Note: This article was written with inputs and assistance from Kunzang Deachen (Local Futures) and Rigzin Wangmo Lachic (Dolkhar Ladakh).
Today we are going to introduce to you an international non-profit organization called Local Futures that is dedicated to renewing ecological and social well-being by strengthening communities and local economies worldwide. Local Futures (LF) was founded in 1978 to counteract the forces eroding Ladakh’s indigenous culture. Helena Norberg-Hodge who is the founder of the organization first came to Ladakh in 1975, when the region was open to tourism and “development”. She found communities and a place-based agrarian culture that despite scarce resources and a grueling climate had sustainably met the Ladakhis material and psychological needs for hundreds of years. The lessons learned from this thriving culture and from the social and ecological fallout that was a consequence of Ladakh being opened up to the global economy inspired her to start Local Futures.
The organization raises awareness about the power of ‘going local’ as a key strategy for restoring ecological, social and spiritual well-being. Their curation of films, books, toolkits, blogs, podcasts, webinars, workshops, conferences and campaigns is helping to build an international movement for systemic change.
LF conducts a variety of activities in Ladakh, one of which is called 'Mindful Travel in Ladakh'. It provides guidelines for culturally, economically, and environmentally responsible behavior as well as helps tourists become more conscious of their impact on the area. Additionally, it encourages global localization, critically examines "big picture" economic and development challenges, and cultivates cross-cultural discussions and understanding between tourists and Ladakhis.
LF also organizes film screenings and discussion sessions in different locations in Ladakh. The ‘Help in the Village’ program is also an important part of mindful travel as people including locals have the opportunity to help villagers who are suffering due to rapid urban migration. It is not only impacting the food production system but also widely affecting the traditional knowledge and ways of living in this region. LF has created an informative and eco-conscious brochure that includes some dos and don’ts and an eco map listing some of the places that they recommend to visit or know about.
Here are some organizations that you may visit if you wish to get involved and contribute while staying in Ladakh. Their locations are also marked on the eco map on LF’s website to get involved and contribute while in Ladakh. Most of them are located in Leh town.
I. Women’s Alliance of Ladakh
The Women’s Alliance of Ladakh has more than 5,000 members. The organization, which consists entirely of women, also disseminates information about how important it is to grow organically and to manage the water supply in the harsh landscape.
Location: Chubi, Leh
Open Monday to Saturday 10 am to 4 pm.
II. LEDeG (Ladakh Ecological Development and Environmental Group)
LEDeG provides support to the locals in many different fields such as constructing environmentally friendly houses, traditional and modern handicraft training, local food processing techniques, and value addition to locally processed produce.
Location: Karzoo, Leh.
III. Central Asian Museum
One of Leh's most remarkable buildings near the main market of Leh, this tapered four-story stone tower is a modern construction based on a historic Lhasa mansion and was built on the site of an old caravan camp. As you tour the museum, you will explore Leh's role in the Silk Road trade, with specific rooms focused on Ladakh, China, Turkestan, and Tibet.
IV. Ladakh Arts and Media Organisation
The Ladakh Arts and Media Organisation located in the old town of Leh, strives to create an environment where people can learn, create and engage with the arts and cultures of Ladakh. LAMO envisions an open space that nurtures arts education in Ladakh through artist residencies, exhibitions, screenings, lectures, performances, workshops, research, and documentation and so on.
V. Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust
The programs of this organization are meticulously designed to conserve the mountain ecosystems in collaboration with local communities. They focus primarily on building local stewardship through community-based tourism, education and research in Ladakh, where snow leopards and wolves, once disdained as pests and adversaries because of frequent livestock depredation, are now considered as Ri Gyancha or 'ornaments of the mountains'.
The Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) was founded in 1988 by a group of young Ladakhis with the aim of bringing reforms to the educational system of Ladakh. SECMOL Alternative School has an eco-friendly campus near Leh, where they organize residential activities for Ladakhi youth and students attending college in town.
Though there are more than 600 hotels & guest houses across Ladakh, as per the list from 2016 on the LAHDC website, the below-listed places are a diverse range of guest houses, hotels, resorts, and homestays across different areas in Ladakh. Each of these accommodations likely offers a unique experience, and staying in family-run, natural buildings can indeed enhance the overall experience of visiting Ladakh.
Dolkhar Luxury Resort (Tukcha)
Haldupa Guest House ( Malpak)
Greenland Guest House ( Changspa)
LEDeG Hostel ( Upper Leh)
Tsetan Guest House ( Changspa)
Shalak Guest House ( Sankar)
Rai-wa Guest House ( Changspa)
II. Sham Valley
Snow Leopard Lodge (Uley)
III. Nubra Valley
Michung Homestay (Hunder)
Horcho Guest House (Hunder)
Black Sheep Bed and Breakfast
HELP IN THE VILLAGE
Ladakh is known for not only its popular destinations but also for its hidden gems in the lesser-explored villages. These places often offer a more authentic and tranquil experience. Whether it's about cultural experiences, scenic landscapes, or community-led tourism, here’s a list of places where you can visit to provide help in the village. The activities in these villages start from April to September which include, sowing, harvesting, apple/apricot picking, experiences with shepherds etc.
Help in the village affiliated locations include Gya, Tarchit, Mud, Teri, Sakti, Likir, Tar, Uley, and Liktsey.
