Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
My first trip to Ladakh in 2011 was an extravagant visual feast of culture. As a first-time viewer I was dazzled and overwhelmed so much that I could barely differentiate between the various ethnic groups that I was seeing.
That moment of enlightenment – when I noticed the distinctly different ethnic group, came to me much later when I was sifting through the hundred of photos hungrily shot during the festival.
Through an awed examination of their photos, it became obvious to me that this group was very very unique. All the groups in Ladakh were already fascinating me and consuming my interest and driving me to learn more and more about their culture. But this group was different from them all.
The Aryan people. In Ladakh they are called the Drogpas or Drokpas. They themselves do not identify with the word ‘Dard’ although that is the term used in older books for this fascinating ethnic group.
Dards are considered to be the last of the Aryan race living in the Indus Valley and their linguistic root suggests a link to the people of Nuristan, Kohistan, Swat and Chitral valleys also from the same region of the Himalayas.
Today their population is less than 3000.
That is roughly the number of people transported by a single rake of a 12-coach Mumbai Local train during peak hours. Wow!
I began to read about them and developed a casual interest in this group. This led to casual inquiries about visiting this group with an attitude of ‘Keep In View’.
On my second trip to Leh in 2013 on work, I came across a lovely lady from this ethnic group and began a conversation. And from then on, this changed from being a ‘casual interest’ to one of ‘passionate interest’.
A long interested chat led to an invitation to and exchange of numbers and an invitation to her home early next morning for tea at 7am.
I hate waking up early and in the chill weather of Leh this would be really difficult. But for this cup of tea I would have woken up at 4 am if that was the only time she was available! Serendipity was throwing an opportunity at me and there was no way I would not grab it. And so I had tea with her and her relatives and we bonded over tea and biscuits.
This new found relationship between strangers culminated in the journey of a lifetime in which I lived with the Dard lady, her husband, her sons, their wives and their children.
In September I visited their village 200 km away from Leh, Ladakh deep within the Himalayas along the Karakoram range – a home constructed on a little flat parcel of land that lay on an otherwise steep mountain slope along the Indus river.
This trip will remain one of the most memorable trips of my life in which I risked my life, limb, camera and iphone (listed in ascending order of importance) twice:
First while climbing the great Himalayas (yes – even 300 metres up the steep rocky mountain slope in a gorge/ ravine/ whatever it is called is considered ‘climbing’ in my view) to reach their mountainside home.
Second while crossing the river Indus on a hand-pulled carriage and getting stuck midway. (note that the river crossing was not even essential – I just wanted to ‘try it out’)
And so the articles below are about these experiences, and about living with my warm wonderful and spectacular new friends from Biama.