2017 Ladakh Women’s Project
Date: Saturday, April 22, 2017
Duration: 13 nights, 14 days
Cost: USD$3595 per person. USD$245 single supplement. Deposit USD$750. Payment plans available.
Compassion can be put into practice if one recognizes the fact that every human being is a member of humanity and the human family, regardless of differences in religion, culture, colour and creed. Deep down there is no difference – The Dalai Lama
Ladakh has long been more than just a state in India. Geographically it is an extension of the Mount Kailash region of Central Tibet and its ethnography is strongly centred around Tibetan languages, culture, traditions and history, yet sprinkled in the cultures of Ladakh are some of the purest races of Aryan people in the world, islamic and balti tribal people who have originated in northern Pakistan.
In 2017 I am planning to undertake a journey to Ladakh to coordinate a very unique project.
I hope to create a full, ethnographic portrait of the various tribal women in Ladakh – for women by women.
THE SPIRIT OF TRIBAL WOMEN
For a long time working as a photographer, I have found that working with tribal people is easier in many ways if you are a woman. You appear to be less threatening to many people and for the most part, acceptance of women, particularly by other women is a lot greater than if you approach a group as a man.
The subject of the women in Ladakh has been stirring my interest since I first visited the region in 2014.
In 2013 I received an international award for my photographic work in documenting the vanishing cultures of Tibet and while I will always maintain my relationship with that fabled land spanning the roof of our planet, Ladakh represents a far more accessible, enjoyable quarter of Tibetan culture that is neither fraught with bureaucratic processes or locked away from the outside world.
I love people. For a wildlife photographer this might sound strange but I do enjoy being around people a lot and I have always seen them as integral to the preservation of wildlife, rather than opposing it. Without people we cannot have conservation and conservation will not exist unless a greater window of dialogue is opened between our modern world and our ancient one. I feel we have much to learn from our ancestors, yet the stories of tribal people are often left untold in a world of advancing technology and burgeoning populations.
In 2017 I hope to stem that tide in a small way, by leading a unique trip to support the women of Ladakh.
LAUGHING, LEARNING, SHARING, UNDERSTANDING
The Ladakh Women’s Project will start and end at the Grand Dragon hotel in Leh. In between we will be living alongside the women of Ladakh in several small villages and our accommodation will vary from basic home stays to guest houses.
The trip will involve light trekking and transport by vehicle into some of the most fascinating ethnic corners of Ladakh where we will meet women from rural Ladakh, the Brokpa tribal women, nomadic Changpa herders, Balti Women at Nubra and Tibetan Refugees. During our encounters I hope to provide the small group of people joining me with the time and opportunity to do photography, play with children, learn crafts, agriculture, and hear the stories of women across Ladakh.
WOMEN’S ALLIANCE OF LADAKH
Established in 1991 the Women’s Alliance of Ladakh (WAL) seeks to raise the status of rural women and to strengthen local culture and agriculture. Since its inception the WAL membership was swelled to over 5000 women belonging to over 100 villages from all areas of Ladakh.
Recent economic changes in northern India have had a profoundly marginalizing effect on the position of women in Ladakh. As men and young people flock to India’s cities in search of jobs and schooling, women are being left on their own to tend their farms. As a result their decision-making power has decreased while their workload has increased.
The main objectives of the Alliance are:
To maintain respect for the ethical and spiritual values on which Ladakhi culture is based.
To promote development in harmony with the above values benefiting the entire community without harming nature of future generations.
To encourage a respect for Ladakhi culture and to counter the embarrassment that many young people feel about Ladakhi food, dress, language, song and dance.
To highlight the importance of agriculture for the Ladakhi economy and to counter the notion that farming is an inferior occupation. Also to protect indigenous knowledge and seeds and warn against the dangers of cash cropping, chemical fertilizers, pesticides and hybridized seeds.
To maintain respect for local knowledge, crafts, and practical skills.
To affirm and support extended families and strong communities.
The proceeds of the Ladakh Women’s Project will be donated to the Women’s Alliance of Ladakh to assist them in continuing their vital work across the region.
