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  • Volunteering in Ladakh

    Posted on September 12th, 2009 Sheila Yair 2 comments

    ladakhDzomsa, a co-op that encourages local products and sells filtered water to reduce plastic pollution, tells you that the ladakhi society was on the verge of extinction before tourism came to the area. The Women’s Alliance of Ladakh says it was doing fine until tourism came and is now on the brink of extinction. Before you arrive in Ladakh and all through the area, once you get here, there are many pamphlets and flyers about how to be considerate and how to help preserve the Ladakhi way of life. One gets a feeling of a supper delicate place where anything touched will be shattered to pieces. Reading all this alarming info we decide to volunteer but since we don’t know which point of view to accept we volunteer for the both of them. Sheila joins the Women’s Alliance and helps them with designing flyers warning local people and tourists about the harms of modern products like plastic bags, pesticide, batteries etc. I join forces with a local computer school and help them with video editing and their web site. That way we are safe, Sheila pulls back to the old way of life and I push ahead for modernization. We are nicely canceling each other.

    Which ever opinion is right it is clear that Ladakh is a society in the midst of change. Ladakh was a very traditional place until 1974, when it was flown open to tourism and modernization efforts of the Indian government. Western tourists swarmed in to see one of the only places that was an authentic desolated Buddhist Himalayan society. With the tourists came the tourism industry and the old way of life was forever changed.

    ladakh2When you are sitting there in the beautiful vegetable gardens eating your organic vegetable omelet under the blooming sunflowers it is hard to imagine how harsh life is for the Ladakhis. After the last tourist leaves in September the degrees also seem to run away and leave Ladakh well below freezing for the next 7 month. That makes Ladakh very susceptible to change. Seeking anything to ease those long freezing winters, most of Ladakh accepted modernization and the western way of life with open arms. But unfortunately for them their environment is an especially delicate one. I have already written on their huge dependency on melted snow and glacier water. So Ladakh itself cannot support the western way of life that its inhabitants are so fascinated with. It is the same in pretty much the whole of the third world. This planet can’t have 6 billion westerners, it can’t even handle the ones it already has.

    The Women’s Alliance tries to demystify the west in the eyes of the Ladakhis, to show the other side of the coke and pepsi commercials. It even brought some of them to England to see real life in the west. There is a very good part in one of their documentaries where two old Ladakhi ladies visit a nursing home and see all these abandoned old people just sitting in front of the TV. The look of disbelief on the women’s face cuts right through you and shows how we have lost a lot of basic things in our race to modernization. But it is very hard for westerners to say to these people that their old way of life is better or that they should keep on the way they are because it will save the world. Most westerners who say that then go straight to the airport and catch a flight back home to their comfortable west. We can’t expect a third world person to reject the west without the experience that westerners have, especially since most of the west that has experienced both still prefers the western way of life.

    Whatever the solution turns out to be it will probably involve the west adopting a more basic way of life and giving up many privileges and comforts that we have and a great deal of development in technology to provide more sustainable solutions. So maybe we did some good after all by helping in both ways.

    Nevertheless we have spent 3 weeks in Ladakh and got to know some really nice people while experiencing a little bit of the Ladakhi day to day life. We now have some new friends, a new desire for organic farming, we saw some very nice Buddhist monasteries, we heard the Dalai Lama speak and there is even one more web-site out the in cyber space.
    click here to see photos

     

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