said, after arriving in the city of Leh in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Vishwaraj laced up his skates and stepped onto the ice as the camera followed every step of him in Pangong Lake (14,270 ft). He appeared steady on his gave a quick demonstration on how to turn and brake to the bystanders who had gathered to see him. "Everyone calls me crazy, but to win an Olympic medal you have to be crazy" The idea to go, came to Vishwaraj last year after he saw a video of the region that showed the impact of winter sport on the people there. He also wanted to meet India's national women ice hockey team and his wish was fulfilled. What surprised him the most about the region is that people know a lot about winter sports. The enthusiasm and hospitality of the locals added to the magic of skating in the majestic Himalayas. Vishwaraj spent some time on the stage sharing his experience and challenges to reach the top. "It's crazy because it's not a big place. It's not like there's a huge population here," he exclaimed. "It's great to come here once but the next goal is to figure out how to keep making a difference in future."
(Photos by Ravi Mistry)
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