18 Nov 2012

Ladakh’s rich Cultural Heritage speaks of our identity: Spalbar

Tsewang Rigzin
The valedictory function of 20-day training cum workshop on Stupa building & Conservation organized by Himalayan Cultural Heritage Foundation (HCHF) and supported by Ministry of Tourism & Culture Govt. of Jammu and Kashmir was celebrated on Wednesday at Chamday Monastery and Chief Executive Councilor, LAHDC, Leh Rigzin Spalbar was the chief guest on the occasion. In the workshop 15 masons from different villages were trained in Chorten building by Gyen Paldan Sonam of Lehdo and Tsering Tundup Tsamskanpa of Choglamsar, two leading and perhaps the only Chorten architects in the district and was of great significance in preservation and promotion of cultural heritage. During the workshop, the group of trainee masons renovated a stupa of Changchup Chorten near Chemdey monastery.
On the success and satisfactory achievement of the workshop, Spalbar congratulated the organizer and especially Dr. Sonam Wangchok, Secretary HCHF for his visionary initiative and selfless contribution towards the progress of the society and the region. CEC stressed on conserving and preserving old, ancestral chortens build with incredible faith and blessings rather than going for building new ones as they speaks of our cultural identity and are heritage not only for us but for the world and generations to come. In this aspect CEC urged govt., NGOs, LBA, Gonpa Association and people’s representatives at different levels to work jointly in preserving the important historical heritage sites and further asserted, “The ancient chortens have been neglected by the Ladakhis despite realizing their historical, cultural, emotional and religious values but tourism once again brought in light the significance of the age old chortens and the need to preserve them through conservation. This workshop is the foundation step and in coming times we need to undertake more of such works by initiating movements and generating awareness among the common people.”    
CEC in his speech also made a request to have library in every govt. and private schools and to have books on chortens varying in levels of difficulty and translated in English and Hindi languages, so as to educate the coming generations about the importance of chortens and to generate interest in our heritage. The President HCHF Prof Gyshe Konchok Wangdus, Secretary HCHF Dr. Sonam Wangchuk also spoke on the occasion highlighting the activities and achievements of HCHF and others who delivered speeches were Councilor Sakti Gyal Wangyal, AD Tourism Sonam, Tsering Tundup Tsamskanpa of Choglamsar and trainee Gyen Nawang Yarphel. Others present on the occasion were scholar Thupstan Paldan, Councilor Upper Leh Gyen Nyantak  and monks and people of Chemdey village.
Scholars and experts express concerns over the use of all kinds of materials while building different stupas today because the centuries old monuments, which are still in good shape and attract thousands of visitors, are made solely with the use of local materials. Yet they have survived for centuries despite being in one of world’s most inhospitable atmosphere with occasional heavy rain falls and snowfalls. The training workshop on Chorten building and conservation is a part of several successful and important activities taken up by HCHF in recent years. In today’s era of modernization and development, different historical monuments are being damaged while executing construction of roads and buildings and many historical monuments are at the verge of their extinction. Keeping this urgency in mind J&K Minister for Tourism & Culture Nawang Rigzin Jora had asked HCHF to come up with a proposal for training masons and to bring awareness about preservation of historical monuments which are the signs of a vibrant culture that has thrived in Ladakh for centuries despite harsh climatic conditions.

16 Nov 2012

Election of IALS officers

Dear IALS Members

At the Heidelberg conference three members of the Executive Committee
will be stepping down. These are: John Bray who has been President for
six years; Kim Gutschow who has served as Editor for six years; and
Gareth Wall who has been Treasurer/Membership Secretary for four. We
are grateful to all three of them for their hard work and their many
contributions to the Association.

In accordance with the constitution (see
www.ladakhstudies.org/constitution.html), four of the twelve posts on
the Advisory Committee will likewise come up for election or
re-election at the General Meeting.

We would like to invite all IALS members to nominate colleagues or –
better still – stand for one of these posts themselves.

We are looking for people with skills, experience and enthusiasm. In
practice, the main requirements include commitment to the IALS,
willingness to work as part of a team, and - of course - an e-mail

As explained in the constitution, election is open to people who have
been IALS members for at least two years in the case of the Treasurer
and the Editor, and normally five years in the case of the President.

Please send nominations to me in my capacity as Secretary before 18
March 2013. Each nomination should include the assent of the proposed
candidate. My e-mail address is secretaryials@gmail.com

Sonam Wangchok

15 Nov 2012

Two photographs of Phyang monastery

The first photograph below comes from the Moravian Church House Library and Archive in London. It is in an envelope of loose images, most of which date back to the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. However, there is no clue as to the identity of the photographer, and the condition of the photograph – more faded than the others -  makes me wonder whether it is even older, perhaps as early as the 1880s. Most of the Moravian missionaries who served in Ladakh before the First World War were from Germany, and the caption on the back is written in German. It says simply “Kloster Zang ngon bei Leh” – “Zang ngon monastery near Leh”. Zang ngon – more commonly transliterated as ‘sNang ngon’ - is better known as Phyang.

‘Kloster Zang ngon bei Leh”, Moravian Church House Archive and Library, London.

The feature that most strikes me is the monastery’s fortified appearance. The arrangement of the buildings in the front makes it look like a walled town or village. I imagine that they were designed in that way for defensive purposes, and that would make sense given Ladakh’s history of intermittent conflict with neighbouring regions.

In October I had the opportunity to visit Phyang with David and Naomi Sonam, and the photograph below shows the monastery as it appears today.

Phyang monastery in 2012 Photo by David Sonam, October 2012

As in the older photograph, the outer wall of the monastery follows the shape of the hillside, descending slightly in the centre and upper right of the photograph. However, almost everything else has changed.

The building with the larger windows on the left of the photograph is obviously a very recent construction. Similarly, the larger white building in the centre, which at first sight looks as though it is of some antiquity, does not appear in the older photograph, and must therefore have been constructed or rebuilt  in the last century or so.

In the 2012 photograph we can just see the red walls and flat roof of the Dukhang to the right of the picture. The same wall and roof is also visible in the older image and David points out that this is the oldest part of the monastery. While the outer face of the monastery has changed radically, there may be more continuity inside.

Overall, though, the two photographs serve as a reminder of the extent to which many of Ladakh’s older buildings have been through a continuous process of construction and reconstruction in earlier decades and centuries as well as in more recent times.

John Bray

Call for Papers: Interaction in the Himalayas and Central Asia

SEECHAC (Société Européenne pour l’Étude des Civilisations de l’Himalaya et de l’Asie Centrale, European Society for the Study of Himalayan and Central Asiatic Civilizations) is holding its third international colloquium in Vienna at the Austrian Academy of Sciences from 25 to 27 November 2013.

The title of the colloquium is Interaction in the Himalayas and Central Asia: processes of transfer, translation and transformation in art, archaeology, religion and polity from antiquity to the present day.

For more details visit their website.