“Why would people commit suicide in a happy place like Ladakh?” I asked a chemist while we were questioning him to get insights for our design thinking workshop. “The youths get influenced by the tourists and get attracted to their lifestyle. They aspire to become like them and end up forgetting that our way of living is quite different from theirs. This leads to depression amongst youths and suicidal tendencies in them,” said the chemist.
If you are surprised to read that this is what I was doing (asking inappropriate questions like this) while visiting one of the top tourist destination in India, then I won’t blame you. My first trip to Ladakh was an experience in itself. The moment we landed at the Leh airport and looked outside, the view was breathtaking. The half barren half snow capped mountains looked majestic with the sun rays falling on them. I looked at my co-fellows and saw each one of them looking at the mountains in awe. Yes, we had finally reached Ladakh. After months of planning, fundraising, disagreements and excitement, here we were at Leh for our much-awaited travel workshop. The excitement soon got interrupted by the chilly winds which reminded us that we were not in Delhi anymore.
In the 10 days we were there, Ladakh impressed us with its sheer beauty studded with snow-capped mountains, green patches of land, lakes, bright blue skies and unimaginable terrains. Our phones had no signal and there was no internet connectivity which made sure that Ladakh and its beauty got our undivided attention. The design thinking workshop which took us there required us to look at Ladakh through a different lens – a lens which would ensure that what we saw will be etched in our memories forever.
The most thriving industry in Ladakh has to be the tourism industry. It is quite apparent when you see the number of hotels, shops, eateries and bike rentals all around Leh. Whether tourism has led to development in Ladakh or has actually hindered the development of the place is a debatable topic. While the positive effects of tourism are quite apparent since it provides employment to the people, the underlying negative effects can only be seen if you are visiting Ladakh, not as a tourist. Some of my co-fellows went around the city talking to young people about their aspirations and also to get some idea of the education system in Ladakh. They found that many young boys usually drop out after their 10th board exam to enter the tourism industry or the army since they find it more profitable than investing in their further education. One boy casually asked my friend, “हम स्कूल छोड़ कर काम कर लेते है क्योकि हमारे पास option है, आप स्कूल छोड़ दोगे तो क्या करोगे?” My friend was dumbfounded by this unabashed question. The immediate prospect of getting employed in the tourism industry has somehow reduced the value of education in the eye of the Ladakhi youth.
Some of my major learning’s in Ladakh happened when I visited a village called Nang. That village was not flocked by tourists since it does not fall under the ‘Top 10 places to visit in Leh’. After interacting with the locals and roaming around in the village for two days, I realized that I found that place more fascinating than Pangong Lake (which is a famous tourist spot in Ladakh). This place gave me a deeper insight into the lifestyle of the people. It was a delight interacting with the people who would greet us with a smile and answer our questions patiently. It is wonderful to see a village with 74 households living with harmony, neighbors helping one another either in agriculture or while building houses.
We always associate a place with its people. Punjabi people are loud (not what I think), Bengali’s are lazy (I am a Bengali); South Indians are intelligent (somewhat true) and so on. But I have never heard anyone talk about Ladhaki people. Is it because we have never tried to know them better? Or we just assumed that they must be happy since they are living in a place which we all want to visit. But the main question here is, do we want to go and live there? Are we ready to appreciate Ladakh and its winters when the temperature easily drops to -30 degree Celsius and one gets trapped in their house with rationed food to survive on? Towards the end of the workshop, some of my co-fellows started telling me how badly they wanted to go back to their field areas – which included not so touristy places like Korba in Chattisgarh. Why would anyone want to go back from Ladakh? Well, the romanticism with Ladakh fades after a few days when you look at the place beyond its apparent beauty.
But does that mean that I would not want to visit the place again? The 10 days spent there has only increased my curiosity to explore this land which has so much more to offer other than its picturesque landscapes. Jullay!