Set deep in the Indian Himalayas on the western edge of the Tibetan plateau, Ladakh, or ‘Little Tibet’, is one of the highest and driest inhabited places on earth. Yet for centuries it was home to a rich and self-sustaining culture. Then, in the 1970s, came ‘development,’ which undermined the local economy and eroded cultural self-esteem. The result has been increasing community and family breakdown, unemployment, sprawling urban slums and pollution.
Local Futures’ History in Ladakh
Since 1978, Local Futures has been providing Ladakhis with information about the impact of conventional development in other parts of the world while exploring more sustainable patterns of development in Ladakh itself, based on the use of local knowledge and resources. Local Futures has helped to establish and still collaborates with several important indigenous organizations in Ladakh, including the Ladakh Ecological Development Group (LEDeG), the Amchi Association, and the Ladakh Environment and Health Organisation (LEHO).
Over the past four decades our work in Ladakh has also included hosting a wide range of meetings, from “hands-on” village workshops to international conferences. We have produced community theater, radio shows, Ladakhi language schoolbooks, the first Ladakhi-English dictionary, and an educational comic book, “A Journey to New York”, that has been used in schools throughout Ladakh.
Local Futures has also supported farmers in resisting the pressures of industrialized agriculture. We have organized tours for Ladakhi farmers to visit sustainable farms in other parts of South Asia and abroad, supported local campaigns about the hazards of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and introduced solar greenhouses that enable villagers to grow vegetables year round.
As a means of tempering some of the idealized impressions of the industrialized world that come from advertising and the media, we have also run “reality tours” that bring Ladakhi leaders to the west to see firsthand the darker side of the consumer culture, as well as initiatives underway to make western societies more sustainable. A reality tour to London for two Ladakhi women was the focus of the documentary film Paradise With Side Effects.
Current Programs in Ladakh
Learning from Ladakh is an experiential education programme offering participants the opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge of the social and ecological issues facing a traditional culture as it meets the modern world. This year’s programme consisted of a series of interactive ‘Global to Local’ workshops held on August 5th-7th in Leh, Ladakh. Learn more about the workshop, and check back for an announcement about our 2015 programmes in Ladakh.
From mid-June through early September we currently run a Mindful Travel/Tourist Education programme that helps travelers minimise their impact on the local environment and adopt culturally sensitive practices. As part of this programme, we organise workshops for tourist groups (by arrangement*) and we screen two documentary films about Ladakh, globalisation and development: Ancient Futures and The Economics of Happiness. We screen the films daily (except Sundays) at the Ladakh Ecological Development Group (LEDeG), about a five to ten minute walk north of the main bazaar in Leh. The films are followed by wide-ranging discussions facilitated by Local Futures staff and volunteers.
*To request a workshop for a tourist group, contact infoUSA@isec.org.uk
The following articles provide more information about the negative impacts of development in Ladakh, as well as our work to counter them: