A confluence of spirituality, inimitable culture, tourism and adventure

by Faisul Yaseen

The conflict-hit Kashmir’s cold desert region Ladakh barring the 1999Kargil War and a few odd skirmishes along the Line of Control (LoC) and Line of Actual Control (LAC) has all along remained a peaceful destination, a confluence of spirituality, tourism and adventure.

Jennifer Gillespie, who works as a counselor in Auckland New Zealand was visiting Leh for the second time.

“I attended a spiritual gathering in Ladakh earlier this year,” says Gillespie, who was returning to visit friends she made in Ladakh on her first to the land of the Lamas.

“Amazing, amazing, amazing,” is how she describes Ladakh, the land of high passes, freezing winds and blazing sunlight.

Gillespie is in love with the people of Ladakh.

“Their open heartedness is hard to find anywhere in the world,” she says. “The power of this land and these mountains is incredible.”

Ladakh, which is home to the world’s highest battlefield – Siachen, also houses magnificent monasteries like Hemis, Thiksey, Diskit, Likir and Spituk.

Maildred Page from southern France was in Ladakh with her friend Haze Burke from London.

“I came for seeing the Ladakhi culture and landscape,” she says. “It is amazing and people here are beautiful.”

Page was mesmerized on seeing groups of Ladakhi men and women dance and sing at Ladakh Festival 2017 organised by the State’s Tourism department between September 20 and 22.

As a group of eight Ladakhi women – Sonam Angmo, Kunzes Dolma, Sonam Yanddol, Rigzen Angmo, Tsering Angmo, Stanzin Yangchan, Tsering Yangchan and Disket Choron –  from Mathoo village wearing Tibi Kantop (cap), Kagu (necklace) and Bolak (shoes) was performing their traditional dance, Page was enthralled with the culture of the people living in the highest of the world’s inhabited plateaus.

She though was not the only person bewitched with the idiosyncratic Ladakhi culture.

Sohyun Park from South Korea says getting a chance to attend the Ladakh Festival 2017 was an amazing experience for her.

“Though we have Buddhism in South Korea too but we have no festival like this in our country,” she says.

Park was fascinated by the design of clothes of Ladakhis as were Amanda Speer and Dian Daller, a couple of weavers from southwestern state of New Mexico in the United States.

“We are here in Ladakh to travel to weaving villages and we are enjoying weaving with the locals,” Speer says. “We live in the mountains in New Mexico and are going to the mountains in Ladakh.”

The foreign tourists are not the only ones enchanted by Ladakhi spirituality, art, culture and heritage but people from Kashmir valley are also spellbound with the distinct snow-clad mountains and arid land and people here.

Opposition National Conference legislator, Shehnaz Ganai, who was in Ladakh on a private visit, says she could not resist attending the festival after coming to know about it.

“It is good to see domestic tourists as well as foreigners here,” she says.

Like Ganai, Nawang Tsering, a 67-year-old monk from Spituk Gompa, where he has spent 50 years of his life, had also come to attend the festival and was thrilled on seeing the song and dance item performed by the Tibetan refugees children.

“We are the followers of the teachings of the Buddha and The Dalai Lama,” he says referring to the 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetans in exile.

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso is an important monk of the Gelug school, the newest school of Tibetan Buddhism, and he spent six weeks in Ladakh this year.

“The Dalai Lama’s message is peace, truth and honesty,” Tsering says.

The Ladakhis are also conscious of their distinctive culture, art and heritage.

Tsering Dolma, 67, a member of the Kunfan club from Spituk says she was attending the festival to showcase the unique traditions and culture of their region with their songs, dances and dresses while Tsering Namo, who was wearing a goat fur and skin gown, was excited to be attending the festival for the first time in his life.

In August, Indian and Chinese armies were involved in a border altercation in Ladakh while the two countries were already locked in a standoff in Doklam, a disputed territory claimed by both Bhutan and China.

The tensions could have spelled doom for the Ladakh tourism but the region witnessed decent tourist arrivals notwithstanding the tensions between New Delhi and Beijing.

In 1999, Ladakh witnessed a small scale war in Kargil between India and Pakistan resulting in massive casualties to both Indian and Pakistani troops and marking the worst phase of tourism in the region.

The State’s Tourism department has been organising the Ladakh Festival to prolong the tourism season.

Director Tourism, Kashmir, Mahmood Ahmad Shah says the footfall of tourists in Ladakh lowers in September but tourists try to stay put for the festival.

“Ladakh is a quality destination and should be promoted for quality tourism,” he says.

faisul@risingkashmir.com