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Picture above – What you see here are the people from Dha Hanu Village, 160 kms northwest of Leh. They are called Brokpa aka Drokpa and are billed as the last Aryans in the valley. It’s said that their ancestors were once a part of Alexander the Great‘s empire. Look closely and you will see blue or green eyes, brown hair and fairer skin. On special occasions such as this, you can find them wearing a ‘flowerpot’ on their head.
Once an isolated region of India few knew or cared to know about, Ladakh is now a popular destination for many. Tourism since the 1970s has opened up opportunities for people not only from the state of Jammu and Kashmir but also from other parts of country, including far away states like M.P. and Maharashtra. A renewed interest by tourists in the last one decade has kick-started lot of development in the region and it is only going to grow in future. Some of it is bad, some good.
Bhojpuri speaking workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar toiling it in construction work and restaurants, Punjabis selling comfort food (Read Chola Bhatura, Kadhi Chawal) to Thukpa weary tourists, Kashmiris selling carpets and oddly, fruits and vegetables and Nepalis working in hospitality industry make Ladakh a polyglot place. Not something which I expected before I visited Leh. Internal Migration is also rampant. Many people within Ladakh region travel to Leh and other touristy places in season to make the most of it. During winters, they either retreat to their villages and “do nothing” or take up seasonal jobs (Driving, cooking etc) with army in inhospitable sub zero conditions. But then such migrations also took place even before the tourism boom. Many Punjabis and Muslims from Kashmir had settled here mainly for trade. Ladakh was also an important destination when it was the part of ancient ‘Silk Route’
These migrants made my stay in Ladakh interesting. The dark skinned laborer from Bihar who stopped my car en route to Pangong Tso for water and food looked incongruous in the empty; often gloomy landscapes of Ladakh. Happy Singh, a Sikh from Kashmir persuaded me to have ‘langar’ (Community meal) at the Gurudwara with much warmth and a big smile. It could have been any place in Punjab. Another Sikh man sold books and other Ladakh merchandise in Leh at his store ‘Book Worm’(Next to Hotel Lingzi) for the past 20 years. Then there was the Maharashtrian who listened to Marathi songs from the movie Sairat every time I crossed his path. One of the journalists who accompanied me took me to his middle aged uncle’s home who had a second home in Leh (bachelor’s pad?) and was a contactor with the army.
They had all re-created their smaller versions of their hometown in whatever way they could. But they all also blended well with a culture much alien to them, bound together with that thing called Indianness.
- Gulzar Ahmad from Srinagar comes to Leh every year in March or April to sell fruits and vegetables. “Profit in these months is more in Ladakh than in Srinagar. Foreigners mostly buy fruits from the shop but the main clients are the locals.” The shop is rented and so is their accommodation. They share the houses with others from Srinagar. However they keep mingling with the locals and people from the Buddhist society. Every shop had a back up. Abdul Majeed is the backup of Gulzar in this case. The shops close down from December to February. So between March and December, the duo take turns to visit their hometown Srinagar.
2- Shaikh Ameez from Maharashtra
Shaikh Ameez, 19, hails from Aurangabad, Maharashtra. I heard him speak Marathi one night near Leh Main Market. I have been a migrant myself, never settling at one city. My 7 years in Mumbai made me fall in love with all things Maharashtra. The next day, I couldn’t resist asking him where in Maharashtra he belonged to. “I have lived all my life in Aurangabad (Near Mumbai). It is my first visit to Leh. This is actually my chacha‘s (Paternal Uncle) shop. My main agenda to come to Leh this April was not to sell jewelries and precious stones but to see Ladakh.”
“How much of Ladakh have you seen? It has been 5 months that you are here.”
“I have not had time to see Ladakh. Now that end of season October is coming, I will keep some time aside to visit places in Ladakh. I have studied till class 12th and want to pursue medical courses now. Also I am looking forward to meet my parents again. I miss them and my friends.”
Indulging myself, I ask him, “Do you miss vada pao too?”
“No I am not a foodie.”
I took offense and anyways moved on after exchanging some pleasantries in Marathi.
3- Mr. Nazeer and Manjoor from Srinagar
- A friend of mine bought a nice Kashmiri style Poncho (A steal for Rs. 450) from Nazeer. I happened to accompany her so he used to wave at me every day when I passed his shop in Leh Main Market. We exchanged monosyllabic greetings and went about our business. My 15 days of stay at Leh made me curious of his story. He runs this shop on rented space from May to October, he told me. Shawls, dress material, Kashmiri dress, paintings, silver and gold jewellery, Pashmina sweaters, Thangkas and many metallic handicrafts vied for my attention as he told me, “Business in Leh is not as good as it is in Goa. In October I will move to Majorda in Goa. Here people come for adventure and not so much for leisure. Hence the less inclination for shopping. My family is in Kashmir, so I will visit them for 20 days before I head to Goa in mid November. My cousin Manjoor Ahmad Anchari helps me run this shop.”
Note – I found the products at his shop nice. You can find him in his shop in the season time. Shop name – Tibetan and Zanskar Arts. Phone – 9596568525 (Nazir Ahmad Anchari). Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
4 – My namesake Monty from Satna, Madhya Pradesh
- Story of Monty was similar yet different than Mr. Nazeer (See previous story). His genuine sunshine smile stood out in the erstwhile gloomy Hundar which looked like a ‘Ghost Town’ with not many people visible on streets.
Me, “What’s your name?”
“Waah, my nickname is also Montu. Sometime they call me Monty too.”
“Haha, same here. I have been called Montu by some.”
“So, what is Monty doing in Hundar?” (close to Nubra valley and Pakistan)
“I come here every April and manage Ibex Guest house. In October I move to a bar in Morjim beach in Goa and work there full time till the season is over. But before I move between the two places, I visit my family in Satna (Madhya Pradesh). I learned, many workers in hospitality industry work like that, even those workers from Nepal who work in small time restaurants in Ladakh”
I am sure if I had more time (16 days are not enough?), I would have unearthed more such stories from Ladakh. It is always enriching to know the stories of the people behind the smiles you see every day on your travels.
The view from my #SoulWindow is eye opening!
It is a part of a series which I run on my blog. You can follow the hashtag #MyGration story on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter too. (Links below). To read other migration stories on my blog, pls see the tab MyGration Story.
I was in Ladakh for 16 days. I was invited as a part of the media team to cover the Naropa Festival, the once in 12 years ‘Kumbh of the Himalayas’. Check out the exclusive pictures and read about it here.
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