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Safeguarding Ladakhs cultural heritage


February 19, 2012 - Leh

The arid land of Ladakh truly reflects the age old beliefs of Buddhism evident through the mesmerising colourful prayer flags fluttering over the vast expanse of otherwise bland snow desert. It is a land of rich culture, traditional knowledge and natural wonders. The strength of locals to tolerate the geographical and climatic extremities often leaves the visitors flabbergasted. Ladakhis are the proud possessors of a hypnotising heritage.

Unfortunately, the tourism industry has, over the years, adversely affected the pristine land of Ladakh. Mass tourism has acted as a powerful catalyst for change that is extremely challenging and seemingly irrevocable. Ladakh has received an overflow of appreciation and only a handful of criticism. To a sensitive onlooker, this raises an alarm about the future; many fear that the coming years will be plagued by pollution and a crumbling traditional society, overrun by the intrusion of foreign culture.

In the past few years, this unique culture has suffered great losses and the indigenous communities, intentionally or unintentionally, have included themselves in the fold of unchecked globalisation, further damaging their cultural wealth. The damage, however, is not irreversible and the local communities themselves have taken a step forward to restore what has been lost and save what is vulnerable at the moment.

The most crucial role in managing the change to protect the traditional wisdom and environment heritage of Ladakh is presently being played by the alarmed older generation. Young Ladakhis, the elders stoically maintain, are easily influenced by the glamour of the alien culture that overpowers the austerity of their own culture. The elders understand the significance of the cultural as well as the natural heritage and thus make sure that they pass on the wisdom to the young lot.

Initially, they would present and perform folk dances only on some occasions. The startling rise in the number of travellers increased the worries of the Ladakhis, leading to more frequent organising of such cultural gatherings. Along with the traditional forms of songs and dances, they chose theatre as a medium to reflect their issues. This caught the imagination of the young generation. It gave the youngsters a platform not only to understand and appreciate their deep rooted culture but to put forth their own ideas, thus developing a better understanding within the community.

It is really commendable to see how wisely, the culturally aware citizens in the region have found new and interesting ways to create an engaging space where people can share their experiences, keeping culture, tradition and nature as the background. One such trend, seen during the festive seasons, is where people from remote locations come to participate in the ethnic programmes organised in the town and perform diverse rituals. One gets to see an amalgamation of various local cultures of Ladakh which also depicts unity in diversity. This undoubtedly fascinates as well as helps develop a sense of responsibility among the community members to preserve this diversity.

The enthralled groups visit the Gompas and other heritage sites together and organise discussions later on how to maintain the serenity of these places. "We explore the hidden aspects of our historical places. Walking down the lanes of our ancestral villages along with our grandparents and their friends, helps us understand how things have changed since their youthful days. This, at times, makes us feel ashamed of how we have ignored our heritage, both cultural and natural," says Stanzing Kunzang Angmo, a young Ladakhi studying in Jammu, who took inspiration from the initiatives and is determined to play her role in safeguarding the legacy of her people.

The task of the local communities in conserving their heritage is not limited to imparting knowledge; they have, in fact, designed a sustainable framework wherein they focus on strengthening the leadership quality in select members of the community who have it in them to take on the onerous task of protecting their common wealth.

Sustainable growth demands mutual exchange of ideas and this makes this community effort more influential. The elderly are open to new ideas and ventures. They accept feasible points and try to inculcate them in their traditional ideology, thus maintaining the unusual combination of the old and the new in their ancient heritage.

The tourism industry is crucial for Ladakh as a source of livelihood. At the same time, it is posing a colossal threat to its cultural and environment legacy. One cannot entirely reject the importance of tourism industry to the economic stability of the region, nor can the natural and cultural ethnicity be compromised with. The situation demands a balanced solution. The answer to this lies in the warm hospitality offered by Ladakhis.

The Charkha Development Communication Network feels that a balance can be maintained by creating a healthy foundation based on humanity. It is the responsibility of everyone involved with the tourism sector to make tourists aware of how valuable - and special - the local heritage really is. For those who love - and visit - Ladakh for the peace it offers, being sensitive to its importance in the lives of the people is the least they can do in return.

The local communities know their land, its strengths and weaknesses. More than anything else, they know that they owe their lives to this barren land. This alone is reason enough for community initiatives to be strengthened by locals and visitors alike. By Tashi Dolma

ANI

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