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Environment

Monks on a mission against depleting water sources in Ladakh

July 17, 2019

Monks on a mission against depleting water sources in Ladakh

Leh: While one might think the role of monks is restricted to the metaphysical needs of humanity or invoking spirituality, the ones in Ladakh are concerned with the ongoing water crisis and are working towards conserving the tributaries of Indus by keeping them clean. In line with the vision of an organisation, Himalayan Glacier Waterkeeper, 20 monks—also known as affiliates—monitor 20 villages, ensuring the water remains unpolluted.

A team head, who is in charge of the Leh region, oversees the affiliates and works with them to achieve this goal by spreading awareness and organising cleanliness drives for the villagers and local communities. The monks have been a part of the mission since 2016, when Gyalwang Drukpa, the head of the Drukpa Kagyu sect of Buddhism, started the project.

The monks, who belong to the same sect, decided to give wings to the mission by lending a helping hand. Ever since the inception of the project, the monks, with the support of the Hill Council, Leh, and the residents of Shey village have been responsible for the numerous programmes towards water conservation. In 2017, an area adjoining the Indus river near Sindhu Ghat was restored by the monks after people were disallowed from contaminating the area by using it as a ghat for washing.

Team head Dechan Yangdol said they, with the help of local villagers, managed to get the government involved. They raised fences along the river, put banners and boards along the road forbidding people from washing clothes in the river. The villagers also took turns to guard the area and stop people from using the shore for washing.

Dechan said the project took a few months to gather steam but their persistence has paid off and now the shore doesn’t witness activities that pollute the river. Random checks are still carried out, she said.

The job of conserving water, however, is easier said than done. Dechan explained that the water streams have to be looked after manually. He added that arguments also take place with people who refuse to see reason. “There are always some people washing in the stream behind everyone’s back,” she said.

Water in the area is dependent on the melting of glaciers. Owing to the rise in temperature throughout the Himalayas, Ladakh has seen an immense dive in snowfall. Underground water is being used up to fulfil local and commercial needs. The little water that comes via glacial melt is contaminated by animal waste, bathroom drainage, washing clothes or cars.

Despite the challenges, Dechan is hopeful. “Most villagers understand the importance of keeping their water resource clean. Besides, Buddhism cares for all sentient beings, organisms in water being one of them. This philosophy of ‘karma’ is deep-rooted in society,” she added.

The organisation tries to make the locals understand the importance of keeping the water sources clean. She added, “The monks, being revered in the community, carry a stronger voice and people follow their words.” The organisation religiously collects water samples every month to gain an insight into its quality. Dechan said this move keeps the people conscious about keeping the water sources pristine.

Gen Rigzin, a monk, said, “We have an old Ladakhi saying—’No water, No village’—which resonates with all Ladakhis.”

Besides, testing water at regular intervals helps them check for irregularities, he stated.

Chuchot Affiliate Gen Jigmet said he is doing all of this for Ladakh and wants to contribute towards making it a better place. He added that monks get posted to different villages after a two-year period and he hopes to spread awareness wherever he is posted.