Even though I only have access to the surface features of Ladakh life, I find it fascinating. Here are some of the faces, posters, and signs that I see while walking the streets of Leh and visiting sites in Ladakh.
I’ll begin with the kids. While this may not be the best photo of the older girl’s face, I can imagine that she is assuring her younger sister and brother that she is “Big Sis” to them.
Kids are the same everywhere. If his mom or paps were around, I can hear him saying “Look Mom, Look Paps No Hands.”
I probably walk down Leh’s market area four or five times. Scholars often talk about “the stare” or “the gaze” in terms of westerners staring at local people. Often we take a photograph of the local resident with our camera only inches away from their face.
Yet, the “stare” or the “gaze” goes both ways. I always feel as though local merchants are staring at me. They are! I’ve got proof!
Having mentioned taking photos of individuals, I generally try to ask. I ask the woman here, the woman at the top of the post, and the couple if I may take their photo. All agree. Upon showing the photograph afterwards, only one person asks for money.
Have I mentioned that traditional Ladakh Buddhists constantly are constantly spinning their prayer wheels?
Local business persons can be enjoyable. Most are simply trying to make a living. Although this local shop owner invites me to his shop, and I decline, he proudly allows me to take his photo. I’m not a shopper. Until this morning when I buy two keychains, my travel bag only includes a Tibetan prayer flag for a friend and a new book I couldn’t resist.
As a religious studies scholar, I frequently find myself in monasteries or simply taking photographs of monks.
I can hear this monk asking: “How long to you think these butter lamps will last?” (The answer is three days).
At Alchi, we keep yelling “Tashi Delek” in order to arouse a monk. Finally, Lobsang hears us. If a monk can be gregarious, he certainly qualifies. He tells me about this painting, this statue, this image more than all of the other various monastery monks put together.
When I ask one of my drivers who is 31 if he ever thought of becoming a monk, he answers very quickly: “No, I want to get married. A monk’s life is simple but tough.” I agree!
I also find posters interesting. Even with the internet and even with cellphones, individuals need to communicate and individuals need to know which events are taking place.
Sponsored by Liveable Leh, this organization has arranged for a public address entitled ” Impact of Rapid Urbanization on Health in Leh.” Leh produces five tons of waste during the winter; it produces thirty tons during the tourist season. It is definitely a big problem.
Sponsored again by Liveable Leh, this organization has arranged for an address entitled “Overcoming the Menace of Stray Dogs in Leh and MCL’s Projects in Pipeline.” (The speaker looks like he posed at the county jail). Although I’m use to traveling in India, I find myself flabbergasted my the number of stray dogs in Leh and Ladakh. When a driver stops for a dosa late one morning at a village restaurant, we are immediately surrounded by a dozen dogs staring hungrily at his food. When I lay down at night, I am serenaded for several hours, not by a soloist, not by a quintet, but by a full choir of dog voices.
Do you want a challenge but you are not able to climb Mt. Everest this year (approximately 300 attempt it each year)? No problems, you can attempt “The World’s Cruelest Ultra Run.”
Although Leh was historically isolated from the rest of the world, that isolation no longer exists.
The murder of New Zealand Muslims is not simply news in New Zealand and the western world, it is news in Leh.
There are also more permanent signs.
When I see this sign, I am not sure what to feel. Is the sign try to reassure us that there is immediate help if we get altitude sickness? Is the sign implicitly conveying the message: “You fool, why are you coming to Ladakh? Why are you trying to act as though you are at sea level?”