Recently I was in Ladakh leading a group of young volunteers on a learning expedition. We visited many NGOs and social enterprises working to increase livelihoods of the Ladakhi’s.
Living in plains of India one cannot imagine what it is to like to be in a place like Ladakh. There are snow capped mountains everywhere. At some places you can see snow, sand, mountains and water at the same time. Its hard to believe that a place on earth can be as beautiful as Ladakh And to add to that Ladakhi’s are very nice and hospitable people.
So in short Ladakh is paradise 🙂
But spend more than 1 week that a typical Indian tourist spends in Ladakh and you get to see a different view. Ladakh has a very fragile ecosystem and gets to experience climate change immediately. Weather patterns have changed. Glaciers are receding. Water is a big problem everywhere. People’s lives are connected very deeply with water and environment. Other than a few villages which are near Indus the rest of Ladakh gets water when the water from Glacier melts. If the water from the glaciers gets delayed by 2 weeks then the whole crop is wasted. Both Srinagar and Manali highway remain closed for more than 6 months in a year .
For most part of the year the terrain is in-hospitable. One of the Indian Army signage on the road to Chang-La says ” This terrain is so tough and passes so high that only the best of friends and fiercest of enemies will visit us”. Which brings us to the question of China- Are you a friend or a foe 🙂
In Ladakh it’s impossible to have a conversation without discussing about China and Indian Army. Ladakhi’s are very patriotic-they feel very proud as Indians. Indian army has raised lots of soldiers from Ladakh including the Ladakh Scouts. During the Pakistan’s invasion of Kargill a lot of Ladakhi’s laid down their lives .As part of the field work we visited the home of a ladakhi soldier who was part of the group that finally captured Tiger Hill during the Kargill war.
Ladakhis have very high regard for Indian Army and they often say that a lot of development in Ladakh is because of Indian Army else this was a very remote neglected part of the country.And all of this happened thanks to the Indo-China war in 60s. Suddenly India realized the strategic importance of this region. Before the war no one would give two hoots to Ladakh.
One village elder-men talks about recent incursion of Chinese Army into the Indian territory. He jokes that the people in Ladakh are very sad that Chinese Army left Indian territory very soon. If they had stayed longer then the snow passes would have opened earlier and all the roads waiting to be repaired would be ready.
He says that China is like maternal uncle to Ladakhi’s. When ever China comes, it brings lots of good things to Ladakh- passes are opened faster, roads are build faster and there is overall development in region. He points out that there is now all weather metalled roads to all the border villages in Ladakh thanks to China. Compare this to the road to Zanskar which is waiting to be built for the last so many years. There is no enemy to fight over there.
Ladakh has a strange situation too. It has a population of about 1.5 lac people and a very heavy army presence through out the year. That means as a group the Army is is responsible for a lot of economic activity in the area.
A narrow view of the role of the armed forces is that their role is to fight wars ( which thankfully don’t happen any more). But put together all the armed forces in the world, the people they employ, the logistics of running an army, the supplies they consume, the weapons they buy- Its one big economic system, trillions of dollars and probably millions of people dependent on this system including our Ladakhi’s.
And they very rarely fight a war. Why can’t we just decide with our lovely neighbours that let’s disband the army. Every time we have a dispute we will play cricket to sort it out And no need for Dara Singh kind of machoism- we will just ask his son Vindoo and fix the match.