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. Just as dramatic as these environmental impacts have been the psychological effects of Western-style education, television and advertising, all of which glamorize an urban consumer life-style, giving the impression that life in the West is one of limitless wealth and leisure. 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.
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Local Futures’ Mindful Travel / 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 past and present.
- To sensitize 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.
Our tourist education activities include daily (except Sundays) workshops which attract more than 4,000 visitors each year. The workshops are held at 2pm, at the Women’s Alliance of Ladakh, about a five to ten minute walk north of the main bazaar in Leh. The workshops include screenings of Local Futures’ educational films: Ancient Futures (1993); Paradise with Side Effects (2004), and The Economics of Happiness (2011). The films are followed by wide-ranging discussions facilitated by Local Futures staff and volunteers.
We also organize special workshops for tourist groups by arrangement. To request a workshop or to find out more about the Mindful Travel / Tourist Education program, contact [email protected]
Resources for visitors to Ladakh
Download our Mindful Travel in Ladakh brochure:
Download our Mindful Travel one-page guide:
Download our Eco Friendly Guidebook for Leh City
Published in 2009. Please note that details about specific establishments are likely to have changed. However, the overview and broad concepts remain as relevant as ever.
Learn more about Mindful Trekking in Ladakh
Eco-map of Leh City (PDF)