Even the shoes of Ladakhi traditional dress are beautiful – Inger Vandyke
DAY 1 (Saturday 22 April 2017)
The tour will start with a spectacular flight over the northern plains of India, across the foothills of the mighty Himalaya to Leh in Ladakh. On a clear day this flights is one of the most dramatic flights you can make in India as you will get to see the Zanskar and Ladakh ranges in the Himalaya and in the distance, the soaring peaks of K2 and Nanga Parbat in the Karakoram range of the Himalayas in northern Pakistan. At 3256m in altitude, the airport in Leh is one of the highest commercial airports in the world. On our arrival into Leh, we will check in to the Grand Dragon Hotel and relax while we acclimatise to the change in altitude after Delhi.
DAY 2 (Sunday 23 April 2017)
After breakfast we will drive from Leh to Turtuk Village in the spectacular Nubra Valley, near the frontier between India and Pakistan. Turtuk is a remote village with around 4,000 residents who are mainly Muslim. Until 1971 this region was actually a part of the former Baltistan and the local Turtuk elders still tell the story of how they went to bed in Pakistan one night and woke up in India. Turtuk has shared strong economic and cultural ties with Tibet but now it is firmly within India and the residents there speak a mix of Baltistani, Ladakhi and English.
Turtuk is the last village up to which travel permits are issued to visitors in the Nubra Valley. It is located at an altitude of around 3000m above sea level and is mainly inhabited by the Balti people who are originally of Tibetan descent. This beautiful village is located on the edge of the Shayok Valley, a remote corner of the Nubra. The village grows four different varieties of apricots and this fruit is the major source of income for the people of Turtuk. There are so many apricot trees in Turtuk that climbing one of them and plucking the fruit is a must do thing for everyone who visits. A stroll through the village will also take you through lush green wheat fields where the village elders spend most of their days working. Women also work these fields with their teenaged children while the men mostly tend to the apricots and work as shepherds.
One of the most striking physical features of the people in this area is their pale skin, light brown hair and pale eyes.
We will stay overnight with a local family in a home stay.
DAY 3 (Monday 24 April 2017)
Today we will spend a full day exploring the Nubra and photographing both the landscapes of the valley and the Balti people living there.
DAY 4 (Tuesday 25 April 2017)
After breakfast in Turtuk we will drive out of the Nubra to a tiny village south west of Leh called Temisgamp. It is here we will meet and photograph women wearing the traditional dress of Ladakh. Crowned by an ancient castle called Tingmosgang and lying on the banks of the Indus, Temisgamp will allow us to take our first glimpse of one of Asia’s most famous rivers, the Indus. Tingmosgang, its castle, is historically an extremely important place. After the death of the fifth Dalai Lama, the Regent ruling Tibet sent the head of the Brokpa order here as an emissary and in 1684 the “Treaty of Tingmosgang” was signed between Ladakh and Tibet wherein the boundary between the two countries that exists today was demarcated. alongside other religious and trade agreements.
DAY 5 (Wednesday 26 April 2017)
After breakfast we will enjoy a formal photo shoot of Ladakhi women in traditional dress at Temisgamp. The incredible dress of the women of Ladakh is heavily adorned with semiprecious stones and metals, brocades and furs. Of all of the tribal symbols of Ladakh, none is as instantly recognisable as this dress. It is worn by Ladakhi women with great pride during their cultural ceremonies of importance.
From the photo shoot we will enjoy a light lunch before we undertake the incredible drive from Temisgamp through the steep and narrow gorges of the Indus to the ancient town of Lamayuru. We will take a walk for photography around sunset in Lamayuru before we return to our hotel in the town for dinner.
DAY 6 (Thursday 27 April 2017)
Lamayuru’s monastery, Yungdrung Tharpaling, dates back to the 11th century and it was founded by Mahasiddhacharya Naropa. It belongs to the red hat sect of buddhism and is home to over 150 monks that permanently live in the houses flanking the hillsides surrounding the monastery. Yungdrung is filled with a rich collection of artefacts, wall paintings, thangkas, statues, carpets and an impressive mural depicting the 11 headed, thousand eyed image of Chenzing.
