Imagining Ladakh

Ladakh has been on the periphery of development for several decades now. I started thinking of how Ladakh would be, if it were at the core of development, say if it was a nation-state that determined its own development. This thought made me wonder about the first thoughts that come to our mind when we think of a country. My first thought was about physical size. I always imagined that a nation-state would necessarily have a large territory, say much larger than the erstwile state of Jammu and Kashmir. So I did an online search for the smallest countries of the world and I was very surprised! The smallest countries in the world are dwarfed by the municipal limits of Leh or Kargil town:

CountryAreaPopulation
Vatican City0.44 sq.km825
Monaco2 sq.km36,000
Nauru21 sq.km12,708
Tuvalu26 sq.km10,000
San Marino61 sq.km30,000

I wondered how Ladakh would be if it were in control of its own development process. And so, I started imagining Ladakh as a country by itself where it was able to set its own priorities and develop at its own pace.

Ladags is nestled among the high mountains of the Ladakh, Zangskar and Karakoram ranges that are drained by rivers such as the Indus and Shyok. The people who live here reflect a mix of influences from the east, west Asia and various Eurasian regions. As a nation-state, it has nurtured its centuries-old tradition of music and festivals. The youth have an inexhaustible energy of explorying new and innovative ways of sustainable living, be it for house constuction or food production.

The governance is exemplary and reflects a mix of best governance practices from around the world. The country is rich in renewable energy resources including sun, geothermal and hydro power, which are tapped using sustainable technologies. This has ensured energy supply to every village in the country with surplus energy being sold to neighbouring countries. Energy and tourism have emerged as the main pillars of the country‘s economy.

Speaking of tourism, this country has something for every traveller; be it a romantic gateway for lovers as well as adventure and wildlife spotting opportunities for enthusiasts. This country has a well-regulated tourism industry and remains a treat for adventure sports due to its terrain that tests a person physically and mentally. The mountains are also rich in medicinal herbs and plants that have been used by locals for centuries and is now attracting attention from the world over. It also has an exquisite tradition of artistic prusuits including pottery and statue-making that remain in great demand. The country also stands as a shining example of religious tolerance and coexistence with different communities living together in harmony.

Similarly, its research institutions, such as the University of Ladakh, are conducting cutting-edge research on various topics including climate change, earth sciences, renewable energy, wildlife conservation etc. The education system is finely tuned to provide holistic growth of its students and incorporates best practices in each sector. Professional educational institutions like medical, engineering, and management institutes have visiting faculties, researchers and students from across the globe and have a pragmatic mix of theory and practice. There are government schools in every village, which provide world-class education. The toughest screening in any profession is for teachers who have to clear various examinations as well as emotional, personality and psychological tests. It is also the best-paying and most respected profession in the country. Recruitment for various jobs is done through a well-established transparent system based on merit. Similarly, promotions to higher posts are based on educational qualification, which ensures that people are constantly learning.

The political institutions in the country are based on the principles of equal participation by all members of society, irrespective of gender, religion and caste. There is a strong tradition of democratic representation and governance where people‘s voices are heard and help shape inclusive public policy.

Every village is well-developed in all aspects such as technology advancement, educational infrastructure, and energy development. The use of technology in agriculture has enhanced food security across the country. Apricots, seabuckthorn, and buckwheat are some of the major exports from the country. Since each village is self-sustaining and have all sevrices available locally, there is little need for people to migrate away from their homes.

Ladakh has strict environment protection policies that ensure environmental and social sustainability. Environmental and social clearances have to be obtained for all developmental activities to ensure that no activity undermines the country‘s heritage in any manner.

Ladakh is well-conected with the outside world. The international airports in Leh and Kargil are well-connected with all major airports in the world throughout the year. In addition, there are regular train services between Ladakh and neighbouring countries. The public transport system is well-managed, efficient and uses renewable energy sources. In fact, local people prefer using public transport than their own private vehicles.

Ladakh continues to play its role in regional trade. It is strategically located on the cross-roads of Asia and continues to function as a bridge for trade that links countries in east, south, central and west Asia. This generates substantial revenue for Ladakh as a trade hub.

There is no discrimination in Ladakh based on gender or any other identity markers. This has ensured the it is one of the top countries in the world that attracts the best talent from around the world. It is not surprising that Ladakh has emerged as a global leader in attracting professionals and tourists alike. It also attracts people from around the world to apply for citizenship and settle here premanently.

While I am not arguing that it must become an independent country, this is the Ladakh of my imagination. And as Albert Einstien once said, “Imagination is the preview of life´s coming attractions.ˮ

By Kunzes Dolma

Kunzes Dolma is an engineer by training and is currently a doctoral fellow at the UNESCO GRÓ-Geothermal Training Programme in Rekjavik, Iceland.