Our time in the Ladakhi villages over these two weeks was really special as an environmental anthropologist. While the hiking and music playing were both amazing, I particularly enjoyed the chance to do a little "participant observation" as we call it in anthropology, of the local agriculture.
| From Ladakh!!!!|
What I was astounded by throughout my time in Ladakh was--to cut through alot of academic jargon--how the local people had shaped their landscape through their agricultural practices. The landscape of Ladakh, as you've seen in the preceding posts and photos is incredibly arid, and quite simply harsh
However, every once and a while, you'll come across these small spots of green, which inevitably were where villages and monasteries were located.
How did this landscape come to be transformed--from the arid desert that seemed almost omnipresent, to these habitable, if not thriving, oases of green?
Agriculture was the most obvious factor.
Agroforestry, such as the planting of these apricot and almond trees, provides essential nutrition for the Ladakhi people. Up to 90% of their caloric intake in winter comes from these fruits.
Fields of millet
Earthen greenhouse used to extend the very short growing season
However, my focus over the first few days on the amazing presence of green in this landscape of brown had distracted me from what I think was really the most amazing and defining feature of this landscape, and the Ladakhi's transformation of it: water.
Ladakhi women irrigating fields with spades used to shape earthen channels
In this arid landscape, water is the defining resource, and its management occupies an incredible amount of time and energy. It is the management of water that has led to the shaping of this landscape, for only where water can go can live spring up
In the homestays, I took advantage of the opportunity to learn a bit about how the people (mostly women) irrigated their fields. What I learned really amazed me: the women used a long spade to shape these channels that the water would run through. Once the water had irrigate a particular patch of the field, the women would close it up at a junction and open it up in another spot in the channel so the water would flow to a new area. Although this sounds confusing, hopefully this video will make things a bit clearer.
My attention to the Ladakhi agriculture is part of a larger academic interest in Ladakhi ecology and conservation. In short, the Ladakhi people are generally recognized as having a sustainable environmental ethic. From irrigation to the Ladkhi toilets, which are composting squat toilets that use no water and whose by products get recycled as compost back into the fields.
While all this can be critically explored, the presence of these thousand year-old junipers below is at least a partial testament to the material practices of this culture.
As you might be able to tell from this post, I was incredibly fascinated by this landscape and its people. Returning to Ladakh--perhaps to conduct research on these landscape histories--would be a dream for me. Now I just need to work on my Ladakhi!