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iXiGOers Dec 09 2012

What is the history and culture of Alchi?

Manish Kumar DEC 10 2012
0 people found this answer useful Useful ?Yes

There is a local saying which goes something like “Only the staunchest of enemies or the best of friends come visit us”, hinting at the remoteness of this small hidden village. Alchi was known for being an important religious centre for Buddhism, but despite the numerous inscriptions on the walls of the famous Alchi-Choskor monastery, built as far back as the 10th century, the history of this village is still obscure.

There have been manuscripts and other historical finds which hint at the whole of Ladakh being a part of the Kushan Empire in the 1st century, followed by becoming a part of the kingdom of the Kashmiri king, Lalitaditya, in the 8th century.  But the history begins to take a more coherent shape, only in the 10th century, when a Tibetan royal offshoot, Nyima-Gon, decided to set his roots in Ladakh, reintroducing Buddhism as well.

His grandson, Yesh-es-od of Guge, sent for a scholar named Rinchen-Zangpo to study and rejuvenate the Buddhist culture in his kingdom. Zangpo, better known as the Great Translator, went on to set up a number of monasteries in Ladakh and surrounding region, one of which was the famous Alchi Gompa. However, inscriptions on the walls declare that the monastery was founded by a Tibetan nobleman named Lak-dan Shas-rab, in the 11th century. The monastery became inactive in the 16th century and is currently looked after by the monks from the Likir monastery.

Due to its remoteness, this part of Ladakh managed to escape the influence of Islam and Christianity, which infiltrated in other parts of the region.

Religion plays a very important role in the lives of the people. You will come across scattered Chortens (Buddhist shrines), which are said to ward off spirits and protect the locals. Prayer Flags, coloured with the five holy colours viz. red, blue, green, yellow and white, and covered with holy inscriptions, are another common sight. It is said that each flutter of the flag, releases a prayer to the heavens. The Buddhism practised in these parts, is overlaid by layers of Shamanism, mysticism and magic - quite different from what you’ll find anywhere else.

The local population is largely agro-dependent and quite self-sufficient in their basic needs, growing everything that they eat. They are a hardy lot, enduring the harsh climate which has left its mark on their weather beaten faces. Despite it all, they are a simple and friendly lot, always ready to pose for the camera with calm, beatific smiles. And if you happen to visit their humble homes, they would delight you with their warmth and hospitality, and greet you with a steaming cup of their local gur-gur tea. With only around a 1000 heads residing in the village, there is a very strong community bond, and different families pitching in to help each other.

To ensure that the lands are not divided into ever decreasing portions, with each successive generation, the practice of fraternal polyandry is quite common here, where all the sons in family share a wife and any child resulting from such union belong to the eldest brother. Apart from such polyandrous marriages, polygamous and monogamous unions are also seen. Due to such liberal attitudes towards sex, women are treated equally and are as self-assured as the men.

The local dress though practical, is quite colourful and aesthetically pleasing. Both men and women wear gonchas, a homespun robe with a bright coloured sash tied around the waist. Females wear more colourful gonchas and usually wear a lot of silver, gold, shell or coral jewellery. Women adorn the Perak (a Ladakhi stylised headdress) during the festivities. It is usually a family heirloom passed on from the mother to her eldest daughter.

For nearly 25 years post-independence, tourism was banned in
Ladakh by the Indian Government, owing to the fact of it being a sensitive territory surrounded by China, Pakistan and Tibet. In the mid-1970s, the doors of Ladakh were opened to the world resulting in a mass influx of adventure tourists looking for an offbeat destination. Though tourism has irrevocably changed the lifestyle and culture of the Ladakhi people,

Alchi has been able to stay cut off from the world and bypassed all these changes. It was a virtually unknown and largely ignored destination, until now.

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