Once perceived as a remote, romantic and mysterious Shangri-La, Ladakh has of recent year undergone profound changes political, demographic, economic, socio-cultural and environmental. In print since 1983, this instruction to the region has proved its enduring popularity among readers of all hues including sociologist, social anthropologists and historians, as well as non-specialist visitors.
Retaining the basic information from the original, this revised and updated third edition document the changes and transformations that Ladakh has witnessed since 1996. From the region’s history to its importance as a confluence of various cultures and traditions to a detailed analysis of social, political and economic shifts before and after the kargil war it presents a deeply informed account of Ladakh and its people, permeated, moreover, by a radiant affection for them.
Scholarly yet lively, the value of this book, widely recognized as a one-stop reference on the region, is enhanced by the author’s recent research into contemporary realities.
Janet Rizvi is the author of Trans-Himalayan Caravans: Merchant Princes and Peasant Traders in Ladakh (1999) and Pashmina: The Kashmir Shawl and Beyond (with Monisha Ahmed, 2009).
This book is intended as a background and an introduction to a little- known corner of the Buddhist world, existing in isolation in India. After being closed to outsiders for thirty years, for military and strategic reasons, Ladakh was partly opened in 1974, and immediately became an important destination for the serious student of Buddhism and Tibetology. It also holds attractions for the lover of mountains, and the traveller who simply wants to extend his horizons; in addition it has become part of the Asian itinerary of footloose Western youth.
In spite of its many features of interest, no comprehensive account of Ladakh has been published in English in the nine years since it was opened, and authentic and up-to-date information is hard to come by. I have written this book in an attempt to fill the gap. In it, I have tried to place on record some of the important facts about a part of the world which has been little studied up till now, and which has often been regarded as no more than an undifferentiated appendage of old Tibet. I believe, on the contrary, that Ladakh has its own vigorous social and cultural identity, of which the Tibetan tradition is only one component; and that it is important there should be an account of it before it is eroded by contact with the modern world. For the benefit of the visitor to Ladakh, I have also included some descriptions of places, particularly of the major gompas, or monasteries, within reach of Leh; and I should like to think that the book as a whole will give him some indications as to what he might keep his eyes open for, and help him to place what he sees in its historical and cultural setting.
I lay no claim to originality, much less to having conducted anything in the nature of research. Many of the facts about Ladakh are available to anyone with access to the literature of Buddhism, or of central Asian and Tibetan travel, and the rest to anyone who has been lucky enough, as I have, to live there for some years. These, taken together, are my qualifications to write about Ladakh; of them, the second is of far greater importance. I lived for two years in Leh, and during that time formed a deep affection for the land and its people. My husband, Sayeed Rizvi, was Development Commissioner, or head of the district administration; as well as sharing my affection for Ladakh, he acquired in the line of business a wide knowledge of the country as it is today, a good deal of which rubbed off on me. This, and the fact that I was living there, going about and meeting the people (though not, to my regret, able to converse with them in their own tongue) gave me something of a 'feel' for Ladakh, whose physical, social and mental atmosphere I found deeply sympathetic.
In our day (1976-8) Ladakh was a single district, in area India's largest, in population one of its smallest. In June 1979 it was split in two, the town of Kargil becoming the headquarters of a district of the same name. Most of this book was written before the bifurcation took place; even now it is hard for me to think of Ladakh as more than a single district. Our home was in Leh, and it is central Ladakh, the core of the present Leh district, with which I am most familiar, and on which I have laid most emphasis. I could indeed have confined myself to the present Leh district; but to do that would be to omit all mention of some particularly interesting regions in Kargil district-Zanskar, one of Ladakh's most beautiful and isolated valleys; Da-Hanu, where the Buddhist Dards pursue a way of life unique in the world, and Shagkar- Chigtan, a nominally Muslim area rich in Buddhist survivals, and with a wealth of oral literature unsurpassed anywhere else. It would also be to ignore the underlying unity, historical, cultural and linguistic, whic.h has for centuries bound the often sharply differentiated regions of the two districts together. Nevertheless, I am conscious that, not wishing to tread where I was unsure of my ground, I have not done justice to Kargil, and to that extent my picture of Ladakh is less than complete.
We are no longer in Ladakh; but Ladakh was an experience which has remained with us. A few of our Ladakhi friends, we hope and believe, have become friends for life; and for me the writing of this book, started before we left, has been a valuable means of preserving that experience, and keeping in touch with Ladakh.
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