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Celluloid-struck town

Sandeep Joshi
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Now a landmark:Druk White Lotus School.Photo: Paul Noronha
Now a landmark:Druk White Lotus School.Photo: Paul Noronha

When the crew of the Bollywood film 3 Idiots was filming certain sections of the movie in various picturesque locales of Ladakh region, little did they knew that the film would leave such a deep impact on the local psyche as well as on its tourism potential.

One spot from the movie that has been permanently etched in people’s memory is the massive turquoise-coloured Pangong Tso (lake) that is around 150 km ahead of Leh; it was here the climax scene of this 2009 movie was shot. 

Yet another location which got prominence in the film was the Druk White Lotus School that is situated in Shey town, a few kilometres ahead of Leh. The boarding school is now popularly known as ‘Rancho’s school’, named after the lead character of the movie played by actor Aamir Khan. Today, tourists visit this unique school where kids can be seen enjoying their unique curriculum comprising studies with extra-curricular activities. The school was severely affected in the August 2010 cloudburst that hit the region; but within couple of years, the institution was again up and running. 

The noticeable influence of the film in Leh and its surrounding tourist destinations, however, is the cropping of numerous restaurants and cafés, small hotels and shops named after the movie or its characters: Rancho’s café or 3 Idiots Restaurant. One can find locals trying to cash in on the popularity of the famous movie or the lead character Rancho, who in the film belongs to the region.

“Over the last couple of years, we have seen a large number of shops and eating joints being named as ‘3 Idiots’ or ‘Rancho’ as people visiting the region, particularly domestic tourists, easily relate to the super-hit movie…It serves as icebreaker between tourists and the owner of shops or cafés as conversations normally begin with anecdotes related to the movie,” says Stenzin, an award-winning documentary filmmaker who is also associated with the organisation that runs the Druk White Lotus School. 

The school authorities were also quick to pick up on the popularity of the film as they themselves started ‘Rancho’s Café’, besides charging a fee from tourists for visiting the sprawling campus. The school employees, who double up as guides, take people around and show the spots where the movie was shot. The most-sought-after location inside the campus is the place where the famous peeing scene was shot that comes up just before the climax. 

At the Pangong Tso, too, which in Tibetan means “long, narrow, enchanted lake” and is situated at a height of about 14,270 ft and is 134 km long that extends from India to China, at least half-a-dozen restaurants have come up, most having some connection with the film’s title, while there is mad rush among tourists to get photographed at the location.

“People visiting Leh wants us to take them to these two locations first — Pangong Tso and Rancho’s school though we have so many amazing places, monasteries, palaces and museums to visit. All this has changed post 2009 after 3 Idiots was released,” says tour operator Sonam Dorje. Interestingly, the number of domestic tourists visiting Leh has also been increasing over the past three-four years and it is generally seen as the impact of the movie, he adds.

From its tourist spots to cafés to shops, Leh’s 3 Idiots connection runs strong

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