"Garden of Eden"

My first encounter with the Brokpa happened during the Ladakh Festival which is held during the first two weeks of September. It opens in Leh, with a spectacular procession through the streets. Villagers are dressed in traditional costumes, and gather at the polo grounds below the Leh Palace. The Drokpa, or Brokpa, descend from the Dards, an Aryan tribe that moved into western Ladakh from the Hindu Kush mountains (Pakistan) centuries ago. The Brokpa broke away from the Islamic faith, and converted to Buddhism; but a wilder form of Buddhism, that carried animistic beliefs, from the early Bon religion. Offerings of sacrificial goats and sheep to appease their gods and demons, are still commonly practiced. Although numbering less than 2000, the Brokpa have their own language, communicating in an archaic Shina language, which is taught verbally, with no written alphabet.

©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

 

©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
                         Leh Polo grounds                     Photographers gather around the Brokpa

My local guide, "Stanzin Takpa," approached some of the ladies, and arranged a time to meet and photograph them, without the enormous crowds of locals and foreigners attending the festival. Most of the Brokpa ladies had travelled from Dha, and Hanu , two villages situated in the Dhahanu valley, about 163 km southwest of Leh in Ladakh. They live in very primitive conditions even when judged by the standards of Ladakh. Being in a lower altitude, Dhahanu is warmer than Leh, and many fruits and vegetables are grown here. Located in the middle of the Himalaya at 10,000', the Drokpa enjoy an amazing microclimate that allows them to produce two crops a year. Their lands are on terraced, mountain slopes, watered by ancient aqueducts. Apricots, apples, peaches, grapes, and walnuts, are preserved (by drying). Vegetables of all the common varieties grow in astonishing abundance - often mingled with a profuse array of flowers. As is their tradition in this strange and wonderful 'Garden of Eden', women, and sometimes even men, adorn their hair and head-dresses with the flowers they grow, although, recently, plastic flowers have become the norm.

The following day, we met one of the ladies who was staying in town  with her two sons. The day turned very stressful, as later, while reviewing photos in my room I could not find one of the wallets that contained my compact flash cards. It held a total of ten cards, and it definitely had gone missing.

©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
                      ThinkTank Pixel Rocket Wallet                               Found inside his coat

I contacted Stanzin, and we headed back to the home where the Brokpa lady was staying. I had remembered that, while taking photos, my camera bag was open, and her youngest son had been playing in the area. Stanzin explained what had happened, and when his mother reached inside his coat, she found the missing wallet. I quickly exchanged the wallet for a small stuffed animal that I had brought from home.

©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
                Flowers in her hair                                                   Without flowers
©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
               Leading the way                                                             Candle light

 

"Yangchen Lhamo" lives with her family in Leh. She seemed to be the center of attention among the photographers who attended the Ladakh Festival; in fact, I had noticed her photo on several postcard stands. She turned out to be one of the ladies that Stanzin had made arrangements with, the previous day.

©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

                            The Brokpa or Drokpa  are one of the most extraordinary cultures in all of the Himalaya.  

©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
           They call these hats “Ko”                                                                Jewelry and Ornaments
©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved  

 


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