Heritage conservation is founded on a modernist view of the supremacy of reason and science over faith, religion and belief.
The foundations of these stupas were probably damaged by flood water before the roadway was built. Should conservation work be undertaken?
This leads to the conservation policy of detaching objects from their cultural contexts and freezing them in time. If the culture that produced the object has died, this may be justifiable. But a different policy is surely necessary when, as with Buddhism in Ladakh, the culture is alive.
Stupas are a case in point. They were made for religious reasons, to symbolise man’s place in space-time and the universe.
Stupa heritage conservation? Note the damage from vibrations or collisions
Building a stupa yields merit. Maintaining a stupa yields merit. Going clockwise around a stupa yields merit. Yet seeing a stupa decay is also instructive, as an illustration of impermanence, of anicca. With his last words, the Buddha reminded his followers that ‘All created things are impermanent’. So good actions are more important than any material or worldly goods. Similar considerations apply to the conservation of historic gardens, and much else. Denis Byrne writes that ‘the life of a stupa is one of disintegration and accumulation’. I agree, and I also believe ‘that the life of a garden is one of disintegration and accumulation’. Only a few gardens and a few stupas should be managed like museum exhibits. Some stupas do memorialise the lives of holy men, but none were conceived as ‘sleeping places’ for the dead, which is the origin of the word ‘cemetery’. The Buddha was cremated and his ashes were scattered by dividing them among his followers.
Roadside stupa in Ladakh: is it good that so many people see the stupa? Or is it bad that the trucks damage stupas?
Sigiriya’s garden was probably made by Buddhist monks
Sigiriya has an exceptionally interesting garden. Though often described as a ‘palace garden’ its character is much more likely to derive from the time when it was a Buddhist monastery. What looks at first sight like a ‘formal water garden’ of the kind made in Renaissance Europe was probably a set of baoli ponds used by the monks for drinking water, washing and ritual cleansing. The beautiful goddesses on the mirror wall are akin to those in other Buddhist monasteries of the period.
Beliefs have led to the planting of Nelumbo nucifera the Sacred Lotus since ancient times
Beliefs have always influenced garden design styles, just as they influence contemporary gardens. And just as they will surely influence future gardens. I do not have a religion but I do believe in beliefs and in their importance for designers. Neil MacGregor’s radio series on Living with Gods is therefore of great interest to me. Taking objects and places as examples, MacGregor explains the beliefs that led to their creation. This is what I tried to do when writing histories of Asian, European and British garden design. So when I can see a connections between what MacGregor say and the history of gardens I will blog and tweet about them using the hastag #GardenBeliefs. I am hoping he will devote a programme to Nelumbo nucifera the Sacred Lotus – but doubt it. It was a celebrated garden plant long before the Buddha made it a very famous garden plant as recorded in the story of the Flower Sermon:
Toward the end of his life, the Buddha took his disciples to a quiet pond for instruction. As they had done so many times before, the Buddha’s followers sat in a small circle around him, and waited for the teaching. But this time the Buddha had no words. He reached into the muck and pulled up a lotus flower. And he held it silently before them, its roots dripping mud and water. The disciples were greatly confused. Buddha quietly displayed the lotus to each of them. In turn, the disciples did their best to expound upon the meaning of the flower: what it symbollized, and how it fit into the body of Buddha’s teaching. When at last the Buddha came to his follower Mahakasyapa, the disciple suddenly understood. He smiled and began to laugh. Buddha handed the lotus to Mahakasyapa and began to speak. “What can be said I have said to you,” smiled the Buddha, “and what cannot be said, I have given to Mahakashyapa.”
Alan Watts a great interpreter of Buddhist ideas for westerners made a wise comment on contemporary religious ideas (he uses the term ‘faith’ where I use ‘belief’):
The present phase of human thought and history … almost compels us to face reality with open minds, and you can only know God through an open mind just as you can only see the sky through a clear window. You will not see the sky if you have covered the glass with blue paint. But “religious” people who resist the scraping of the paint from the glass, who regard the scientific attitude with fear and mistrust, and confuse faith with clinging to certain ideas, are curiously ignorant of laws of the spiritual life which they might find in their own traditional records.
