“Down on the plains there’s so much cloud and rain, I missed the blue sky. So, I flew up to Ladakh and the clear blue sky became visible again”.
Thousands of people thronged the streets to welcome His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama as he reached Leh on 11th July for his month-long stay in the region. In a remarkable display of faith and devotion, people lined up from the airport to Phodrang a 7.5 Km distance that took almost two hours. The Dalai Lama’s visit to Ladakh is significant for a number of reasons.
His last visit here was in July-August 2022. On August 10, 2022, India flew the Dalai Lama in an Indian Air Force helicopter from Leh, the capital of Ladakh, to the remote Himalayan village of Lingshed. Photographs of the Tibetan spiritual leaders with IAF officers at the Leh air station and disembarking from the helicopter at a helipad at Lingshed were shared by India’s Ministry of Defense. His visits to Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, Indian border regions where China lays claim to territory, have always riled Beijing and evoked a strong response.
An important Buddhist center, Ladakh has also long shared kinship with Tibet. The first king of Ladakh was a ruler of western Tibet, who some believe, is the direct descendent of the last king of Tibet. The relationship between Ladakh and Tibet has not always been cordial. They have fought wars; some directly, others under the patronage of Dogra king. But the peace between the regions has reigned longer than the anger and the animosity. And for centuries, Ladakhi sent tributes to Lhasa through the hands of caravan, for protection, businesses and peace at the western borders.
Ladakh is an important Buddhist Centre. During the ancient Kushan Empire, Buddhism came to Ladakh for Kashmir in the first century. Islam later on guided Kashmir with the development of Islamic Empires. However, Ladakh not only remained Buddhist however also spread out Buddhism to Tibet in the second century. 77% population of Ladakh is Buddhist.
Many monks from Ladakh went to different monasteries in Tibet for higher education. There was a close cultural relationship between Ladakh and Buddhist Tibet for centuries and many monasteries developed in Ladakh, in the same design and style as those of Tibet. Like in Tibet, wood is also scarce in Tibet. These monasteries play a key role in the religious and spiritual life of the people in Ladakh. Leh, a strategically important location in the Himalayas, had also developed into an active and important center for commercial intercourse with Tibet.
Tibet and Ladakh are climatically and geographically similar. Ladakh, in ancient scriptures, is referred to as “Ka-wa-chen-pa” or inhabitants of the land of snow. Tibet is also referred to as the Land of Snow.
Bakula Rinpoche went to Tibet for his monastic education and completed the Geshe Lharampa degree (equivalent to Ph. D) in 1940 from Drepung Monastery in Tibet. Soon after completing his Gehse degree, Kushok Bakula, on the request of his disciples from Spituk and Sankar monasteries came back to his native land Ladakh in 1940.
Ladakh, home to different Tibetan schools of Buddhism have shown so much respect to the Dalai Lama, their devotion and faith in the Dalai Lama is unrivaled anywhere in India. Ladakhis came out in support of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama to show solidarity with the leader earlier this year when the Dalai Lama’s act was misrepresented and wrongly projected by the media and some other factions.
In Ladakh, Dalai Lama made a visit to the Leh Jokhang temple where he offered prayers and blessings to the devotees gathered at the sacred site. His Holiness explained sections of the text “37 Practices of a Bodhisattva” on the first day of teachings, imparting his wisdom and guidance to the attendees. Over 65,000 people attended the Avalokiteshvara Empowerment in Leh. His Holiness the Dalai Lama also visited Tibetan Children’s Village in Choglamsar. Over 5000 members of the Tibetan community in Ladakh gathered for it. He interacted with the children and inspired them with his wisdom and compassion. On 31st July 2023, His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited Buddha Statue in Stok, Ladakh. During the event, His Holiness the Dalai Lama emphasized that world peace is rooted in peace of mind while addressing U-Tsang delegates.
One important aspect that His Holiness talks about is inter-religious harmony and the importance of fostering positive relations among people of different faiths and beliefs. He sees interreligious harmony as a vital step toward creating a more compassionate and harmonious world. about compassion and kindness towards all beings as essential qualities for creating a more harmonious and peaceful world. His Holiness pointed out that we’re all part of human society and we all depend on others. His Holiness observed that even if we have different ways of thinking, that’s no excuse to fight with one another. He emphasized that we need a sense of the oneness of humanity and a wish to establish peace.
Overall, Ladakh's significance for the Dalai Lama lies in its historical ties, its support for the Tibetan community in exile, and its role as a center for Tibetan Buddhism and culture outside of Tibet. The region serves as a place of spiritual retreat, cultural exchange, and a reminder of the shared heritage between Tibet and Ladakh.