Travelogue: A Journey to Ladakh

July 25, 2014 By Tenzin Pema*

I’m Tibetan and my parents and ancestors hailed from Tibet, but sadly, I’ve never been to Tibet. But this year I saw Tibet. I saw Tibet in Ladakh. In this piece, I hope to revisit my spiritual journey to Ladakh, which is partly like Tibet, the Tibet of my imagination.   With great excitement and joy, Name board 2we drove over passes of more than 17,000 feet, crossed Beas and Indus, climbed snow-covered, stony and rocky mountain ranges, and landed in innumerable valleys. Having mixed feelings of fear and anticipation of the treacherous mountain passes, we enjoyed sound rest and refreshments at tent restaurants and shops which were opened in the valleys. Far-off drogpa  tents surrounded by flocks of sheep, vast open space everywhere, prayer flags fluttering and stupas everywhere in all the small and big villages and houses built in typical Tibetan style made me think that Ladakh is different from the rest of the country, very unique with its natural landscape as well as man-made physical structures.

While staying exactly three weeks in the land of gonpas, it was amazing to witness the sanctity of the place. Sacred gonpas of hundreds and thousand years old were standing intact today, in which old and holy statues of different gods and goddesses were placed. Many of these monasteries have preserved and protected the ancient and sacred artifacts in their museums. Though surrounded by soil and sand everywhere, along with scorching sun, there is no one sneezed or coughed.

Among many, the two unique features of the land captured my attention and won my appreciation. People of Ladakh have preserved their identity so well that it is visible at every corner. The Ladakhis, either men or women, wear their own traditional dress, both in rain or shine. They not only speak their own tongue, but also proudly declare to the world that they have a written script, which, according to them, is the richest and the most reliable source of Buddhism. This script according to them is Bhoti. My overwhelming impression is that 78%[1] of the shops, hotels, restaurants and others at Choglamsar in Ladakh proudly have their name boards in Bhoti. This is similar in other places in Ladakh. This shows Ladakhis’ love and respect for their language. This drew all my attention.

Name board 6I kept clicking on my camera at the name boards on the street, but it was endless. The majority of shops, restaurants, hotels, schools, and others have their name boards in Bhoti first. I became curious, and asked some shop owners about the name boards. Then I came to know that it was officially ordered by the local government to do so before the Kalachakra began. So all the name boards were completed before two or three months back. The sole aim of the initiative is to preserve and promote Bhoti script. Majority of the people are happy. So if the local government was successful to convince the Ladakhis to have Bhoti language in all the name boards before the Kalachakra begun, then the Tibetan community in India could easily be convinced to have name boards in Tibetan script in their offices, institutions and businesses before His Holiness the Dalai Lama turns eighty. This will definitely be a unique birthday present to His Holiness as offered by the people of Ladakh on his eightieth birthday according to lunar calendar.


[1] 78% of the 136 name boards in both sides of the street from Central Institute of Buddhist Studies to Lithang Thundril restaurant at Choglamsar in Ladakh.


Tenzin Pema is a research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute.

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