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Brandeis University

Publication Date

Spring 2018

Program Name

Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples


Situated in the rain shadow of the Himalayas, Ladakh is a vast high altitude desert. It's looming mountains, rocky vistas, crystalline lakes, and unique indigenous culture makes Ladakh not only a favorite destination for adventurers, thrill seekers, and camera toters of all types, but also marks it as one of the most ecologically fragile areas in the world. However, Ladakh has only been open for tourism since 1974. Prior to then, the region was fairly isolated, open to travellers only a few months of the year, when the high, icy passes melted enough to let trade through. In the time since then, tourism has increased from less than a thousand people, mostly foreigners, to nearly 250,000 people, primarily domestic tourists, arriving in 2017. Tourism, interconnectivity, and development have had immense consequences for Ladakh’s environment and society. Prior to 1974, Ladakh was almost completely self-sufficient; now, tourism is replacing agriculture as the main component of Ladakh’s GDP. Additionally, effects of global climate change threaten the region’s livelihood and water supply.

In this ISP, I explore identity and resilience in the face of change from the perspective of Ladakhis and tourists. How does tourism and interconnectivity affect the environment and the culture, and what kinds of narratives do Ladakhis create about these changes? How do the ideas of “tradition” and “ecology” intersect with Ladakhi identity, and how are they mobilized as antithetical to change? How do tourist relate to Ladakh, and how does this relationship affect Ladakhis? Through twenty-five interviews and the lens of discourse analysis and environmental anthropology, I show that, despite change, Ladakhi identity persists.


Asian Studies | Nature and Society Relations | Tourism


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