In spite of the Problems, Leh-Ladakh Remain Regal

Located among the Karakoram ranges and the Majestic Himalayas, the picturesque Ladakh and Leh are  a pride of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Ladakh & Leh happen to be two such resplendent places in the world where every year tourists from all around the world flock to witness the mesmeric beauty of this part of the world. Symbols of chaste serenity and beauty, Leh & Ladakh is all about breathtaking landscapes, scenic oasis, historical monasteries and interesting hamlets. One is automatically drawn to the splendid beauty the moment one steps into this beautiful mountain town. The spotless blue sky takes one to a journey of unmatched solitude. The assortment of mountain flowers, the streams, the snow laden peaks and the deep valleys make Ladakh & Leh a dreamland to be in. it’s probable to spot monks in robes, hear the scintillating mountain music and watch men rambling behind groups of sheep. These are Ladakh & Leh’s certain familiar sights one gets instantly drawn towards. While Leh is around  3500 meters above sea level, and a center of Tibeto-Buddhist culture,  Ladakh, known as the cold desert ranges from peak to peak, like a masterly work of art.

Off late, the fervor of these pristine locales has soured a great deal, as Sonam Wangchuk an engineer turned educational reformer in Ladakh, observed a 5-day climate fast in a bid to protect the people and environment of Ladakh. Wangchuk claimed that people of Ladakh were better off when Jammu and Kashmir was not a union territory. Since more than 3 decades now, Wangchuk has been working on the development of Ladakh and  is credited with designing artificial glaciers, solar-heated buildings and while more providing people of the area with improved educational facilities. He is the recipient of the  Ramon Magsaysay Award, also called the Asian Nobel, for his sustained efforts to harness nature, culture and education for the community to progress. 

Wangchuk’s life story inspired one of the lead roles “Phunsuk Wandgu” in a film “3 Idiots,” which is one of the most successful movies in the Indian cinema history. Though at the start, Wangchuk had supported the partition of Jammu and Kashmir and the abrogation of Article 370 in the Indian Constitution. He reasoned that though it appeared to be good for the people of Ladakh and they must be allowed to choose their own path of development, people of the region were worried about how will the protection assured in Article 370 continue? Pointing towards a growing local consensus, Wangchuk argued that Ladakh should become an independent state with its own legislature. He said he had hoped that the change would help preserve the region’s frail ecology. A key demand of a concerned Wangchuk during his fast, was an ardent appeal to the Indian Prime Minister to grant the region special protections under the Sixth Schedule of the constitution.

Leh-Ladakh also are of strategic importance to India as it isn’t too far from the Sino-Indian border. India’s Border Roads Organization has been working relentlessly. BRO is responsible for the development and maintenance of India’s road networks at the border areas and the organization also offers its services to other friendly nations. Last year itself, BRO constructed more than  55,000 kms of roads, 450 plus bridges and 19 airfields in strategic locations. In the Ladakh and Leh region they are building tunnels, roads, bridges that will not only help in faster movement of the armed forces, but would also help civilians and be a big boost for tourism. There is the Zojilla tunnel, which will connect Baltal and Minamarg on the Srinagar-Leh road (National Highway -1) . Then there is the 6.5 km long Z-Morh Tunnel; which is of utmost strategic importance and is being hailed as a first step towards ensuring connectivity between Kashmir and Ladakh, irrespective of climactic conditions. The Indian Government says that work of the tunnel is going on at a fast pace and would be completed ahead of its stipulated time in July 2023. 

There is the strategic Luma bridge — work of which will soon start, the Dumti bridge is going to connect Demchock and Dhaga which will help avoid the long roundabout. Then there is Hanle which is going to be declared a dark sky sanctuary. Having a good road to Hanle is important because it is on top of the world. The road from Loma to Demchok is also under construction, which is a strip of 40-50 kilometers. Then there is Umling La which is the world’s highest motoring road, earlier it used to be Khardung-La. Umling La is 19000 feet above sea level and the pass is open right now and work is in progress. These roads are bound to be a pleasure for motorists and bikers alike.

Air connectivity has been an issue in Leh-Ladakh and people have been demanding more flights to the region, especially as it affects the transportation of essential commodities to the areas too. “Though the Government is doing developmental work in the area, air connectivity needs more advancement here,” says Thinles Noorbo, councillor at Ladakh Hill Development Council. Noorbo has also been president of Young Drukpa Association (YDA) Ladakh. Drukpa is the title of the head of the Drukpa ancestry, which is rooted in the independent Sarma, meaning new schools of Vajrayana – a philosophy of Buddhism. In spite of sub-zero temperatures, Noorbo travels 25-30 kms to his village, where he works and interacts with locals to understand and resolve their problems. 

At present, spiritual leader Dalai Lama has been at the center of a controversy after a video, in which he was seen interacting with a child has gone viral on social media platforms, with many people calling the behavior of the spiritual leader ‘inappropriate.’ A total shutdown was put in place in Leh and some parts of the Kargil district to support the Buddhist spiritual leader. The shutdown decision was taken by Ladakh’s Buddhist Association, the Ladakh Gonpa Association and certain Muslim organizations. Dalai Lama supporters claim that a ‘malevolent cant’ has been launched against the spiritual leader of international repute. 

Though with its share of problems the landscapes of Leh and Ladakh remain beautiful. While the abrogation of Article 370 is creating a sense of liberty among some, the political opposition continues to vehemently oppose it. The youth of Leh-Ladakh are contributing a great deal to the development of the Union Territory and the present Government is promising them employment opportunities. The region has many upcoming sportsmen and women and the effervescent culture of the region makes the place all the more cherished. With improved connectivity to the rest of India, Leh and Ladakh have the potential to become ideal holiday destinations for people from all over the world, not just Indians. But, one does hope that the climate issues are dealt with prudently as this is indispensible to the prosperity, peace and sustainable development of the region.

[Image by Pixabay]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

Shaumik Samar Ghosh is an author, journalist and columnist currently based in India.

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