The Himalayan Valley of the Aryans, Ladakh, India

The Aryan Village of Dah:
From where the public bus drops you, the tiny village of Dah is accessible from the road only by footpath, largely isolated from the rest of the world, its Aryan inhabitants seeking to keep their culture distinct. At a population of 4000, the people the Ladakhis call the Brokpas are one of the smallest ethnic groups in the world, and speak a dialect that they call Miramo, which according to a book by Breton Schwarzenbach, has “strong Indo-European roots”.

They also have their own animist religion called “Bon-Cho”, where they worship elemental spirits, mixed with Tibetan Buddhism. Some theorize that the people are descendants of Alexander the Great’s invading army, but no one actually seem to know their origins. DNA testing is apparently still inconclusive, although I’m not sure how or why.

And some German women have sought the men for their pure Aryan seed. While some of the men may happily oblige them, it’s frowned upon by village elders and the Indian Army (this area requires a permit to enter).

The stop for Dah is in the middle of the road, with no discernible buildings or signs, just a path. One then walks to the mountain side of the road, away from the Indus, taking a trail for approximately 10-15 min uphill. On the left, with no visible sign, is the Skybapa Guest House, run by a very nice guy named Lundhup Dorjey. His guest house is charming if crude, with three rooms on the top roof, and darker rooms at the bottom with bathrooms and a bucket shower on the ground floor as well. As there are no restaurants in Dah, we eat at the guest house. Lundhup prepared rice, dal, turnip, and spinach, which was rather welcome since we were all quite hungry. He also has a large mulberry tree, which I haven’t seen since childhood, and makes mulberry jam.

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Many of the older women wear “mew-tew-toh”, the flowers stitched on the top of their hats, a beautiful contrast to the green fields that they are often seen working in as one walks through the valley. These are apparently traditional, and I saw a couple of the men wearing them too, although theirs are not nearly so flamboyant or Frida Kahloesque. According to Breton’s book, a noted Ladakhi historian named Sonam Phuntsog says that the flowers are a sort of offering to the village’s protector spirits playing an essential role in Bon-chos, the Aryan’s elemental and animistic religion.

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The Aryans, which they prefer to the Ladakhi word “brokpa”, have kept their blood and their culture distinct, the group proud of keeping their Aryan race pure. This tiny group strongly dissuades both men and women from marrying non-Aryans, and was told that polygamy and polyandry were common, although less so today. According to one blog, couples who do not conceive are free to choose other partners to give them a better chance of producing an offspring. Nearly 80 per cent of them marry in their own villages, while 20 per cent marry from neighboring villages.

Some blogs describe them as strict vegans, and certainly, the food that we had during our two day stay was vegan.

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How Dah Village Was Settled: An Oral History:
Lundhup told us of a story of one of the early migrations which tells about three brothers, Dulo, Melo, and Galo (Vohra 1982:74-75) and how the valley was settled 800-1000 years ago. I found this story in detail in “An Ethnography: The Buddhist Dards of Ladakh” by Rohit Vohra, 1989 (Skydie Brown International, publishers). 800-1000 years ago, the Raja of Gilgit forbade the killing of animals and the use of flesh, so the three brothers went looking for land outside the jurisdiction. When there, they killed a goat at Dah. They removed their shoes to relax, and as in those days people wore straw inside their shoes, as they removed them, some grains fell out.

Back in Gilgit, they often thought about their new land where there were plenty of wildlife, and set out again to Dah (the book calls it mDa-‘brog). Upon reaching the area they had last relaxed, they found a crop in full growth that was ready to be harvested, and decided that they should settle this fertile land.

They also realized that it would be difficult for their families to live outside the jurisdiction of the Raja, so they schemed, and then dressed themselves as beggars to return to Gilgit to begin their plans.

However, they were caught and brought before the Raja, where they were recognized by the minstrel in the assembly. They were asked to dance, and in the confusion of the dance brought on by the youngest, who was dancing in a manner that involved pushing and confusion, managed to escaped, eventually escaping with their families. The brothers brought with them a stick of still-green Chang-ma, a stick of Stag-pa (birch wood), and the last a bow and arrow.

