Saturday 31 July
Ladakh means 'the land of high passes'. Ladakh comprises two semi autonomous areas, Leh district and Kargil district, in the region of Jammu and Kashmir, the northernmost state of the Republic of India. Ladakh lies between the Kunlun mountain range in the North and the main Great Himalayas to the south. The Indus river forms the backbone of Ladakh.
The population is around 260,000 souls, being either Tibetan, Mons or Dards peoples. Unlike the rest of Jammu and Kashmir, which is mainly Islamic most Ladakhis are Tibetan Buddhist. There are also a small number of followers of the old, old Bon religion. Most Buddhists follow the tantric form of Buddhism known as Vajrayana Buddhism.
I have been fascinated with Ladakh for many years. Ever since I heard Helena Norberg-Hodge talking about it on Woman's Hour on radio 4. Helena runs an organisation called International Society of Ecology and Culture http://www.isec.org.uk/ This organisation seeks to relearn from Ladakh the ways we in the West have lost in our new economic culture. Ways of community and local food production. Happiness in a non economic way. It also seeks to reafirm to the Ladakhi people that their traditional ways and social structures are a good thing. Women are respected and are not devalued in traditional Ladakhi culture.
When I was young, Gaelic language was denigrated and we were advised to learn French and German at school. What use was a dying, old fashioned language to us as we were making our powerful, successful way in the world? Now we know, to our detriment, we need our language. The very structures of our consciouness are formed by our own language. Subtle ways of interpreting our surroundings, our social structures, our very being, are lost to us if we lose our language and traditional ways. In the west, we are struggling to bring back what we have lost.
Part of the ISEC aim is to form friendships with the Ladakhi people and to share our different ways of living. The Learning from Ladakh programme I was on, allowed me to stay with a Ladakhi family and over time become part of their family. Through forming bonds of friendship we could speak to each other about the difficulties and good things in each others lives and cultures. In Scotland we have to reclaim what we have lost in terms of culture, language, community. In Ladakh, if they are aware of what happened to us and other cultures, perhaps they can find new ways to integrate into the 21 century, without leaving their strength and traditions and culture behind.
Links to the official websites of Leh and Kargil regions