AID IN THE H I M A L A YA S Wo r d s : C r i s t i n a M a r t i n e l i H U M A N I TA R I A N S pectacularly jagged, arid mountains surround the former Buddhist kingdom of Ladakh. At the average altitude of almost 4’000 metres (17’000 feet) above sea level, the local inhabitants, most of them are Buddhists, form a remarkably well-balanced society. While most Ladakhis are cash poor, traditional mud brick homes are large, comfortable and self-sufficient in fuel and dairy products, organic vegetables, wheat, barley, mustard and fruits (apricots, walnuts, apples). Such self-sufficiency is an incredible achievement given the short growing season from April until September and limited arable land in this high-altitude desert, where precious water supplies is laboriously channeled from glacier-melt mountain streams through cleverly arranged irrigation systems. The climate is dry and the temperatures are extreme. They easily reach above 30° Celsius in summer, the nights being fresh and chilly. In winter, the mercury can drop until minus 30° Celsius. Picturesque monasteries crown rocky outcrops amid whitewashed stupas and mani walls are topped with mantra-inscribed pebbles. Colourful fluttering prayer flags spread their mantras with the mountain breeze. Ladakh is famed for crystal-blue skies and scenic landscapes. The region enjoys sunshine an average of 300 days a year, but storms can brew suddenly and heavy rain can cause devastating (localised) mudslides. Article Ladakh has been open to tourists since 1974, and lots of infrastructure work has been completed, not only in the tourism sector. But even so, there are still some corners of this amazing region where the commercialisation of the modern world did not have a big impact yet. The local people are still living contentedly in their traditional way. «When I first came to Ladakh in the mid 1990’s, the region could only be reached by road or by the infrequent few flights per week. Communication to my family was only possible using the public telephones in Leh or via postcards. I would often tell my family and friends of our trekking explorations and visits to different parts of Ladakh, some of them quite remote. The infrastructure was very basic at that time. While pitching up our tent near a stream or on grazing areas, children used to gather around, shared their interest and few English words with us. The adults soon followed, too, asking questions about our travelling or the clothing we were wearing. Some would show minor wounds or complain abo ]XYX?H[?\????Z[??[\???X???YK?H[?Y?\??Y?\??[Z[Y\?[???Y[?????X??\?X?YYX?[?\??\?H??[??[??\??X?\??]Y\?X??[K]?\?X??H???Y???[?\?\?[??\?[?]X]]?\?[??]Y?[?\??\?K??X??[?YZ??HY??[??H[????H\?XH[??X??H?\?H?]?[[???HY[????HH??KHXYX[?[?\??X?]Y[H?H?YYH[?X?][??\?H?X?[YH?\??\??[X[?]\?X[?X?[??]?]?H\?]X?\[?\????YHH?Z[[???X?\??H[?H??X?Z]?[??HZY?????]\??]^H\?[?\?K?H?[?[Y?\??\???X[H[??][??\H?]?[Y?[??B?????[?\??][?[Y?\?[[XY?^?[?K???B??