“The land is so harsh and the passes so numerous, that only the best of friends or the worst of enemies would visit you”

Ladakh, “land of high passes”, is a very high valley in the middle of the world’s tallest mountain range between the Himalayas and Karakorams. The sparsely populated region is quite inaccessible, isolated and snowed-in most of the year, and a disputed territory between India and Pakistan. It is inhabited both by Tibetans with a culture and history closely related to Tibet and by the Drokpa people. Ladakhis live a conservative and traditional lifestyle in their villages, much as they did 2,000 years ago. Their belief is a version of Tibetan Buddhism that also includes ferocious demons from the pre-Buddhist Bon religion. Lamas live, study and practice their religion in ancient monasteries (gompas) located on prominent hill and mountain tops. At the Dak Thok Festival, mystical 1,000 year old Cham dances with heavy masks and embroidered costumes representing wrathful deities are performed. Red Hat sect lamas, visualizing themselves as deities, repeat sacred mantras and use elaborate dance movements to destroy all obstacles to dharma and to purify and bless the earth.

The Drokpas are an ancient tribe of 2,500 remaining Aryans. They live in the only fertile valley in Ladakh in 3 small villages in Dah-Hanu. Perhaps descendents from Alexander the Great’s army, the Drokpas migrated to these high valleys from the Central Asian steppes. They speak an archaic Shina language and are different physically, culturally and socially from the rest of the Tibetan-Burman Ladakhis. Many are tall and fair, with big eyes, full lips, distinctive noses and eyebrows. Men and women both wear headdresses decorated with flowers, coins and seashells. They consider themselves a superior race, practice free love, and marry only within their group, thus preserving tribal ethnicity but also resulting in questionable sustainability.

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