Ladakh... at 3600m altitude, is a northern Indian region along the Sino-Tibetan border that belongs to the Autonomous Region of Jammu-Kashmir, an Indian state.
Some 150,000 people live in Ladakh; 80% of them belong to a culture close to that of Tibetan Buddhists, while 20% are Muslims, Hindus and Christian, in that order.

Panorama... Its name comes from the Tibetan la-dags, meaning Land of Peaks. This immense, sparsely populated region has a very harsh climate: temperatures can plunge to –40°C during the eight month-long winter, rain is rare, and strong winds regularly sweep the country.

History… An independent country from 950 to 1834 A.D., when it was annexed by India, Ladakh has been a strategic area subjected to various tensions since China invaded Tibet in 1959.
Situated between India and Tibet, the ancestors of Ladakh's current inhabitants came from Tibet, China and India. Most residents speak Ladakhi, but Tibetan is also prevalent. Most Ladakhis are Buddhists, dating from well before the Tibetan conquest in the 8th century. Monks have an important social role, along with astrologers, doctors-healers (amchi) and mediums. Buddhist schools have always contributed to gathering and spreading the elements that form the cement of their unique ancestral culture.

In the beginning of the 1960s, the first cultural shock wave to shake up this country that had always been practically sheltered from outside influences, was the massive arrival of the Indian army following a skirmish with China. Presently, 130,000 soldiers are stationed on Ladakhi soil.

The second wave of culture shock was the opening of Ladakh to tourism in 1974. Since that time, the capital, Leh, abounds in shops specialized in local crafts and a surprising number of hotels and restaurants. There, like elsewhere, modernism tends to show an aggressive, destructive face as it inevitably gains ground. Many Ladakhis have been uprooted from their highly coherent and supportive traditional agricultural lifestyle, but are unable to find work within the modern economy which is just beginning to develop. At the same time, they are progressively losing their understanding of the ancestral values inspired by Buddhism, although these used to permeate every aspect of their lives. Ladakh is now going through a crucial period, which explains why it is so important to supply assistance as quickly as possible.

Daily life... The country is sorely lacking in resources, excepting the tourism sector. The arid soil traditionally produces enough crops to feed resident families, but local agriculture is not adapted to the growing national and international markets. The famous Ladakhi apricots are the only crop suitable for exporting.
Most Ladakhis are small-scale farmers living in villages whose resources depend on water supply. Their communities are highly organized, allowing them to cope with the harsh environment. Their ancestors built canals that traverse the mountains and snake through kilometers of slopes. Two important canals run through each village, one for human consumption, the other for irrigation. A young foreigner told us that a village child came to tell her to wash her laundry elsewhere: only the irrigation canal is suitable for washing one's body or one's laundry.
Above 3000 meters, the growing season is only four months long, and farming mostly consists in raising barley, whose grilled flour is the nutritional main staple. Lower down one finds apricot and walnut orchards and small vegetable gardens. Ladakhis don't own much property – of what use is land that can't be cultivated? Plot size depends on the number of family members to feed and adds up to approximately a half hectare per person.

Livestock is one of the economic mainstays. Animals contribute to every aspect of life: their dung is used as fuel (there are no forests in Ladakh) and their strength, milk and meat are vitally important. Sheep, goats, donkeys, horses, cows and yaks abound, along with the dzo, a cross between the yak and the cow, an excellent draft animal. Children are raised in the bosom of the community. They accompany their mothers everywhere until they are about five years old, and then rapidly gain a certain independence and learn to share responsibilities with adults. At school they learn to read and write and, within the community, learn the particular lifestyle specific to this microcosm where generosity is central to survival. Participation in the different chores within the community is an essential element. The distinction between rich and poor was minimal for many centuries, but since the western model made its appearance, society evolves in a more fragmented manner. In schools where the education reproduces the schemas of traditional society, children can find elements crucial to social cohesion and the longevity of Ladakhi culture.

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