In Her Own Words: Yari Studies Sustainable Cultures in Northern India

This summer I had the incredible opportunity to travel to India for an entire month! I had  an amazing experience that I will never forget. I traveled through the company Putney Student Travel. This program focused on learning about sustainable development and the culture of Ladakh. We started our trip in the capital, New Delhi. When I got out of the airport the first thing I noticed was the intense heat of New Delhi’s summer air followed by the honking noises of cars and buses. Our trip to the hotel it was a terrifying but interesting ride. The streets had no lanes, so every car honked and pushed their way in. Outside through the window I saw people sleeping in the streets, praying, and there were piles of trash in every corner.

Our stay in New Delhi was brief as we departed for Leh in the region of Ladakh on the next day. Ladakh is situated in the northern part of India, in the Himalayas. The people of Ladakh are known as Ladakhis and speak the unique Ladakhi language. They do not have the typical Indian features as their ancestors are from Tibet. Therefore their main religion is Buddhism instead of Muslim or Hindu like most of India. The transition between a bustling city to peaceful beautiful mountains is mind boggling. Religion is just one way in which Ladakh is different than New Delhi. The two places can’t be any more different. Ladakh is surrounded by beautiful mountains, houses that spread out in the countryside with lush green fields between them. Ladakhi people are very kind, happy, and not materialistic. Their main source of income is growing barley and different types of vegetables. They have very sustainable methods that they have been using for hundred and hundreds of years. Such methods include using cow dung and human feces as fertilizer, and they build little canals that transports the melting glacier water to their crops.

In recent years the Ladakhi culture has been disturbed by western influences. When this first culture shock hit them, around the 1970s, the Ladakhi people thought of themselves as inferior and that their methods of living were backwards. Since then this region has been turning away from their culture. Sometimes the government even helps diminish the preservation of the culture, by providing subsidized foods that are not traditional to the culture; diesel fuel, which is extremely polluting; and chemically produced fertilizers that deplete the soil. The whole region seems like it is under construction. I would see old mud houses next to cement houses that were painted in bright colors. It seems though that the Ladakhi people are now understanding the consequences of these very visible and negative changes. There is more trash in their villages, the soil is not rich, and people are becoming sicker due to the changes in diet. Our job was to find out as much information as we could on these topics. We interviewed the local people and we met with non- government officials. What I got out of this learning experience is how the rest of the world can mimic the lifestyle of the Ladakhi people. They live in a sustainable way that has little impact on our environment.

Not only did I gain so much knowledge from this experience but the relationships that I made during this trip were incredible. I had the opportunity to stay in a school with kids my age, and they were the nicest and happiest people that I have ever met. They like to live happily and, unlike American teenagers, they don’t complain about doing chores and homework. I noticed that they confronted each situation that faced them it with a smile. For instance, when the tap water stop working and we had to carry buckets after buckets of water from the head pump to the kitchen. They made a game out of it, competing as to who could carry the most buckets. Or when they had dance parties. They moved like no one was seeing them, and truly they didn’t care if they looked silly. They just liked to have a good time. I learned valuable lessons from them, and made wonderful friendships that I will cherish, and I hope one day I can see them again. 

This month long adventure not only taught me about the culture and the environment, but it also taught me a little bit about myself. After this I have a sense of direction. I know that I want to travel and learn about environmental issues while still being engaged with the local cultures. I want to thank CCL for exposing me to different environmental problems here in the U.S. They have prepared me for this journey. I started out learning about lakes in Wisconsin, to wetlands in New Orleans. Without that exposure I would not have had the interest or courage to travel across the world.