We will enjoy a morning visit to Yungdrung Tharpaling and walk around the village before we return to the banks of the Indus for an overnight stay at the village of Takmachik.
In Takmachik we will also be spending time with Ladakhi women in traditional dress
Recently Takmachik was given the honour of being the most eco-sensitive village in Ladakh but traditionally it has been considered the true home of Ladakhi cuisine and culture.
DAY 7 (Friday 28 April 2017)
After breakfast in Takmachik we will drive out to visit the isolated and only recently discovered (in historical terms) Brokpa tribal people of Dahanu.
Around 2,500 Brokpas live in three small villages in a disputed territory between India and Pakistan. The only fertile valley of Ladakh. The Brokpas are completely different– physically, culturally, linguistically and socially – from the Tibeto-Burman inhabitants of most of Ladakh.
For centuries, the Drokpas have been indulging in public kissing and wife-swapping without inhibitions. Their cultural exuberance is reflected in exquisite dresses and ornaments. Their main sources of income are products from their well-tended vegetable gardens.
Drokpa males wear a large woollen dress held at the waist over woollen trousers. The women don special woollen dresses and adorn themselves with shells, beads and silver jewellery. Goatskin capes complete the traditional dress. Both men and women wear unusual headdresses decorated with flowers, coins and seashells.
Renowned as ‘the Land of Aryans’, Dha and Hanu villages are settlements of Drokpa or Brokpa community in Ladakh. These villages are located about 163 km northwest of Leh and they lie at the confluence of the rivers Shyok and Indus, in the Kargil region of Jammu and Kashmir.
According to popular belief, the Brokpas were part of the army of Alexander the Great and came to the region over two thousand years ago. The Brokpas reside in five villages; however, tourists are allowed only in two villages – Dha and Hanu. Besides tourists, the villages also attract anthropologists.
The custom of marrying within the community has ensured the Brokpas have retained their distinctive features. Brokpa people have fair complexions and blue coloured eyes. The custom of marrying within the community has, however, limited the population of Brokpas, and the community hardly numbers over 2000.
DAY 8 (Saturday 29 April 2017)
Today we will spend a full day walking the narrow streets of Da and Hanu meeting with the Brokpa people and enjoying a photo shoot.
The Brokpa community, especially women, makes it a practice to wear flowers on their hats. The practice has earned them the sobriquet of flower women of Ladakh. The community also practices polyandry.
Unlike rest of Ladakh which is predominantly Buddhist, Brokpas are animist and follow the Bon religion.
They consider Ibex as sacred animal. The Brokpa people have preserved their traditions and rituals over the ages.
DAY 9 (Sunday 30 April 2017)
After breakfast we will leave Da Hanu and drive to the remote hamlet of Ulley where we will meet friends of mine Dolma and Norboo. Although Dolma and Norboo have eagerly awaited the arrival of electricity in their tiny village, with the advent of this their lives will change little. Running a tiny guest house and making food from a kitchen that harks back six generations of their family, Dolma is a classic example of the women that the Women’s Alliance of Ladakh are seeking to assist. While Dolma has been lucky in that Norboo has stayed with her at home, many of the women in Ulley live alone and during the hardest winters, they sometimes have to carry water up steep hills to cook and wash for their families. Dolma still spins wool in the fields and makes yak butter tea using a 1.5m long plunger to aerate the creamy warm tea before it is served. They live with their collection of animals including cows, sheep, chickens, cats and dogs.
DAY 10 (Monday 1 May 2017)
Leaving Ulley we will drive into one of the oldest villages of India, Likir.
The Likir Monastery or gompa is one of the oldest and most well maintained monasteries in Ladakh. It is believed to have been in existence since 11th century and its original name was Klu-kkhyil gompa. Besides being the oldest, the monastery is also known for its 75 feet statue of Buddha. The name Likir means the Naga or encircled. The monastery got its name as it is believed two serpent spirits –Nanda and Taksako – guard it.
We will spend one night in a home stay at Likir before we travel further to Tso Moriri.
