iTraverse | #Julley: Learning from the place (Part 3 of 4)


Our conversations were never held in silos. Or bereft of the realities of the environment we were in.

Walking through Srinagar was a different experience. It was my first time there, though only for a few hours. All that I’ve known about Srinagar was from the stuff that’s in the newspapers and TV. But there was context, history and a host of circumstances that I’d either forgotten or never known of. I can’t claim to know all of it, but I’m wiser today than I was about 2 weeks ago.

Driving to Leh via Kargil was artistic poetry – blue skies, greenery splattered against the mountain ranges and translucent waters. 

I’d been to Ladakh last year and ‘experienced’ it from behind tinted glasses. This time around however the one on one interactions with local Ladakhis across age groups on their experience of being in a region that has been undergoing tremendous shifts within its very way of life was why I (and the 9 others with me) did not feel like tourists over those 10 days.

You experience warmth, genuine concern, gracious hospitality, beaming smiles, simplicity and humbleness – this and much much more being served with humility to a bunch of strangers like ourselves. 

When did anyone of us experience that the last time? And what would you make when, standing in the sacred grove of a 2500 year old juniper tree, your host says in a matter-of-factly manner that there is a reason why your paths have intersected. You are bound to believe him.

Speaking to the students at SECMOL was a revelation of sorts as they spoke of their aspirations, of who they wanted to be further exposing the dilemma around fewer wanting to go back to their villages and fields.

I’ve heard and read debates being intellectualized on how and what comprises of growth, development and progress within a society; that how the 21st century is paving the path for a world without borders and hence a glocalized society. The wordplay never made it clear to me which end of the debate I stood on (or should stand on). 
But watch the ‘Economics of Happiness’ (that I did because of this trip) and read ‘Ancient Futures’ (which I’m currently) and you’ll see a different perspective altogether. 

Just in case you never make it to either (or both), I’d leave you with a thought that I couldn’t find an answer to – what’s the justification behind finding fruits such as bananas and watermelons in abundance or an increasing number of rice dishes being served across Leh when it’s not a local produce? 
And how much do tourists and natives know about the local produce? What is being done to strengthen the local economy? 
Or at an even more fundamental level, is anything even being done?

What would you make if a local Ladakhi tells you that within their culture, a rich person has enough produce from their farm to last them nine years, whereas someone with less has enough to last them six years…and the poor have enough to help them survive three years! Enough to survive without having to move a muscle. Could you and I with our educational qualifications and ‘jobs’ ever dare to claim to have enough…let alone for how long the duration?

So then is what Ladakh’s experiencing unique to it alone? No, other cultures across the globe have had and are currently experiencing these. And there have been disastrous consequences.

But what do the locals want? One wise old man who’s travelled the world and quite aware of what this entails put it rather practically saying, ‘Change is constant’ and there’s no reason why a culture shouldn’t be able to reap the benefits of “progress” society makes.

At what cost I am tempted to ask? In other words how do you strike the ‘right’ balance – should there be any such thing?

A nameless co-passenger, a silver haired resident from London, on my flight out of Leh found me reading ‘Ancient Futures’ and had also watched ‘Economics of Happiness’ was able to provide me with a justifiable line of thought. According to her, while some cultures across the world were caught unawares by these changes, Ladakhis have the advantage of opting in (or out) with their eyes open.

May be, may be.

And then again about Ladakh we also learnt that alcohol brewed from barley - Chhangg - that doesn’t give you a rotten hangover :)
That there is such a thing known as namkeen chai and it is an acquired taste

That ‘Godfather’ is the only brand of beer available. (And it’s @&$*!)
That authors of menu cards in Leh have a good sense of humour and some hotels serve you ‘Blinder’s Pride’ (which to me seemed as good as the original)


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