In Absence of Tourism People of Ladakh Resorting Back to Agriculture for Survival
While China and India clashed on the borders of Ladakh since May, people of Ladakh had their own daily lives’ struggle amidst the peak tourist season falling prey to Covid 19. It became a double whammy for the Ladakh region, which is witnessing one of its poorest season in the history of tourism in Ladakh due to corona and china-India clashes on the borders.
April to June is the peak tourist season in Ladakh region supporting it most economically after agriculture. Nationwide lockdown due to Covid 19 in March just before the start of tourist season in Ladakh and the clashes on the China-India border has broken the economy and tourism sector severely impacting lives and livelihood of the people of Ladakh.
Life seems to have come a full circle for the people of Ladakh who have gone back to surviving on agriculture in absence of zero tourism this season.
Till couple of decades back Ladakh had been an agrarian economy but the opening of tourism in Ladakh by Indian government in 1974 changed the shape of this region. Although agriculture is still an important occupation but tourism in Ladakh has been the most important economic sector engaging almost every household of around 3 lakh population. Corona and border clashes in Ladakh between India and china has forced people to go back to agriculture as a refuge for daily survival.
History of Ladakh Tourism
In 1948, Ladakh became a part of the Indian Union after the Dogra ruler Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession with India. Ladakh has been strategically important for India ever since as it shared its borders with Pakistan and China.
For many decades since, Indian government developed infrastructures in form of roads and connectivity and majority of younger generation of Ladakh directly or indirectly were employed by the Indian army and paramilitary. Ladakhi horticulturists got a big boost in form of economic activity when they were involved in the supply to thousands of Indian troops who were posted here.
The second and biggest boost to tourism in Ladakh came in 1974 when the Indian government, realising the potential of tourism in Ladakh, opened it to foreign tourists albeit with some restrictions. Due to strategic geographical location Ladakh was bound to tourism between 1948 to 1974.
Opening of tourism on Ladakh in 1974 proved a game changer not only for the tourism but also for the economy. There came a wave of infrastructure development to support the tourism in Ladakh. There hardly was the household which was not involved in the tourism related work.
‘3 Idiot’ Movie, The Game Changer of Ladakh Tourism
Between 1974 to 2009, 90 per cent tourists who came to Ladakh were foreigners, mainly from Europe. Only ten per cent traffic was of domestic tourists. But this trend reversed in 2010, after the release of the Hindi movie ‘3 Idiots’, which shows parts of Ladakh, especially the Pangong So Lake in east Ladakh.
In terms of numbers-in 1974 Ladakh received only a few thousand tourists; it received about 3,27366 tourists in 2018 including 49477 domestic which was an increase of 50000 from previous years.
There is hardly a family in Leh district of Ladakh which is not directly or indirectly involved with the tourism industry. Tourism not only brought Ladakh on the world map of tourism it also changed the fortunes of the people of the land.
Border Clashes in Ladakh And Covid 19
COVID-19 has brought the tourism of Ladakh to a standstill. It is estimated that Ladakh will receive only per cent tourists to what it received last year.
It is also estimated that Ladakhis are in arrears of about Rs 300 crores, which they have taken as loan from banks and financial institutions to build hotels, guest houses and purchase taxis etc. Recently, an association of the Ladakh tourism industry has requested the government to pay the interest of these loans till next May.
Since there are no tourists this year, many families in Ladakh who still have land to cultivate, have fallen back on agriculture. It seems as if Ladakh has come a full circle back to where it began. There is a saying in Ladakhi which says, ‘When you fall, you have to take the support of Mother Earth’.
(Stanzin Wangtak is a Ladakh Based Writer And Businessman)
(The views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion, beliefs and view point of the owners of asiannewsmakers.com)