‘Jule! Jule!’ That’s how the Ladakhis welcome visitors, with a smile. This vast area of Buddhist culture, with its high dry and desolate landscapes, is an extension of Tibet, geographically as well as culturally.
Ladakhi is a traditional Tibetan language form. The second language is Ourdu (close to Hindi), spoken by Muslims. The most important religious community are the Buddhists.
The traditional Ladakhi culture is characterized by a great serenity. The Ladakhis contrast with the harshness and the difficulties of daily life; courage, persistence and a good mood make them sympathetic.
The Ladakhis are mainly sedentary. Farmers and craftsmen live in an oasis, along which torrents coming down from the glacier irrigate their barley, lucerne and wheat fields. They build their houses with mud bricks, hammer the wood with metal and spin and weave woolen dresses. Even if they abandoned their full-time nomadic life, they still have a nomadic spirit at heart and do not hesitate to cover great distances to attend festivals in monasteries or to trade for a few months in a year.
The nomads or ‘champas’, shepherds and caravaners, cover high plateaux steps to look for mountain pastures for their herds (yaks, sheep and goats) and to deal. They’re the only inhabitants of Rupshu. These Ladakhi wonderers have almost no belongings, except from their herds and they get their money from selling wool. They go down to the low valleys to look for cereals, materials, spices, sugar. In exchange, they bring salt, butter, cheese, meat, and of course some of their animals’ wool. The down gathered from the long hair of their sheep, called Pashmina, is brought down to the Kashmir valley, where it is amazingly weaved and then sold expensively in the West.
The inhabitants of these high lands don’t have an easy life: the work is hard and intense during the four months of summer and the winter is harsh and long.