The Shepherdess of the Glaciers

She is one of the last shepherdesses who still lives with her flock in the heights of the Gya-Miru valley in Ladakh. At the age of 50, Tsering is the youngest in her village to drive her 350 goats and sheep at the expense of transhumance in this region of the Himalayas, located between 4000 and 6000 meters above sea level. A harsh and precarious life, often solitary, mishandled by difficult climatic conditions and a sometimes hostile nature, which does not prevent this tiny bit of woman to sing, laugh and ... philosophize.

  • Stanzin Dorjai
    Jungwa: The Broken Balance, Living with Change, Lighting up The Himalayas, Land of Summits, What we may have Lost
  • Christiane Mordelet
  • Stanzin Dorjai
    Jungwa: The Broken Balance, Living with Change, Lighting up The Himalayas
  • Stanzin Dorjai
    Jungwa: The Broken Balance, Living with Change, Lighting up The Himalayas
  • Tsering Gya
    Key Cast
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 14 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    May 1, 2017
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Banff Film Fesival
    November 6, 2016
    Grand Prize
  • Dharamsala Film Festival
    November 5, 2016
  • Kerala Film Festival
    June 10, 2016
    Special Jury Mention
  • Visions Du Reel 2016
    April 1, 2016
    International Premiere
  • Autrans
    December 1, 2016
    Best Director
  • Festival Curieux Voyageurs
    Saint Etienne
    March 1, 2017
    Best Film on Mountain Culture
  • India Mountaineering Foundation
    South Delhi
Director Biography - Stanzin Dorjai, Christiane Mordelet

BIO-DATA-Stanzin Dorjai- Gya

My background and experiences.

I would first like to introduce my place of origin as I live in a very small village in a very remote part of India and I presume you may not have heard much about it.
Ladakh, my place of origin, is a vast Trans-Himalayan mountain desert in the northernmost part of India. It is the third region in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. People in Ladakh are mostly tribals and live in small villages and towns at altitudes ranging from 10,000 ft to 14,000 ft above sea level. Winter temperatures here go down to –30 degrees Celsius. Due to heavy snowfall all passes leading to the outside world close during the winter and hence the region remains cut off from the rest of the world for six months. In terms of area, it is the largest region in J&K measuring around 49,000 square kilometres, but with a small and scattered population of only 250,000 people. Ladakh has two districts - Leh, with a predominantly Buddhist population and Kargil with a predominantly Muslim population, and is surrounded by China in the east and Pakistan in the west.

Ladakh was once an independent kingdom like its other sisters in the Himalayas such as Baltistan, Tibet, Bhutan and Sikkim. However it lost its independence after an invasion from the Dogra kings of Jammu in the 1830s. It first became a part of the Dogra Empire, and then in 1947, a part of India, as a district in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Ladakh attained autonomy and democratic self-governance, with the formation of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC, often called the ‘Hill Council’) in Leh district in 1995 and in Kargil district in 2003. LAHDC is a mini parliament for the Ladakhis that has 30 members and has decision making powers on most development issues.

Educational Background

I did my schooling from my village - Gya, a small village, about 70 kms from the township of Leh. I was there till the 8th standard, where it was quite untouched by the wings of modern facilities of education. The area it self was rather backward and good education was not a focus at all. During my childhood, SCF ( save the children founds ) and LNP ( leh nutrition projects ) help the village to give education of the childrens and I was one of the beneficiary of this project. I came to the city later, where I joined the higher secondary school at Leh. During that period of time, I came to know a little bit about the values and importance of education in one’s life. Having remembered my past schooling in my village in such difficult circumstances, it generated in me a sense of responsibility towards my village children who are still stuck in the same difficult schooling situation.

After this, I joined an NGO, named SECMOL (Student's Educational & Cultural Movement of Ladakh). SECMOL was formed in 1988 by a small group of young people most of whom had just returned from their higher studies. Being victims of the education system themselves, their main motivation was to do something that would prevent other Ladakhi students from suffering the same traumatic schooling as they had.

At SECMOL, I was supported academically and slowly also gained the confidence to interact with the outside world – I learnt to speak English and got oriented to social and development issues of the region. This helped me complete my Graduation, I graduated in the Bachelors of Arts from Jammu University.

I want to also contribute to the development of the village – I feel my education should be given back to the village where I come from. A group of us form our village have started a small committee for village development. We are beginning to set up a library to encourage reading habits in children. We will also try to provide other services so that village children need not be up rooted from their homes in search of good education.

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Director Statement

Why I made “The Shepherdess of the Glaciers”
I was raised in a family of farmers and herdsmen. I looked after the goats with my sister until I was fourteen, when I left my village to go to school.
After our father died, it was up to my sister, Tsering, to take charge of the herd. She was twenty-seven at the time. I can’t help wondering about the choices life has prompted us to make, about the way life shapes our very being.
Today I am a film-maker, and my sister is a herdswoman on the high plateaus.
I am married with two sons. She’s single and will never be a mother.
I live with my family in Leh, and spend two or three months of the year in France. Tsering lives alone in the vastness of the Himalayas. Her only companions are her goats and the wild animals that prowl nearby.
The sole link between my world and hers is a transistor radio tuned to All India Radio. I gave her that radio.
So what unites us? And what divides us?
For eleven months of the year Tsering lives at an altitude of 4,500 to 6,000 meters, in temperatures ranging from 35°C below zero, to 35°C. She is several days walk from the village. Up in the mountain, higher and higher, she walks all day long, in all weather, seeking meager pastures to feed the herd.
How can she possibly survive up there? Where does she find the strength?
In fact, Tsering shepherd’s life – her own life as well as the life of the herd. Anticipating, nursing, protecting, delivering kids, worrying and, in the end, accepting. She and her herd engage in a daily struggle for life.
Last winter the herd lost seventy goats. The snows lasted too long, the kids died, famine threatened, the leopard struck. Tsering dealt with all these hardships. She’s not afraid of anything.
When the possibility of marriage arose, Tsering chose to look after the herd. Denied all human company, my sister learned everything by contemplating the mountains, the elements, plants and animals. Tsering is attentive to everything, to everyone.
She knows every crevasse on the glacier, all the plants that heal, the sky, the moon, the leopard. She knows every one of her goats.
All her senses go to work. My sister is a doctor, herbalist, weather forecaster, veterinarian, botanist, Himalayan guide, economist, philosopher, and goatherd – she’s all of them rolled into one.
Every day Tsering has to cope with limits – her own physical limits, environmental limits. She knows the world is competitive, but that her only real adversary is herself. Tsering is strong.
At an altitude of 4,500 meters, crops need organic fertilizer. Otherwise, nothing will grow. The herd’s manure nourishes the soil. The entire family in the village thus depends on this little woman with her 300 cashmere goats and a handful of sheep.
Our brother Urgain and his wife Chamba, along with their four daughters and our mother, live on what they can grow and from the sale of the cashmere.