Two Books On Ladakh

Just a short post, today. I’ve posted about Ladakh in the Northern India Himalaya several times before, and was reading a couple of these posts back this morning when it struck me I’d written, but never posted, reviews of a couple of books that did much to inspire me to travel there. These are really brief reviews, put up mainly to encourage anyone who might have any interest in Ladakh to read them and then perhaps visit this most remarkable and beautiful place for themselves.

Ancient Futures by Helena Norberg-Hodge. This book is what amounts to a long essay on the culture, history, peoples and development of Ladakh. Helena Norberg-Hodge was one of the first people to travel to Ladakh when it opened up in the 1970’s, where she learned to speak the language and got to know the people as few outsiders have ever done before or since. Returning regularly each year for six months at a time, she watched as Ladakh began to ‘develop’ a Westernised society at the expense of its own centuries-old sophisticated rural culture. And watched in what amounts to horror. This book charts the so-called progress made by Western ideas there, and how much is being done to halt the worst excesses by careful encouragement of traditional means of farming and living by the Ladakhis themselves. Both depressing and inspiring, this is by any measure an outstanding book.

There is also an absolutely beautiful video, available on YouTube, which was based on this book and which I would strongly encourage anyone who has any interest in this area and its history, ecology, and development to watch.

A Journey in Ladakh by Andrew Harvey. In 1981 Andrew Harvey travelled to Ladakh in order to study the Tibetan Buddhist society there. He found a fascinating community of gentle people beginning to collide with Western values but retaining a deep, sincere belief in their Buddhist culture. Part spiritual journey, part guide to Ladakh, this book has been a favourite of mine for over thirty years and the dog-eared, tatty copy on my bookshelf was a major reason for my travelling there myself.

And if you’d like to read my previous posts on Ladakh, you can find the main ones here and here.

10 thoughts on “Two Books On Ladakh

  1. Ladakh has been one of those places I dreamed seeing for many years. I read Harvey’s book and anything else I came across but never had the time and money to make a trip like that. Now that I have the time, it’s still a very expensive trip from here and I don’t do well at altitude. I could content myself with the other book you mentioned though, so thanks! And the intro is by Peter Matthiessen, who I used to know, so that’s a plus. I really hope a balance can be achieved between traditional and Western ideas about consumption and land use there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was there in 2005, and a lot is bound to have happened in that time. It seemed a rather mixed picture at the time, with some places looking rather ghastly but others doing well. The big difference now, I believe, is tourism. And I don’t know how much of an impact that has had.

      Unfortunately, there’s no avoiding the altitude, although if you fly in you can take a few days to acclimatise and there are some tablets available that help, but you can also go by road, so you acclimatise as you go. Neither way is perfect!

      Liked by 1 person

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