Here are some hyper-local restaurants located in different parts of Ladakh with contrasting themes that might be worth experiencing:
I. Tsas by Dolkhar
Tsas, which translates to ‘a kitchen garden’ in the Ladakhi language is a hyper local vegetarian restaurant. The ever-changing food served at Tsas, inspired by Ladakh’s mountains, people and traditions reflects a perfect equilibrium between European haute and traditional Ladakhi cuisine while drawing inspiration from Spanish, Japanese and French cuisine.
II. Ladakhi Organic Food Restaurant (100% veg)
Located in Moti Market, which is within walking distance from Leh Market, this restaurant focuses on vegetarian Ladakhi organic cuisine. Expect traditional Ladakhi flavors using organic ingredients.
III. Solja Café
Solja Café focuses on reviving traditional Ladakhi food and sourcing ingredients locally. Supporting local agriculture not only ensures the freshness and authenticity of the cuisine but also contributes to the sustainability of the region.
IV. De Khambir
De Khambir is just not a place to eat local Ladakhi cuisine but also a conscious space and a community where you can find local handcrafted artifacts and products ranging from traditional handloom shawls, books on localization, maps, artisanal jams and soups, woolen toys, local apricots, teas, handmade soaps and many more.
V. The Chuli (Hunder, Nubra)
‘Chuli’ means apricot and is a café in Hunder, inspired by local architecture. Their restaurant in Nubra Valley also serves Ladakhi food and the ingredients are mostly sourced locally.
VI. Roots Travel Café (Kargil)
Roots Travel Cafe is a one-of-a-kind place for travelers and wanderers to meet like-minded people who are passing through the transit town of Kargil, Ladakh. Thoughtfully designed in vernacular style using locally available material, it is a cozy space to relax, read books and relish some homemade local bakeries and beverages.
Ladakh offers a unique and picturesque setting for workshops, community experiences, and various events. In addition to cafes and guest houses, you might find community spaces, cultural spaces, and other venues suitable for workshops and gatherings of people of different interests.
I. Disko Valley Bike Park
One of the highest riding zones of India at 3500m is in Ladakh. You can spot the magnificent Himalayas on the horizon of Disko Valley Bike Park. Known for its mountaineering, bicycle touring, and bouldering topography, it is a remarkable initiative by unexplored Ladakh. An open space located near Shanti Stupa is also a good place for biking enthusiasts to conduct workshops or events.
II. Spindle Art Café
Located in the Old Town of Leh, it is a lovely art space with an art gallery and a cafe. With a fantastic view of Leh Market overlooking where you sit, you can immerse yourself in the books available at the cafe on history, heritage and art. They also organize workshops during the summer season.
III. Lena Ladakh Pashmina
Comprising a close-knit team of nomads, local artisans & creators, Lena is committed to putting into practice the dying traditional local skills of hand-making textiles, all the while providing sustainable & dignified sources of livelihood to the women who for generations have quietly kept these local skills alive. Lena has been conducting hands-on experience workshops in the Changthang region.
IV. Suru Outdoor Fest Campsite ( Kargil)
The annual 2-week outdoor festival in the Himalayas is the brainchild of Suhail Kakpori and Jamyang “Jammy” Tenzing. Jammy organized the first Suru Fest with a small crew of dedicated and passionate Ladakh-based rock climbers, which has now grown into a sustainable, sponsored event attracting climbers from all over the world.
V. Likir Pottery & Farmstay: ( Likir)
Settled on the edge of Likir village, a small family runs a traditional Ladakhi pottery studio that tells the story of the craft which is believed to dive into the time of King Gyalpo Namgyal of the 17th century, when the people of Likir were bestowed with the gift of pottery. The craft was passed on through generations and today, their family practices and preserves this craft, keeping true to the ancient ways.
VI. RDZA Studio Pottery: (Igoo)
RDZA studio pottery is a space located in the heart of Igoo village and the founder trains in a contemporary approach to the ancient tradition of pottery with inspirations from the high mountains and low valleys of Ladakh. They organize workshops as well as internships during the summer months.
LOCAL PRODUCT SHOPS
Supporting local shops and entrepreneurs is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the culture of Ladakh as well as contribute to the local economy. Here are some types of local businesses and entrepreneurs you might find in Ladakh:
I. Balkhang Dry Fruit Market
Started by local businessmen, this market specializes in dry fruits where one may explore the local varieties of food products from Ladakh, It is located at the end of the main market of Leh town.
It’s a great place where they serve fresh apricots and sea buckthorn juice. You can refill your water bottles and also get laundry done at reasonable rates. They also have a section for local organic food products, postcards & second-hand books.
III. Organic Ladakh
Organic Ladakh is a souvenir store selling local products from Ladakh since 2018. They offer skincare products, tea varieties, apricot products, seabuckthorn products and various other products made by people of Ladakh with love. It is located near the main market of Leh town.
IV. Ladags Apricot Store
This is another eco-friendly shop that sells products sourced from organic farmers of Ladakh. Dried apricots, jams, juices, dried almonds, tsampa, cereal bars but socks in yak wool, Yak cheese, postcards, etc are some of their specialties.
V. Dragon Supermart (Local Section)
The local section of the supermart provides access to a variety of local products from Ladakh.
VI. Hatti Ladakh
A platform for Ladakh's local artisans, including weavers, potters, metal smiths, etc., can be found on Instagram or displayed at Dolkhar Ladakh.