Villagers in India's Himalayan landscape grapple with tourism boom

Wed Oct 12, 2016 7:40am EDT
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By Cathal McNaughton

LEH, India (Reuters) - Villagers nestled high in the Indian Himalayas are grappling with lifestyle changes in the world's fastest-growing major economy that are eroding their age-old Buddhist culture but opening up new opportunities.

People have long wrested a living from herding goats and tending wheat fields ringed by 6,000-m (19,685-ft) snow-capped peaks, while Buddhist monasteries dotting the landscape are a reminder of the region's ties to its eastern neighbor, Tibet.

Traditions are fading fast as larger numbers of India's burgeoning middle class flock to holiday in the tranquillity of the lunar-like terrain.

Yet living in India's remote northwestern corner of Ladakh still has advantages, says Tashi Phutit, an 81-year old wheat farmer and housewife.

"Now we can eat better vegetables and wear better clothes. The problem is people are becoming greedy," she said outside her stone-hut home in Stok, a village 15 kms (9.3 miles) distant from Leh, the region's largest town.

Residents of the village, 3,500 meters (3,800 yards) above sea level, use cow dung to heat their homes and solar power to warm water. They work together to harvest the fields of each villager, before moving on to the next.

Buddhists form the majority of those dwelling in Leh's rugged treeless deserts, but make up just 9 million of the 1.3-billion population of India, where Gautam Buddha, founder of the religion, is believed to have attained enlightenment.

Several thousand are ethnic Tibetans who fled across the border after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.   Continued...

Phunchok Angmo, 33, a mathematics teacher, poses for a photograph at Thiksey monastery, near Leh, the largest town in the region of Ladakh, nestled high in the Indian Himalayas, India September 28, 2016.  REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton