Ladakh needs more than tourism

Ladakh needs more than tourism

Environmental cause

Ladakhis in Delhi say that they are looking towards the rest of India for help. The state is a victim of climate change, and has represented itself in United Nations’ Conference on Climate Change (UNCCC). But the locals assert that they don’t need studies to prove how drastically affected the area is, they “sensed” the changes long back.

Now, through padyatras, festivals, films and unions, they want to engage city people to the cause of environment. Melting of glaciers is the prime cause, but not the only one. Many Ladakhis proclaim that their Buddhism preaches worship of nature. They want “development” but not at the cost of their environment.

Stanzin Dorjai Gya, a filmmaker, who represented Ladakh in UNCCC says, “Topographically, Ladakh is like Kashmir, but it still looks untouched. We do not want the same kind of development because for Ladakhis nature is precious. There is an increase in tourism after the film 3 Idiots, which is good for the economy, but not for the environment.”

He emphasises that since 3 Idiots featured various landscapes of Ladakh, the country started looking towards the state. Earlier, there were ‘foreigners’ who would come, but rarely Indians. Indians have started taking notice of the place in the past ten years or so.

“Tourists have a bad habit of throwing plastic bags everywhere,” he says. He tries to explain that in his film Jungwa. He elucidates that for city people ‘littering’ may not seem like a big deal, but for Ladakhis it has always been.

And once in a while, there are tourists who display ignorance about the status of Ladakh. Lynne Deepam, a Malaysian, visits Ladakh at least twice a year. The first time she wanted to visit, she applied for a visa at Chinese Embassy. She claims that it is not an uncommon trend.

A staff member at the Druk White Lotus school, Leh says, “Once a representative from Sri Lanka’s Youth Ministry, Suranimala Rajapaksha’s office applied to Chinese embassy for visa, and this was in 2013. We were shocked.” This was when they were invited for Fifth Annual Drukpa Council.

Lynne Deepam, a Malaysian, is a businesswoman and says that she is really impressed with how Ladakhis have preserved their environment. She feels “calm” here. The nature and people take away a lot of tensions she generally is consumed in. She claims that applying to the Chinese Embassy is a common trend.

“During one of my visits I met His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa, of the Drukpa lineage of Buddhism (1000-year-old Drukpa order), who has many followers here. Through him I went deeper into their culture. I went to a ‘padyatra’ to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and I was shocked to see how dirty it was and people were living amidst the dirt happily,” she tells Metrolife.

More than 250 Kung Fu Nuns of the Drukpa order went on a 50 day/2,200 km
cycle yatra from Kathmandu in Nepal across the Indian states of Bihar and UP to create environment consciousness. These kinds of ‘yatras’ are organised every six months and the nuns and Gyalwang Drukpa pick up litter on their way, in order to spread awareness about their environment.

His Holiness Drukpa organises the Winter Hemis Festival every year and Naroba, the Kumbh Mela of Himlayas, every 12 years. He says that these festivals are not in any Buddhist scripture, but are devised especially to engage people outside Ladakh with their culture and landscape. The main objective of these festivals is also to create awareness about Ladakhs’s deteriorating climate.

“The name ‘Kumbh Mela’ is especially chosen so that it attracts the majority who are familiar with the age-old Hindu festival,” he says.

Jigmet Yandol, 27, a volunteer at the Winter Hemis Festival which was recently held from February 17 to 22, says that she has been to other cities but would love to stay in her hometown.

She was once taken for a programme in Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) Mumbai, where she learnt many things about agriculture and social infrastructure that she could implement in Ladakh. Since the state faces many problems with their infrastructure, many locals go outside, like Yandol did.

Standing mighty at an altitude of 5,753 meter above sea level, Ladakh’s topography can be described as one that has intensive sunlight, high evaporation rate, strong winds, sparse vegetation, and rare rainfall, and is a mountainous desert of rocks, sand and dust.

A major problem Ladakhis face is a government plan of constructing concrete cemented canals for irrigation. The cement breaks during winters causing loss of water for drinking and agriculture. Whereas, for centuries the traditional practice of land, sand and rocks being used for canals is still successful in Ladakh.

On one hand His Holiness is arranging tourism and occupation for the locals, on the other hand people send their children to cities to study and come back home.
Tsewang Nubroo, 26, studies in Delhi University and is the President of Ladakh
Student’s Union (LSU) which is active since 1975.

He says, “When I came to Delhi, my friends didn’t know that Ladakh is in India, they thought I was from Nepal. But now it’s not like that.” 

LSU also wants the rest of the country to be aware of the brunt of climate change Ladakh is facing. Nubroo goes to various climate change conferences and seminars that are held across the country.

He describes how he has seen the level of snow slowly decreasing in front of his eyes. It is the only source of water they have. Some villages also face drinking water crisis.

“I am only here for my people, I will go back once my MPhil, PhD is over. People in my village call me an educational migrant,” he adds.

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