Taking the footage for this video, in September 2014, was a good opportunity to reflect on landscape change in a hitherto remote region of India: Ladakh. There are many considerations:
Ladakh was an important sector on the of the Silk Road Network, particularly for north-south trade and travel between India and China. The video uses quotations from European travelers who undertook the journey c1850-1950.
Travel between Ladakh and Pakistan ended with the partition of India in 1947.
Travel between Ladakh and China ended with the closure of the border, by China, in 1949.
India responded by closing Ladakh to all travel and tourism
From 1949 until 1974 Ladakh was cut off and isolated as rarely in its history
Since 1974 Ladakh’s economy has become dependent on the army, which invests in roads. The military population of Ladakh is now greater than the civilian population but the army keeps its personnel largely separate from the local people.
Ladakh’s other post-1974 economic prop is tourism. In summer there are more tourists than locals in the regional capital, Leh.
Westerners, in the main, want Ladakh to remain an undeveloped and traditional region.
Ladakhis, in the main, want to experience the ‘luxuries’ of western civilization.
So what should be done? I think Ladakh would have done better, if it could, to have followed the development path of Bhutan. This involves a very cautious approach to development and a concentration on the luxury end of the tourism market.
As things stand, the best approach is probably the adoption a forward-looking development policy as firmly rooted as possible in the principles of context-sensitivity and sustainability. This policy is exemplified by the Druk White Lotus School and its Dragon Garden.
Romesh Bhattacharji, an Indian who knows Ladakh very well, wrote in 2012 of the new roads which will open up Zanskar that ‘Many people, all outsiders typically, I have met, however, also moan about the loss of the traditional way of life of the people of Zanska. The latter want a better way of life than just being museum relics for tourists’ It is a well-aimed criticism. But ‘traditional’ and ‘development’ need not be in opposition: a Middle Way is also possible, by design. The Druk School and Dragon Garden make a cameo appearance on the above video and are explained in more detail by the videos on the DWLS Dragon Garden Playlist.
This video was produced to explain the ideas behind the making of a Dragon Garden for a Buddhist-influenced school in Ladakh. The aim was to explain the design to the school’s clients and end-users: the children.
I began studying landscape architecture in 1969 and was introduced to the subject by a garden historian (Frank Clark) and by an admirer and student of Ian McHarg (Michael Laurie). Frank had a keen appreciation of the role of association (with the classical world) in design. Michael, I later appreciated, was a Modernist – as was McHarg. It took me a long time to realise that these approaches have most value when combined.
Landscape Urbanism can, and in my view should, be regarded as a design approach which integrates ecological and cultural approaches to landscape design (‘Michael and Frank’ in my own mind).
‘Why the Dragons want a Garden in Shey’ is a children’s’ story. A great flood almost destroyed the Buddhist school in 2010. So the dragons said they would help make a garden. But only if the children would help too. When the garden was lush with vegetation and buzzing with bees, two of the children decided to become landscape architects.
There is also a more ‘grown-ups’ account of the Dragon Garden’s landscape architecture on Youtube.
What is the difference between a trade and a profession? A Wiki article lists the characteristics of a profession as being present when: (1) an occupation becomes a full-time occupation (2) the establishment of a training school (3) the establishment of a university school (4) the establishment of a local association (5) the establishment of a national association (6) the introduction of codes of professional ethics (7) the establishment of state licensing laws.
I agree but would add that the code of professional ethics should include an element of idealism and altruism. As part of this, it should be the norm for professional people to follow the lawyers’ good example in doing unpaid work for good causes (pro bono). Lawyers have to spend much of their time defending the guilty and protecting the interests of land-and-money-grabbers. I therefore feel good when they do pro bono work and it also makes me happy to see young landscape architects doing volunteer work – as with helping to make a Dragon Garden for the Druk White Lotus School in Ladakh.