Ladakh gears up for winter sports season

Leh: As north India comes under the grip of chill, the `cold desert` of Ladakh is gearing up for another season of winter sports.

Ladakh is well-known for its pristine natural beauty and spiritual places like monasteries and stupas, but nowadays it has also come to be known as an emerging destination for lovers of winter sports like ice hockey and ice skating.

The Ladakh Winter Sport Club in Leh, which is playing a pivotal role in promoting such games in the remote hilly region, is organising `Winter Tourism Promotion Cup` in which some 70 Canadian players will take part this year.

Inter-club under-19 ice hockey tournament will also be held here from January 23 to 26.

The club is sponsoring a number of talented youth and has sent many of them to countries like Finland, China, USA and Poland for ice hockey and ice skating training.

"We are getting a number of invitations from various international organisations for participation in different camps and competitions but unfortunately we are unable to send the athletes to all those events regularly due to unavailability of sponsors," said the general secretary of the club, Bashir Banday.

The popularity of winter sports in Ladakh can be gauged from the fact that for the first time an Indian ice hockey team took part in the `Asian Challenge Cup` held at Abu Dhabi in 2008 and most of the players were from Ladakh, he said.

The history of ice hockey in Ladakh dates back to the early 70s when the Ladakh Scouts Battalion of the Indian army, who were posted in the higher reaches of the border regions, started playing the game.

The high Changthang plateau with its frozen streams and high altitude lakes formed an ideal place to play ice hockey. It gained popularity when they began to play exhibition matches in Leh in the winter.

The training session of winter sports was flagged off here yesterday by the president of the club, signalling the start of the three-month season.