At several stages in this year, I was reminded of the importance of “community”. What is community, exactly? Why is it important? According to the Merriam – Webster dictionary, community is a “unified body of individuals, such as a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society”. A village is a community, a professional organisation is a community, and people working in a fellowship at different places also form a community. It is essentially a set of like minded people who act as a support network. They have their set of unsaid rules and a way of working.
Communities at several instances work as a safe space and help in fostering creativity through collective discussions. At work, there is a true sense of belonging when one relates to others and thus, they influence each other to achieve each other’s goals.
In several villages, the neighborhood is their work community as well. They grow crops with each other’s support so that the entire village is able to sustain the year without any severe crisis. However, while immersing with the rural community of Ladakh, I came to recognize and understand a unique system of community dependence. First of all, the ecosystem is drastically different. The Rabi crops, which are grown in other parts of India in winters are grown in the summer season in Ladakh. This is because it is extremely cold in winters for any crop to grow. In winters, there is no source of income. Therefore, the Ladakhis have to earn enough in summers for the entire year.
Several people cultivate crops and vegetables and store them for winters, and there are many who take advantage of tourism prospects in Leh, Ladakh as a means to supplement their income. The trek routes, for example, the Zanskar trek, Spituk Stok trek, Lamayuru to Chilling trek provide several villages the opportunity to cater tourists with a place to stay. Many villages in Ladakh have home stays coming up. There are extremely few hotels. Home stays need to be promoted instead of hotels because then the income goes to the village economy and the local culture and traditions are restored. The decor and food is Ladakhi to its core, in these home stays. Thus, it attracts even more people.
While interacting with several villagers and home stay owners in the Wanla region, we were directed towards a village named Ursi where people said that we could talk to several home stay owners and get further information. We walked for a few kilometers and requested a shopkeeper to take us to Ursi in his taxi as it was pouring heavily. The way up there had the most scenic views I had experienced in a while. I saw mountains changing their color, sun playing hide and seek, and spotted animal trails on the opposite side of the hills. It was a treat to reach Ursi.
There, we saw only about 20 households. It was a combination of small, big, kuchcha and pakka construction. As one enters the village, there is a board listing the households with numbers. The purpose of the list is not mentioned. On further questioning, we came to know that the village follows a home stay allocation method for tourists on a rotational basis. There are sixteen households which offer their place as home stays. Whenever the first tourist of the season arrives, he or she is directed to the household number 1. The second will be directed towards 2, and so on. If people come in groups, then also the same rule applies.
We asked them about how they equalize profits when a home stay with group visitors will earn more than one where only a single tourist has come, to which they said they don’t. “It is based on luck and we have made peace with the fact that the revenue cannot be equal all the time.”
Even if a tourist comes to a house and inquires about home stays, they are directed to the household whose chance stands at that time. They say they are honest with each other in their community. During the trekking season, a lot of tourists stay overnight before moving ahead with the Chilling trek (starting from Lamayuru). The community feels a sense of belonging and hence is willing to collaborate to sustain themselves. They collectively take a stand for each other. For example, there was a situation where an organisation wanted to collaborate with a few home stays but people were against the idea of selection of houses. They would be in it together, or be out of it together. Even in villages where there are a few home stays, a small percentage of their revenue goes for the community good. It could be for the monastery, or any other activity that the people are collectively involved in.
This unique system taught me a lot about how communities can function in harmony. This was the first time I had encountered a model like this. Apart from the entire structure, it also set me thinking how competition is not always necessary for survival. Sometimes, situations could be different than what we have learnt and survival of the fittest may not work. Even without racing against each other, people can grow in a group as a whole. They grow with strong value system which the humanity lacks today, and thus needs it.