When winter arrives in Ladakh, the landscape gets blanketed by a sheet of snow and ice hockey becomes the only game in town. Youngsters flock to Gupuk, which is located just outside Leh, or Karzoo where the pond freezes over, to play ice-hockey.
So it's quite natural that a population of 3,00,000 would produce the finest members of Indian women's ice hockey team.
With never-ending hurdles along their path, the women ice-hockey team's story to success is a strain of pure inspiration.
Their problems begin back at home where the ponds remain frozen for just around two months. Also, these natural rinks lack facilities that are needed to properly play the game.
On top of that, India's only full-sized international rink is in Dehradun, which currently remains shut due to lack of state support.
The only option left for the players is to travel to other countries. Most of the time, the expenses are borne out of their own pockets.
According to the Huffington Post, the women's game in Ladakh came up in the early nineties. Back then, thin pieces of metal were fastened to long pieces of wood. Patches of dirt were turned into a skating surface and the goals post was made from wood scraps.
It was the women's sheer passion for the sport which drove the local Ladakh Winter Sports Club to introduce women in local competitions in 2008.
However, it was only in 2013 that the Ice Hockey Association of India conducted its first championship for women.
The collective efforts of the young Ladakhi women resulted in them getting four full-strength local teams.
Adding to the surmounting problems, the women's team had to practice for the Challenge Cup of Asia, 2016 in a miniature ice rink in Ambience Mall, Gurgaon. The rink is barely 1/4th the size of an international arena. They suffered a major setback when some players almost missed out on their trip to Taipei as they did not have passports.
The players that did make it to the tournament weren't even aware of the official rules and had to learn them as the tournament progressed.
Still, the team managed to get an aggregate score of 8-36.
However, things took a turn for the better in the seven-nation 2017 Challenge Cup of Asia when the team registered their first win against the Philippines.
After the final whistle, their eyes were filled with tears of joy. They secured another win on the final day by defeating Malaysia.
In an interview with the Hindustan Times, Tsering Chorol said,
We were all so emotional and cried so much. Even others became teary-eyed when our national anthem was being played. We felt that we had made our country proud.
Their incredible story caught the attention of Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.
He met the team in Delhi during his state visit to India. He later tweeted about them as well.
India’s national women’s ice hockey team is breaking barriers, taking on challengers, and showing girls that anything is possible. It was great to finally meet! May your future be bright on the ice and off. pic.twitter.com/YESUNHcPLk— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) February 24, 2018
However, in 2018, the unfortunate demise of Chief Executive Councilor Sonam Sawa Lonpo hammered them another setback. Without his support and appropriate funds, they were no longer able to train abroad.
And yet again, they went to compete in the 2018 Challenge Cup in Kuala Lumpur with minimal practice.
The team lost all three matches.
An unlikely ray of hope came in the form of Hayley Wickenheiser who is a four-time ice hockey Olympic gold medallist from Canada. She took notice of their story on social media and visited them in January 2018.
She requested IHAI to get the team for a Hockey Coaching program in Canada and secured their participation in WICKFEST.
After Hayley Wickenheiser's tour of the Himalayas and meeting with the Indian Women's Ice Hockey team, high level talks of taking the team to Canada for training are underway with Justin Trudeau's visit to India. pic.twitter.com/a022YvgKeB— The Bridge (@TheBridge_IN) February 21, 2018
In a conversation with The Better India, a member of the team, Diskit Angmo, said,
It was once in a lifetime opportunity for the team. Our passion had made us believe in ourselves. From an unheard team from a remote area in India, we went to Canada for the World Female Hockey Festival. They say ‘Passion Has No Boundaries’ and we lived up to it.
During the festival, the team won one of the four exhibition matches.
India is a land of untapped talent. And sometimes, these incredible individuals go unnoticed. Their stories need to be out there for the appropriate authorities to take notice so that they can practice their craft as best as they possibly can.