In the north of India, surrounded by hills lies the mysterious land of Ladakh. As I started to investigate the mysteries that surround it, I witnessed the rivers of philosophy, religion and science merge to form one entity that explains the unknown. Reading Tagore’s Sadhana was one thing, but seeing it’s applications in Ladakh was like seeing words come to life. That was the highlight of the trip, when I saw philosophy in real life, in science and in religion.
Ladakh is an excellent example of geological history and geographical formations. We were surrounded by fold mountains, caused by the tectonic activity of the Indo-Australian Plate and the Eurasian Plates. It was amazing to see how the product of something that had happened millions of years ago still stood right in front of us. And the landscapes we saw were truly mesmerizing. We saw bowl like structures called corries, which were the resting places of glaciers before they started melting .That was the degradation part of the arid cycle due to glacial erosion. A little below the corries, we saw slide like facades which were the result of the glacier sliding down the mountain as it melted. This was the pediment part of the arid cycle of erosion. At the bottom of the ranges, there were mounds of rocks that looked like smaller mountains, but were in reality they were alluvial fans created by sedimentation or aggradation due to the slowing down of the melted glacier. As we travelled at the passes of Ladakh, we also saw wetlands, sand dunes and ribbon lakes meandering that made us feel like we were in a fairytale. I was thrilled by the change of colour change as the tributary Zanskar merges into the Indus. However it also struck a chord with my philosophy because I got a glimpse of the oneness of nature that Tagore keeps referring to.
The geography of Ladakh, although beautiful, played a major part in creating conflict in the region. Kashmir lies on the border between India ,Pakistan and China. Its mountains also gave the countries a upperhand during the war.The mountains also have excellent defense mechanisms. India and Pakistan fight over Kashmir because it is a Muslim majority region so ideally it should have gone to Pakistan, had it not been for it’s Hindu ruler at that time wishing otherwise. A severely disputed region was the Siachen glacier, not very far from where we were.
Despite the disputes that take place in Ladakh, it still has managed to retain its cultural identity. We had the privilege of meeting members of one of the nomadic tribes there called the Changpas tribe. This tribe mainly comprises refugees from Tibet who had migrated to India during the 1950s. They are mainly shepherds as they use their sheep and goat for wool, pashmina and goat cheese. We learnt that they are selling pashmina for 4000 rupees, while the final pashmina scarves were sold at a range of 10000-20000 rupees. Ignorance is certainly not a bliss as their ignorance costs them. Seeing them shear the goat’s skin and the goat’s painful cries seemed too hard to bear as it was clear that they only viewed nature as a tool, just as it was said in Sadhana. However, it was nice to see how most of them had retained their cultural identity while being acquainted with modernism.
Ladakh’s strong culture also includes its religions. The most prominent religions in Ladakh are Buddhism and Islam. In Islam, most Ladakhis are of the Shia sect. We also saw a strong influence of Buddhism in Ladakh. There are two sects in Buddhism: Hinayana and Mahayana and their own sub-sects. I could connect this to the ‘city wall’ that Tagore talked about and how it was human nature to isolate and divide amongst ourselves. Another interesting thing that we saw in the monastery was the Wheel of Life. According to Llamaji, who was our guide, Buddhists believe in the cycle of suffering in which a person can either become a god, demigod, human, demon, hungry ghost or animals based on their karma or actions. To escape from this cycle, they must let go of all the desire, ignorance or rage that causes this. I could connect this to the Hindu belief system that one suffers his deeds. This taught me that all religions echo the same philosophy. According to the Llamaji, there were three parts of Mahayana: Buddha, Sangha and Dharma. He also said that anyone can be a Buddha by walking on the path to enlightenment, which I found encouraging. Therefore, the religious practices that we learnt about taught us about the spectrum of beliefs that exists in the world.
In essence, my visit to Ladakh taught me about life in general. And as the mysterious curtains of Ladakh were drawn, I witnessed a place where the science in nature is so prominent and its beauty inspires the poetic philosopher and religions seek safety in its threshold because there is all that they believe in nature. Nature is God and that is the most important philosophy.
Navya Sahay (G9)