Day 11 (Tuesday 2 May 2017)
Today we will drive from Likir into the high altitude pastoral areas of Tso Moriri. Enroute we will stop to visit nomadic herders and sightsee in tiny villages.
Tso Moriri Lake in the Changthang region of Ladakh is one of the most beautiful, calm and sacred (for Ladakhis) high altitude lakes in India. In fact, it is the largest high altitude lake in India that is entirely in Indian Territory. This beautiful blue pallet lake is about 7 KM wide at its broadest point and about 19 KM long. The beautiful multi shades of blue colour offered by this lake, along with a picturesque landscape around it, gives this place an extremely romantic and breath-taking feel. However, in actual reality the place is extremely harsh and difficult to survive especially in winters.
DAY 12 (Wednesday 3 May 2017)
From Tso Moriri we will drive to another incredible lake, but this one is a salt lake called Tso Kar.
Tso Kar is also home to nomadic people, some of whom have made their base at the remote Thukje Village where we will be staying. The residents of this village take their cattle out to graze on the Morae plains during the summer and then they retreat to Thukje in the winter. Both of these incredible lakes are not only home to nomadic tribespeople but also wonderful Himalayan wildlife like Kiangs.
DAY 13 (Thursday 4 May 2017)
Driving out of the Himalayas back to Leh we will again make many stops to photograph and take in our last vistas of the Himalayas before we get to the city. Arriving at the Grand Dragon, we will have time to rest and take hot showers before dinner.
DAY 14 (Friday 5 May 2017)
Morning departure transfer to airport to board the flight for Delhi. On arrival self-transit to your international airport to board the flight for onward journey.
The accommodation on the Ladakh Women’s Project will vary from basic camps at Da Hanu and Tso Moriri, to homestays in tiny villages to the comparative luxury of a four star hotel at the Grand Dragon in Leh, our start and end point of the trip.
Ladakh lies largely in a high altitude zone and while no strenuous mountain treks will be required on the tour, it is important that you have a reasonable level of fitness as even village strolls in altitude can be tiring.
Springtime in Ladakh can be quite pleasant during the day and temperatures can range between 10C on overcast days to a warm 23C on sunny days. During the night, however, the temperatures may well plummet below zero so I would suggest you bring warmer clothing. Hiking boots or hiking style joggers are ideal for walking through villages during the day or night. In the Nubra, where the women are islamic, I would suggest you bring a shawl with you to cover your head if required.
For this workshop a street lens like the Canon 24-105mm or Canon 70-200mm will often be the most useful lens, but I also recommend a 400, 500mm or 600mm lens for the wildlife me encounter. (If your budget does not run to prime lenses, a high quality 100-400mm or similar zoom can be a great alternative.) Alternatively, you can get wonderful results with a high quality digital compact camera with a 20x or higher optical zoom. If you have questions about what equipment you ought to bring, please contact me.
1. A USD$300 per person donation to the Women’s Alliance of Ladakh to support their work in establishing programs for women across the region
2. Full board – Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner daily starting with dinner on the first night in Leh and ending with breakfast on the last day in Leh.
3. 13 nights accommodation in hotels, guest houses and home stays
5. Accompanying English speaking guide service in Ladakh (in each village we may have different guides who will act as local translators)
6. Meeting and assistance by Inger and a local representative on arrival/departure at Airport/hotel.
7. Local transport by non-airconditioned vehicle
8. Drinking water: 2 bottles of mineral water per person per day in the car.
9. Wet wipes in the vehicle
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED
1. Accommodation in Delhi
2. Return flight from Delhi to Leh (Approximately USD$330 per person)
3. Indian Visa Fee. I would suggest you apply for your visa to India in your home country prior to departure and hold a passport with at least six months validity after the end of your tour.
4. Gratuities of around USD$250 per guest for the whole trip.
5. Personal expenses such as room service, internet charge, laundry, drink, fax, telephone call, and camera fees (these are expected to be nominal)
6. Travel insurance. Please ensure you have appropriate insurance and provide evidence of this cover prior to the trip departure
7. Optional activities
8. Excess Baggage Charges.