Every trek shows you a world of its own. The Markha Valley trek not just showed me epic landscapes but also a beautiful culture tucked away in the middle of nowhere. This is my journey and why I fell in love with one of the coldest, highest and driest inhabited places on earth.
All I did was take a walk in their homeland.
Here are the lessons I learnt from my journey.
Lesson #1: Piety and purity are two words meant for this region.
Ladakh for me is one of the few places on earth where Buddhism still exists in its purest and undiluted form. Everything seems so untouched and so cut off from the rest of the world. You’ll find a touch of faith in everything; from prayer flags fluttering by in different spots, to the architecture of the monasteries, to the engravings of mantras on stones (mani walls), to the incense that burns in every Ladakhi house each morning.
Lesson #2: The landscape in Ladakh is not baked and dry.
When you think of Ladakh, you don’t imagine lush green valleys, instead what comes to mind is an arid cold desert surrounded by the Himalayas. But surprisingly, even with very little rainfall, you’ll come across villages with lush green fields and massive organic vegetable gardens outside houses. The Ladakhis are super smart, and they have exactly how to use what little water they get for irrigation purposes.
Lesson # 3: It’s not a life of scarcity.
Instead of a life of scarcity, I felt Ladakhi lifestyle and homes represent a life of richness. Even in the remotest of places, their homes are big and are beautifully decorated. You’ll find huge windows in the all the rooms that allow plenty of sunshine in. The living rooms have colourful wooden hand-carved tables, carpets and wooden pillars with engravings everywhere, the houses have plenty of rooms, and most of them even have a huge garden outside. You don’t feel they are missing out or lacking anything.
Lesson #4: The world has a lot to learn from Ladakh in terms of preserving the environment.
The best way to experience Ladakhi culture is by staying in homestays, which you will see in all the villages enroute. Here you’ll get a chance to interact with the farmers, shepherds, local guides, carpenters, and monks and although they are a bit shy, but if you ask, they will tell you how their community works together to ensure minimum waste to the environment. Yes, these are indigenous communities living in the remotest of remote places, but trust me they are becoming pioneers in understanding carbon footprints, self-sustainability and eco-tourism.
Every homestay we saw or stayed at was eco-friendly. The way the houses are built with mud and bricks, keeps them cool during summers and contains heat during winters. Each home has solar panels and solar water heaters installed outside the house and they use energy efficient LED lights when needed. They also have something called dry toilets, where they don’t pollute or waste water and they produce useful manure for their fields. Also, plastic is banned in this region. So the use of plastic bags and bottles is highly discouraged and frowned upon. Which according to me is a good thing.
Lesson #5: Organic food is good for the soul, and keeps the doctor away.
The food was the best part of our journey. We loved our meals because they were so fresh and all the vegetables were organically grown in the garden in front of the house. Our host would go out in front of us and pluck fresh veggies from their garden (carrots, potatoes, turnips, cabbage, tomatoes, coriander or spinach), wash and chop them and prepare a fresh organic meal for us.
Lesson #6: Women are celebrated and empowered in this region.
One thing that struck me was that men and women work hand in hand, and that women are celebrated and empowered in these villages. Men help in the kitchen with their wives, while women help grazing animals in the fields with their husbands. They work in teams, and it’s beautiful, because everything seems so simple
Another reason why I say women are celebrated is because, we also came across a few eco-friendly womens café along the way, which are completely run by local women. They use local produce to prepare meals for trekkers and make handicrafts from yak wool. So both men and women take active roles in bringing the income for their household.
For me, Markha valley introduced me to a completely unknown world. It was an inspirational journey and absolutely bliss to be able to watch and learn from people living in remote villages.
The biggest lesson I learnt from my journey was that the warmth and love of the Ladakhis provide the region with actual beauty.
Come and experience it yourself.