After centuries of relative isolation Ladakh was suddenly thrown open to “development” and tourism in the mid-1970s. This “development” brought many changes to the previously peaceful, prosperous and largely self-reliant culture of Ladakh.
Junk food, plastic consumer goods, pollution, and toxics including DDT and asbestos came to the region as part of this process. Equally, Western-style education, television and advertising – glamorizing an urban consumer life-style – have had a dramatic psychological effects, giving the impression that life in the West is one of limitless wealth and leisure and, in turn, that rural life and traditional culture are primitive and inferior. The influx of tourists has added to the impression that life in the West is infinitely better than in Ladakh.
Tourists will often spend the same amount in a day that a whole family in a Ladakhi village might spend in a year. As a consequence, Ladakhis, particularly the young people, feel that their lifestyle seems poor and backward. Tourists, in turn, often unwittingly reinforce these feelings and insecurities. Having no way of knowing the degree to which Ladakhis have traditionally been self-reliant, they are often horrified to hear of daily wages as low as five dollars, or of an absence of electricity. Generally, neither tourists nor Ladakhis reflect on the fact that money plays a completely different role in the West, where it’s needed for basic survival.
These misunderstandings are born of a lack of complete information and real communication between tourists and Ladakhis. We have found that greater knowledge about what is happening around the world, not isolationism, is the surest way for Ladakhis to take control over their own future. Recognizing that tourism is a powerful agent of change, we make great efforts to reach out to visitors to invite them to participate in solutions at every level: from cultural awareness, to ecologically sensitive behavior, to supporting alternatives both in Ladakh and in their own home communities.
To understand more about these issues, watch:
Tourist Education Program
Local Futures’ Mindful Travel and Tourist Education program seeks to address this knowledge gap and foster greater understanding about the root causes of cultural breakdown and about strategic solutions. The specific objectives are:
- To introduce tourists to Ladakh’s past and present.
- To sensitive tourists to their impact during their stay in Ladakh and give them guidelines for culturally, economically and ecologically responsible behavior.
- To encourage tourists to make the links between changes in Ladakh and those experienced at home.
Every year, from mid-June through early September, we run a Mindful and Tourist Education program that helps visitors to Ladakh minimize their impact on the local environment and adopt culturally sensitive practices. As part of this program, we screen two documentary films about Ladakh, globalization and development: Ancient Futures and The Economics of Happiness. We screen these films daily at 14:00 (except Sundays) at the Women’s Alliance of Ladakh, 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.
We also offer private workshops and film screenings for tourist groups by arrangement. To request a workshop or film screening for a tourist group, contact [email protected]
The following articles provide more information about the negative impacts of development in Ladakh, as well as our work to counter them:
- Pressure to Modernise
- The March of the Monoculture
- Globalisation and Terror
- Rambo, Barbie and Wordsworth
We are looking for motivated volunteers to help us promote and manage our activities in Ladakh this upcoming summer. For more information: Volunteering in Ladakh.
Resources for visitors to Ladakh
Download our Eco Friendly Guidebook for Leh City
Published in 2009
Please note that details about establishments are likely to have changed. However, the overview and broad concepts remain as relevant as ever.
Additional resources for travellers to Ladakh: