Should Ladakh be modernised? Can it be avoided? Anyone travelling to Kargil or Leh via the Zoji La must think ‘This CANNOT be the main road to Ladakh’, ‘It is inconceivable that most of the country’s fuel and construction materials are carried in on this road?’ ‘Surely it can’t be closed for six months/year?’ ‘Why in heaven’s name haven’t they built a tunnel’, ‘Is this country run by 3 idiots?’. But anyone who reads Helena Norberg-Hodge’s Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh may conclude ‘Please God, don’t let them build a new road over the Zoji-La’. She argues that ‘development’ is spoiling Ladakh. The men are giving up farming to become taxi drivers. The women, who lived in rural bliss in wonderful communities, are now finding themselves isolated in ugly modern flats with their husbands doing urban jobs, their young children in schools and their older children hanging about on street corners, taking drugs and thinking about motorbikes and larceny.
Though my sympathies lie with Helena Norberg-Hodge, I don’t know who is right. But I do know that work on an all-weather Zoji La Tunnel is scheduled to begin in 2012. Should it happen, the above video will be a visual record of the pass in July 2012. The longest delay was on a good section of road, just below the pass, near the turn-off to Amarnath (see photos), a stalagmite worshipped by Hindus as the phallus of Lord Shiva – which has melted because growing numbers of devotees are generating too much body heat. The number of pilgrims on the Amarnath Yatra has risen exponentially over the last decade. Almost 100 of them died this year and over 40,000 received medical treatment. They sleep in the largest camp site I have ever seen (which can be glimpsed on the video). I was travelling to the Druk White Lotus School and thinking about how it could have a Dragon Garden to go with its mandala plan. A landslide closed the road for a while, as though a local dragon had stirred.
Helena Norberg-Hodge Ladakh video Part 1
Helena Norberg-Hodge Ladakh video Part 2
Helena Norberg-Hodge Ladakh video Part 3