Our conversations were never held in
silos. Or bereft of the realities of the environment we were
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
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
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
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).
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
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
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.
And then again about Ladakh we
also learnt that alcohol brewed from barley - Chhangg - that doesn’t give you a rotten
That there is such a thing known as namkeen chai and it is an acquired taste
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)
That ‘Godfather’ is the only
brand of beer available. (And it’s @&$*!)