I have just been visited by two Californian travel agents investigating the possibilities of sending groups to Ladakh. I was courteous and helpful in giving out advice which could fuck up Ladakh even more.
Although tourism in Ladakh was permitted by civil and military authorities in 1974 following strong local lobbying, resentments have built up to such an extent that a bomb was placed in a Kashmiri souvenir shop. Although it caused only minor damage and injuries, it is, to date, the most serious manifestation of that resentment.
Many of the items for sale are Kashmiri – carpets, numdas (rugs), papier-mâché masks etc. – and the sales pitch is typically aggressive. However, the tourist avarice for quaint, picturesque and ‘genuine’ artefacts has also lead to the sale of Buddhist treasures such as tankas from monasteries and Ladhaki women’s turquoise decorated head-dresses in exchange for the Yankee dollar.
It has also lead to a catering for foreign tastes.
The prying and poking and sheer chauvinism of tourism is a corrupting and malevolent influence.*
So, what am I doing here?
The other day while strolling through the fertile area south of the town I came across a plump American and his wife; he complained that he could get better steaks back home. Given that supplies needed to cater for the summer influx tourists are trucked up from Srinagar and their arrival depends very much on the weather …. I refrained from saying anything.
But I did say something to the lass who used up all the water in Tak Guest House while taking a shower. She hadn’t rinsed the shampoo out of her hair and was complaining bitterly. We gave her the two buckets used by the servant girl whose daily task is to fill them up from the river, return and climb up to the roof and to pour their contents into a water tank.
* Several photos of ‘modern’ Leh here