The people of Ladakh

This post features student writing.

July 9, 2015
Written by Tara G. from Round Lake Beach, Illinois

“Let none find fault with others, let none see the omissions and commissions of others. But let one see one’s own acts, done and undone.” – Dhammapada

The people of Ladakh are the happiest people I have encountered in my lifetime. Not the short lived bout of joy that accompanies a material acquisition, but a sense of pride, a confidence that exudes from their steadfast belief in their culture. They speak Ladakh, they keep Ladakh traditions, they practice their unique worship of Buddhism. They are also very inquisitive about the Western world. I observed this in the first couple days, and all of us befriended Ladakhi people when we visited the monastery in the mountains and when we did the scavenger hunt in Matho (pronounced ‘Masho’). On the bus ride to the monastery, each Putney student paired up with a SECMOL student and we spent the hour talking about everything from learning English to favorite foods. I sat next to Padma, who has such a pretty smile, and she pointed out trademark scenery of the Ladakh landscape.

At the monastery, we visited Nelly, a French woman who was a physicist as well as an art historian commissioned by the monks to preserve traditional Ladakh Buddhist art. Nelly had spent the past 18 years studying and discovering precious works, and one of the pieces she showed us was the missing canons of the Buddhist Scripture, which dates back to the 5th century when monks traveled back from Tibet to learn about and obtain official documents of their religion. She also told us of an annual festival put on by the monks in which two chosen ones inhabit spirits that channel words of wisdom and advice to the region. One of the most important aspects of Nelly’s role in preserving ancient works of art is her ethical approach to making sure the culture is as intact as possible and not imposing her Western beliefs into the construction of the museum. This is also shown through her teaching of local women of her techniques so they too can preserve their culture.

After taking a tour of the monastery and taking in the beautiful sculpture of Buddha surrounded by his disciples and protectors, we had some snacks on the steps. We tried mokmok and samosas with a chutney sauce. It was very good and I’m starting to really enjoy the food! My favorite part of the day has to be doing the scavenger hunt with the SECMOL students. We received a list of several items and we wandered around the town looking for them. We were invited into people’s houses, which is completely unheard of in America, and they offered us tea and biscuits, speaking volumes of Ladakh hospitality. I think that even though we speak different languages and dress differently, friendship and understanding transcend these boundaries as both Ladakhi and Putney students are able to relate to each other and have a lot of fun while doing it.

– Tara G.

Maddie H. and Tina L. walking through Matho village with new friends

Maddie H. and Tina L. walking through Matho village with new friends