Way up in the northern most part of India, nestled between Pakistan and Tibet,
lays the Trans Himalayan province of Ladakh, the last Shangri-la, a land of raw, uncluttered beauty and sweeping mountain ranges. With arctic winters, golden summers and an altitude beyond most liveable civilisations, Ladakh is wondrous, a place like no other.
As wild and harsh as it is majestic, the land holds a rich and spiritual history, seeping with the magic of it’s past in every stupa, every gompa, every Buddhist monk and every child. Tibetan Buddhism lies at the heart of the land and it’s people with the majority of the population having spirituality engrained into their lives from a tender young age.
With an even population of Tibetan and native born Ladakhi folk, Leh is a kind and spirited city. The streets bustle with activity during the summertime with men and women and children selling dried apricots and fresh produce at the main Bazaar or jewellery and Tibetan wares in the Tibetan refugee market. Old men and women wander through their day (prayer beads in hand) chanting ‘om-mani-padme-hum’ as they peacefully go about their business.
Ladakh is almost perfect.
I say almost because there are some serious effects of climate change evident in a land that is of such high elevation. Droughts in the winter and flooding in the summer are the most apparent, causing livestock to perish and roads to be washed away. Only last week I was travelling from Delhi back to Leh when the bus was stopped for 48 hours. A landslide had blocked the pass and the road below had been completely swept away by the violent current.
I will have lived and worked in Ladakh about one year by the time I leave here next summer. After three months of beautiful summertime the leaves on the poplar trees will soon turn to gold as they flutter to the ground with the autumn. The harsh winter will slowly set in and I’ll learn what the real Ladakh is like. No tourists, very few locals, frozen lakes and snow covered mountains. A kind of heaven on earth I suppose, despite the extreme cold. A Ladakhi friend of mine recently told me that it becomes so cold that oil will freeze.
People in Ladakh are special. Foreign travellers and locals alike, everybody who comes to Ladakh gets swept away but its magic and culture.
The folk here almost always have ideas and plans and goals way beyond the confines of normalcy. It’s normal here, to have goals to conquer Everest’s peak solo and with no oxygen, to discover undiscovered species of native birds, to spot the phantom cat of the Himalayas, to hike to altitudes higher than any other place on the planet, to cycle the worlds highest motor-able road.
Aje and I are here for slightly less life-threatening reasons. We’re working on a documentary film project called ‘Of Woman and Earth’ - a story from the roof of the world. The film will progress with the seasons and follow the lives of three nomadic women whose life stories have unfolded in the Tibetan Plateau. We hope to make a film that is a true and natural documentation of the last remaining generation of pastoral nomadic families in the plateau.
With open minds and hearts full of Ladakhi kindness we approach the coming winter with strong spirits and a goal to document an important part of Ladakhi history. Each month we spend time in the plateau on location. We rise with the sun and work until the moon has risen to the heart of the night sky. We drink Tibetan salt tea and eat fresh yak’s curd with the families who will shape our film. We wander through the mountains and the valleys; we follow the herds that graze way up on high pastures. We live like our nomads in hopes that we tell their story with truthfulness and with grace.