Before the Snows…

I arrived in Leh greeted by people who now feel like old friends. Though we first met last year, I then spent the better part of my two and half months in Ladakh living and researching with these local monks, absorbed in conversations about the state of education and how to best incorporate Ladkahi mother tongue and traditional fields of learning into the modern education system. Internet prevailing, we kept in touch throughout the intervening year, discussing how to actualize our aspirations for Ladakhi education. With the support of the Phillip’s Ambassador Alumni grant and an Ashoka grant from the Khyentse Foundation, I am extremely grateful to have returned to Ladakh to implement the ideas we spent so much time planning.

There is a concern among many in Ladakh that the rich cultural heritage of the region is eroding due to the rapidity of change. “All things are impermanent” is a well-known Buddhist maxim and there is no reason to believe Ladakh is immune to this law. However, it is essential to maintain those elements of Ladakhi culture which make Ladakh such a unique place and not allow them to be trampled in the blind, frenzied drive to imitate lowland India and the West. Promoting the local Bhoti language, nearly identical with literary Tibetan, is a crucial aspect of this aim, as this language is the crucible containing more than a millennium of accumulated indigenous cultural wisdom.

To this end, I am working with a team of Ladakhi education specialists and experienced textbook writers to produce an ethical education, Bhoti language textbook designed to help preserve and perpetuate Ladakh’s rich culture. Our audience are 10-12-year-old Ladakhis, as this is the age when many leave their homeland to study elsewhere in India. Inspired by the Dalai Lama’s teachings on secular ethics and moral education, our team is composed of members of all the major religious traditions of Ladakh. Buddhist, Muslim and Christian alike, our team recognizes that the shared cultural heritage of Ladakh extends across these faiths; all communities, religious or not, have a vested interest in perpetuating Ladkahi tradition and culture.

Our goal is to have a fully-illustrated, Bhoti textbook, introducing the fundamental cultural principles of Ladakh, written, printed, and distributed in Ladakh before the end of the autumn. Once the winter comes, the snows will close the Himalayan mountain passes that separate us from our printing press in Delhi, more than 40 hours away by road even in the heat of summer.

On Sunday August 6, we held our first meeting to discuss curriculum development. Our wide-ranging, two-and-a-half-hour long discussion (translated from Ladakhi into Tibetan for my benefit) centered on the major social issues currently impacting Ladakh. With input from Bhoti language teachers, Christian and Muslim community leaders, and the Director of Leh’s Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, the ten of us created action plan of how to proceed with the textbook development.

We concluded the best source of knowledge for the project lies in Ladakh’s rich oral tradition of folk stories and songs, which pervade this part of the Tibetan plateau. Our core writing team has already begun collecting relevant Bhoti language sources and we are arranging research visits in Leh, Changthang, Kargil, Zanskar, and Nubra, every major area of Ladakh. In addition to gathering folk stories, we will interview community leaders to identify the major socio-cultural problems impacting their region and how traditionally-inspired, ethical education can play a role in addressing them.

Though we have much work ahead of us, we are committed to accomplishing this project. We hope this will be the first in a series of graduated textbooks designed to help youth appreciate, preserve and revitalize their shared cultural heritage. Through a combination of our diligence and with the luck of late snows, this year, we will provide a generation of young Ladakhis winter reading in their 11,500+ foot high home.

© 2023 by Jessica Priston. Proudly created with