& Their Life
The traveller from India will look in vain for similarities between the land and people he has left and those he encounters in Ladakh. The faces and physique of the Ladakhis, and the clothes they wear, are more akin to those of Tibet and Central Asia than of India.
The original population may have been Dards, an Indo- Aryan race from down the Indus. But immigration from Tibet, perhaps a millennium or so ago, largely overwhelmed the culture of the "Dards" and obliterated their racial characteristics. In eastern and central Ladakh, today's population seems to be mostly of Tibetan origin.
Further west, in and around Kargil , there is much in the people's appearance that suggests a mixed origin. The exception to this generalization is the "Arghon", a community of Muslims in Leh, the descendants of marriages between local women and Kashmiri or Central Asian merchants.
Influence Of Buddhism
Buddhism reached Tibet from India via Ladakh, and there are ancient Buddhist frock engravings allover the region, even in areas like Drass and the lower Suru valley which today re-inhabited by an exclusively Muslim population. The divide between Muslim and Buddhist Ladakh passes through Mulbekh (on the Kargil-Leh Road) and between the villages of Parkachik and Randum in the Suru Valley, though there are pockets of Muslim population further east, in Padum (Zanskar), in Nura Valley and in and around Keg.
The approach to a Buddhist Village is invariably marked by 'Mani' walls, which are ling chest-high structures faced with engraved stones bearing the Mantra "Om Mane Padme Hum" and by 'Chorten', commemorative cairns, like stone pepper-posts. Many villages are crowned with a 'Gompa' or monastery, which may be anything from an imposing complex of temples, prayer halls and monks' dwellings, to a tiny hermitage housing a single image and home to a solitary Lama.
The Muslim Inhabitants
Islam too came from the west. A peaceful penetration of the 'Shia' sect spearheaded by missionaries, its success was guaranteed by the early conversion of the Sub-rulers of Drass, Kargil and the Suru Valley. In these areas, 'Mani' walls and Chorten are replaced by mosques often-small unpretentious buildings, or 'Imambaras' imposing structures in the Islamic style, surmounted by domes of sheet metal that gleam cheerfully in the sun.
Status Of Women In Ladakh
The demeanour of the people is affected by their religion, especially among the women. Among the Buddhists, as also the Muslims of the Leh area, women not only work in the house and field, but also do business and interact freely with men other than their own relations.
In Kargil and its adjoining regions on the other hand, it is only in the last few years that women are merging from semi-seclusion and taking jobs other than traditional ones like farming and house-keeping.
Traditional Rituals & Leisure Activities
The natural joie-de-vivre of the Ladakhis is given free rein by the ancient traditions of the region. Monastic and other religious festivals, many of which fall in winter, provide the excuse for convivial gatherings. Summer pastimes all over the region are archery and polo. Among the Buddhists, these often develop into open-air parties accompanied by dance and song, at which 'Chang', the local brew made from fermented barley, flows freely.
Of the secular culture, the most important element is the rich oral literature of songs and poems for every occasions, as well as local versions of the "Kesar Saga", the Tibetan national epic. This literature is common to both Buddhists and Muslims. In fact, the most highly developed versions of the Kesar saga, and some of the most exuberant and lyrical songs are said to be found in Shakar-Chigtan an area of the western Kargil district exclusively inhabited by Muslims, unfortunately not freely open to tourists yet.
Ceremonial and public events are accompanied by the characteristic music of 'Surna' and 'Daman' (Oboe and drum), originally introduced into Ladakh from Muslim Baltistan, but now played only by Buddhist musicians known as "Mons".
When a child is born the family usually holds a festival for their relatives, neighbours and friends after the first 15 days, at age one month and after a year. All are invited to come to the house and are given 'Tsampa', butter and sugar, along with tea to eat and drink all day.
Wedding Process & Celebrations
When a marriage occurs festivities again continue all day with musicians and dancing. The first day is spent in feasting at the bride's house, the second at the groom's place. When the daughter of the family marries she goes to live in the house of her husband's partner. Boys are usually married or promised for marriage at about 16, girls at about 12. To make a proposal a relative of the boy goes to the house of the girl and gives a ring together with presents of butter, tea and 'Chang'. If the gifts are accepted then the marriage follows some months later.
The boy offers a necklace and clothes to the girl. The parents of the girl give the couple clothes, animals and land if they are rich. These gifts are known as a "Raqtqaq" or dowry. When the father of the family dies his place is taken by the eldest brother. The other brothers must obey the eldest brother. All inheritance of the family goes to the eldest brother and then to the next brother when he dies.
If the family consists of all girls, then the father will bring the husband of the eldest daughter into the house and all land stays in the daughter's name and passes to her first son. Both sets of parents must accept the proposal of the boy for the girl. Usually the marriage is set by both sets of parents, who will choose a suitable partner for their child on the basis of manner, health and ability to earn income and look after a house.