English | Dutch
Lack of respect in Ladakh
Leh (India), September 4th 2007
Feeling ashamed for the behaviour of someone else! Not just for once, but time after time we are astonished by the extreme amount of ignorance that some of our fellow western tourists display. Those heroes can be divided in three classes: the “without shorts no holiday feeling”-group, the wannabe National Geographic photographers but you also have the extreme class with outrageous behaviour. The Ladakh festival is created for tourists, so it is the exquisite opportunity to see all those classes in action from nearby.

One of the supposed highlights of the festival would be the masked dance of the monks of Thiksey monastery. This is the opportunity to see dances, clothes and masks that are normally only shown during the religious festivals in winter. Due to heavy snowfall, most tourists are not able to come to this region during the religious festivals, making the Ladakh festival the only way to see these dances. Therefore, the truly interested take their seat at least one hour before the start. Finally, these seats appear to be the worst position because latecomers go and stand right before their nose. This group of latecomers consists for a large part of men with hairy legs and women with sexy tops. Without any notion of the place where they are, they dress in shorts to feel the wind touching their legs. This must be the feeling where they long for during their workdays, this is the sensation of freedom that they call holyday. Either they don’t know that they offend monks and locals with the way they dress, or even worse: they don’t care. Not knowing is almost impossible because every book or guidebook mentions that you should cover shoulders and legs, especially when visiting a monastery. Even the Tourist Information has flyers to show how you should dress if you don’t want to offend locals.

At the beginning of the dances, the wannabe National Geographic photographers start to move nervously. To avoid having other tourists in their frame, they crawl forward. The idea of being in front, will get themselves on the picture of 100 others does not bother them. As long as their own picture is good, it does not matter to spoil the shot of everyone else. After half an hour people are laying on the ground, leaning on the horns that the monks are playing, just to get the perfect photo. Humility for the location where one is, or for the dances that are shown, does not exist. Nor is respect for other visitors. A question that arises is if those people don’t understand that their photos of these dances will never be the very special ones that you can find in e.g. the National Geographic. The special pictures are not taken on a tourist show like this, but on an authentic event. The shots taken today are just for memory, so it is useless to stick a giant lens under someone’s nose without asking. People should never do it, but in this setting it is also useless. Within the group of wannabe National Geographic photographers, people are wrestling to get a good position for the next dance.

The “extreme class” of tourists is an important attraction when the dances are disrupted by running wannabe photographers and as the atmosphere is destroyed by (for local standards) indecently dressed latecomers. Not to enjoy, but just to be astonished. Like the women of around 60 years old with a shirt with a low neckline to her belly button. (After bending over we can state that she was braless) During one of the dances, tea was served to the musician-monks. The moment she sees that, she stands up and walks through the dancers to ask a cuppa for herself. Afterwards, she is going to sit on the lap of one of the monks to put an arm around his shoulder to take a picture with him. The poor man does not know how to react.

After a few hours of feeling ashamed of our fellow western travellers, we are glad to leave Thiksey monastery. Later that afternoon, we walk to another monastery that is surrounded by strings of prayer flags. We hope that the wind on those hills can fade away the bad feeling that we got at the masked dances. The prayer flags flapper to sent the prayers over the world and we enjoy the setting sun. The enjoying is only for a short time. A car stops just before the point where a string of prayer flags is fastened. Two “extreme class” tourists get out of the car, look around and take scissors out of their bag. They use the scissors to cut a prayer flag of every colour from the string. Another option is to buy more than 10 metres for a few rupee, but those new ones aren’t as nicely weather-beaten. Enough reason for those tourists to cut their souvenir from the string. Not for a moment they put themselves in the position of the local people who hang those flags out of religious purposes. For them, the souvenir is more important than the impression that this behaviour makes on the locals.

In many parts of the world, people are happy with the arrival of many tourists from an economical point of view. In Ladakh they even created a festival for this purpose. Naturally, they welcome the hard currency that is spent in large amounts but they will also knit their brows when they see the lack of respect of some of the western tourists. We wander why those people have any interest to come here in the first place, if they are not willing to consider about the feelings of the people and their local culture. We suggest the Costa del Sol as their next destination!

Go back to home pageGo to Articles sectionGo to Columns sectionGo to Photos sectionGo to countries sectionGo to weblog sectionGo to about us