They eventually arrived at Dah, and planted the Chang-ma stick. The Stag-pa stick was planted to establish the settlement on the other side of the stream. They began cultivating the land but needed to dig a canal. They had no tools, and deliberated about this The youngest brother decided that wherever they shot an arrow is where they would begin digging a canal. From an elevated area called Changlota, the eldest brother shot the arrow, which hit a rock and made a hole from where water sprang out. This area exists today, and the canal actually emerges from there. They used a wooden space to dig, and the horns of a goat to remove stones to irrigate the land, establishing the Dah settlement.

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And, above, just so you know that it’s still me and you have the correct blog, here is a night sky photo of the beautiful Aryan Valley of Dah-Hanu taken from Skybapa Guesthouse.

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The supermoon over Dah Village.

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An older Dah Village house.

Dah Village Houses:
I saw a few old houses that looked like they were only 4-5 feet off the ground. I found out more information about this and the houses in general in “An Ethnography: The Buddhist Dards of Ladakh” by Rohit Vohra, 1989 (Skydie Brown International, publishers). The book states that these really “short” houses are almost cave-like dwellings and are dug deep into the ground due to the extreme temperatures during the winter months coupled with the scarcity of wood for warming and fuel. The walls are made of irregularly hewn stones, fitted well one upon the other, leaving little space in between. The small gaps and spaces between these stones are filled with smaller stones and pebbles. The roof is flat, constructed by first covering the space with long beams in a criss-cross pattern, then placing branches and twigs to cover the square spaces, and further stuffed with husk to provide no opening. The roof is then plastered with a mixture of husk and earth six inches thick. Each season after the snow has melted the roof is replastered with earth to provide a smooth surface. The house typically has one central pillar, made of the trunk of a juniper or walnut tree.

As one enters, one descends into a dark room. In winter, the fire at the hearth is kept burning almost constantly and the room is filled with smoke. There are no windows and the door is usually kept shut or ajar to prevent cold drafts. The only escape for the smoke is when the door is open. Sometimes there is a small opening in the roof where some of the smoke passes. These are the old style houses and are either not made or rarely made now.

Another sort of house, a sort of hybrid old/new house common in Dah is not subterranean, which is mostly with the very old houses. The newer homes are usually two-storied. The ground floor is used for livestock, and is located above the large living room. The stones are fitted as with the very old subterranean house described above.

The roof plays an important role in both winter and summer. In the winter, one often enters the house through the roof, and is also used by neighbors to communicate. Much of the time is spent on the roof. During the summer months, people dry their excess fruit for the winter. Children play on the roof while mothers do work. During the winter, the household spends time sitting around a smouldering coal fire under a covered shelter on the roof. They exchange gossip, tell stories, and do work like cleaning wool or making thread.

And finally, a new type of house construction uses sun-dried rectangular bricks from a mold. Some of the old and intermediate houses also will add an extra floor by using these sun dried bricks.

Lundhup mentioned that some of the three-story homes, including the older ones, house livestock in the bottom, while the second story is used in winter because the livestock keeps the second floor warm, and live in the upper story during the summer.

According to the book, there are about 35 households in Dah, and almost all possess more than one house. Of course, not all the houses are continually inhabited. The additional houses are located near the fields and are mainly used during the summer when the family needs to be close to the fields. Many families also have a summer residences or land in the higher reaches near the stream, also for use during the summer when the snow has melted and crops can be sown, and later during harvesting. These can also be used by shepherds for grazing their animals.

Questions that people ask me:
1.  Do the Aryans practice incest?  I didn’t ask.  But let’s just say, you know, there’s 4000 inhabitants.  They don’t intermingle.  They want to keep their blood pure.  The Aryan people from Gilgit in Pakistan can’t easily cross the border.  How else would they keep their blood pure?  My understanding as I mentioned above is that polygamy and polyandry were common before, but not so much now.

2.  Do the women and men dress with floral headdresses all the time, or was it for a special occasion?  For the two days I was there, they dressed like that all the time.  Some have suggested that it is a show for the tourists, but there were only three of us, and they did not know we were coming.  The colorful floral headdresses contrast heavily with the green fields that the people work in, and are a beautiful sight.

3.  Do you have more photos of the villagers?  Yes.  You can find them on my Virtual Photo Album on my personal website.

Thanks for reading.  I found the village fascinating, beautiful, and relaxing, and hope to return some day.

Please click on the photo to view it larger and more clearly!  Thanks!

Equipment:  Nikon D7000, Tokina AT-X 116, Feisol tripod.

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And you can go to the Ken Lee Photography website, which has more photos from Ken Lee.  Thank you very much for visiting!

 

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