Letter to Son No.1 – Ladakh (ii)

Tak Guest House
Monday 17th June

At the Northern tip of India, Ladakh, is a spiritual and energetic land of amazing beauty, on the roof of the world. Buddhism first came to Ladakh from India, many centuries before Tibet was converted. Later it came under the influence of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism as early as three centuries before Christ. Ladakhis believe that the whole landscape is an offering to the Buddha and has Buddha awareness.
Andrew Harvey

Ladhakis are among the most ecologically minded in the world. Their religion is essentially about respect for Nature and their own place among the scheme of things. Nothing is wasted and little is exploited. Their communal ties are strengthened by the fact that they are cut off for most of the year by bleak winters: snow blocks the roads in.

Tourism has only been allowed here since 1974, and there is a real danger that tourists and travellers, along with Kashmiri traders cashing in on our presence, will raise the expectations of Ladakhis, particularly the younger generations. They see us with our money, cameras, denim jeans and credit cards. They note our freedom to follow the sun and that we do not have to survive year round in their relative isolation.

At 10,000ft the air is thin with less oxygen; the sun is much more penetrating and we burn quicker. Contrast this with the extreme cold of winter; even in summer we have to put on a sweater if a cloud blocks the sun. With the lack of rain, a minor breeze can create a mini dust storm.

Such an environment requires a mutuality, and Ladakh has this balance, developed over many generations since its importance on the Silk Road, connecting the southern continent of India with China and the rest of the world (bar the American continent), faded many centuries ago with the development of shipping routes. Leh, still the capital of the region, was once an important crossroads.

Where we visitors have helped is with the introduction of appropriate technology. With strong support from the government of Kashmir and the Ladakh Ecological Development Trust, a programme has been set up to do just that. Solar-powered cooking stoves cut down the use of wood and cow dung for fuel. This in turn will protect and fertilise the dusty soil. (Even human excreta is collected for the fields.) Where women used to use hot flat stones for baking their bread on, traders hoping to make a quick profit introduced asbestos sheets. The authorities have started a campaign against this.

The greatest success to my mind has been the successful testing of plants which can thrive in the short four months growing season (April-July). The University of Kashmir has cross-pollinated crops that will grow well here. With the careful planting of trees to provide wind breaks and shade as well as holding the soil together, brand new fields have been created, irrigated from wells and a few rivers.

This is having an effect on the climate. Vegetation breathes out oxygen and moisture; thus more clouds form, meaning more rain falls with the possibility of more crop cultivation. This is truly working with Nature, with no cost to the environment.

One could witness this from the bus, the most tiring, scariest, yet most interesting bus ride ever. Mind you, I’m hoping to fly back to Srinagar because the flight only takes an hour, a mere 42 hours less. I’d love to have the unique view down at the mountains. However, as most flights are cancelled due to winds and cloud cover, I’m not yet sure how I’ll leave.

There is much to see and learn here. I’m hoping to visit the high school and sit in an English lesson. I haven’t yet explored the deserted palace up the hill, nor visited gompas (monasteries with their wall paintings) or the small villages around here and along the valleys. Maybe I’ll tell you about them in my next letter, or perhaps about the three week, 280kms, trek I hope to do

Whatever, I’m still well and happy, and hope you are too.

(NGOs working in Ladakh in 2013) 


About Jakartass

A Brit Abroad
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