Ladakh is the crown jewel of India, very popular for its rustic charm and scenery. Adding to its charisma are the innumerable villages where the friendly ad traditional Ladakhi population resides. These villages are many, scattered all over the high landscapes, each being a small cluster of people belonging to a like-minded community and probably sharing common customs and beliefs. Most of these villages date back to medieval or even earlier periods. Some are well-connected, yet others are isolated from the rest of the world, tucked away in the folds of the Himalayan terrain.
Yet each village is a thriving hub of activity and life, with its own unique vibrancy. It is this zeal for living against odds, finding joy in small things amidst nature’s harshness and adversity that keeps the spirits high and blood flowing through the veins of the locals. And so much energy and warmth, that they embrace and engulf visitors with open arms, making you realize how big their hearts are, despite having few means!
Some popular villages
There are many villages in Ladakh. Many small villages are located in and around the Gompas, each with its unique set of cultures and traditions that may be a bit different from the next settlement, yet bursting with limitless energy and zeal.
If you like treks, take a village walk to see the rural wonders at close quarters. Each village that you will encounter will seem to transport you way back in time! Some of the remotest mountainous dwellings do not have even the basic necessities. In fact, staying in a village house can be the ultimate experience to understand how they live!
Each village is predominantly Buddhist and the faith is virtually unchanged over centuries, ensconced by the Himalayan protective geographical wonders.
Of these, Dras is a quaint one. It was almost unnoticeable, till it shot to limelight during the Kargil war of 1999. It is supposed to be the coldest place in India. The people here will tell you awe-inspiring tales of the war and how they witnessed the takeover by Pakistan and the martyrdom of over a thousand soldiers to gain it back. The famous Tiger Hill is visible from here.
A soul-stirring and serene village is the Hanle village of Ladakh, where approx. 1000 folks reside. It has the world’s highest astronomical observatory. The beautiful Hanle monastery is the religious seat that binds the community of this village. You may be lucky to attend the monastery festival, take part on colorful celebrations and see the famed Ladakhi dance here.
The quaint village is set amidst beautiful vistas and feels as if it is a piece of heaven. Let not the smiling locals and the vibrant hues fool you! The harsh reality is that it is a test of human survival in extreme harsh conditions especially in winters.
The lesser known villages of the Dha-Hanu valley are inhabited by the Brogpa community, believed to be pure-blooded descendant of the Indo-European Aryans. They have Caucasian looks and not the Burman-Tibetan ones that is the Ladakhi norm. With elaborate ethnic headgear, they look quite impressive. Their homes are simple and rustic, but have their own distinctive style, a bit different from the rest of Ladakhi villages. Must visit if you can!
New-age revolutions in the villages
Many of the bigger and famous villages now have access to modern wonders new-age technology. But further up and remoter sections of Ladakh, still have no access to even electricity. With the tourists’ onrush, the rest of the world seems to have woken up to the plight of the pretty and non-complaining Ladakhis. In a bid to give something back to the wonderfully hospitable villagers, some organizations of action-oriented people have started taking initiatives to bring modern science into the lives of Ladakhis. There are many inspiring and heart-warming tales of volunteers who have helped small villages get access to electricity. Ladakh has 300 days of bright sunshine, so solar power is a smart way to address the needs of these people.
The success of Sumda Chenmo Village is wonderful, where tourists have made possible that kids get access to internet, get education via Skype sessions in electricity lit homes generated by solar power. They have access to high-end telescopes to admire and understand the skies that are so clearly visible from their home-ground.
While the villages that are the mark of beauty and charisma of Ladakh are being invaded by tourists, it is important that the innocence of these villages not be swept away by greed and evils of the modern materialistic and commercial society. There is a fine balance that should exist between modern upliftment and traditions that have been the binding force for these village communities. A conscious effort from the ‘visitors’ as well as the awareness amongst the people of Ladakh can bring put the realization of this balance.
So as you travel to these wondrous settlements, do remember your own small role in keeping the ecology, environment and traditions unadulterated as you absorb the place’s beauty and interact with the villagers here!