Ladakh is full of natural wonders. Amidst seemingly endless swathes of barren landscape are micro patches of astonishing greenery. Descriptions of lakes, passes, valleys and several famous and not-so-famous rivers make this book a delightful read.
Romesh Bhattacharji's Ladakh: changing, yet unchanged contains a wealth of information on every aspect of Ladakh, including its terrain, history, people, native customs and the changes it went through in the last four decades. It also explores the ways in which Ladakhis have adapted to modern life, joining professions such as medicine, engineering, writing and more.
Relevant and well-timed, this immensely readable book is not only helpful for academics, but also a pleasure for the general reader.
Romesh Bhattacharji began trekking in the 1960s when he was studying at St. Stephen's College,
Delhi. He first visited Ladakh in 1972 and dozens of times since.
He has concentrated on Ladakh over the last decade. Mr Bhattacharji retired as the Chief Commissioner of Customs and remains grateful to the organization for allowing him to serve in the remotest and most magnificent part of India. He has also authored Lands of Early Dawn, published in 2002.
The Indian subcontinent started to collide with the Eurasian Plate 45 million years ago. The sea that was there started to close. The Ladakh area was the prow of the anvil. This high altitude desert ringed by higher mountains and river with long gorges continue: to throw up fossils and ammonites from that period. Just below Fotu La in 1972 many pieces of fossilised rocks used to be found along the road. In 1984, on the path from Lam Tso in Rupshu tc Lenak La I saw several pieces of exploded rocks indicating volcanic activity in some later age but still millions of years ago. In 1993, in the Pare Chu river I saw ammonites-signs that Ladakh had beer underwater eons ago. Today, most of these geological signs close to the motorable roads have been removed.
I first visited Ladakh in 1972 and still often visit this place. This is what happens if Ladakhitis hits you. In the past 38 years, Ladakh' only town-Leh-and its 112 villages have changed. Every village is connected by road and has electricity even though sporadically. The tents of the nomadic Changpas are lit by solar panels. More and more hotels in Leh remain open and they are transforming Ladakh' s winter of discontent into glorious summer by central heating. Homes, where earlier I had stayed with hospitable folk are now posh guest houses.
All of Iadakh's wide spaces funnel into spectacular gorges and then open up again. Above them are the ridges that cut ridges that cut Ladakh in almost parallel valleys. Confined by these ridges flow all of Ladakh’s rivers (Tsangpos). These are fed by about a couple of hundred smaller tributaries (Tokpos, Lungpas and Chus) and springs (Chuumiks). Their combined waters swell the Indus which rises, beyond the Trans Himalaya, in the Higher Plateau of Tibet. At the head of these tributaries are the Las. Each one is named and each one ill a 'track that shepherds, traders, families and pilgrims had used 11 the internal combustion engine replaced the adventure of uncertain movement with the predictable time bound certainty of travel over immense distances in a few hours.
Ladakh's people are as friendly as ever, but more educate enterprising and competitive. They are capable of looking after themselves. For hundreds of years the life of Ladakhis had not altered much. Then, in the past forty years it moved from the age of ponies to the digital age. This book records the change that I have been a lucky witness to. From now on there won't be any such glaring contrasts to record.
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