Meet the Brokpas

The tranquil Ladakhi village of Dah offers much more for the inquisitive traveller than just its picturesque surroundings

February 12, 2020 04:32 pm | Updated 04:33 pm IST

A small stone house nestled among trees on a huge rock, a silent stream running at the foot of the house, and a green field nearby with mighty mountains as its backdrop amid clear blue skies. This idyllic setting is what life in Dah village, Ladakh, is all about. A visit to this place isan experience in time travel.

The inhabitants of Dah are believed to be descendants of Alexander the Great, the conqueror who came to India for trade. The legend is that three soldiers left behind by Alexander came here, and their descendants currently live in these four villages of Ladakh — Dah, Hanu, Garkhon and Darchik. Having read these fascinating stories, we got our permits and set out on a journey that would offer us the most wondrous sights. Driving along the Indus river, we take in as much of the fresh air as we could all the while marvelling at the incredible sight of blue-green waters meandering through the magnificent mountains. The 163-kilometre drive from Leh leads us to an unassuming signpost indicating Dah, and a narrow, uphill road on the right takes us to a small hamlet where we spot a few homes made of mud and stone, with uneven corners and edges, scattered among rocks in the valley.

Lesson in history

We findthat there are only two options to stay, but only one offers WiFi. Sonam Makspon, the owner of Makspon Guest house, tells us that he ensures guests have WiFi even though power supply is inconsistent. Sonam claims that it was his great great grandfather who founded the village. “The villages were higher up in the hills. My ancestor said that he will shoot an arrow and wherever it lands, he will build a village there. Water sprang from the place the arrow hit, and they then dug through the hill to form a proper stream. Settlements happened over time and that’s how this village came to be,” he says. It is worth mentioning that Dah in the local language means arrow.

The inhabitants of these villages are called Brokpas or Drokpas. Also called Dards, they are believed to have come from Gilgit, now in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. The Brokpas speak a language called Brokskat. What sets them apart in appearance is their long plaited hair, which is tied in multiple folds, and the beautiful floral headgear called tepi that adorns their head. The bright orange monthu tho (an exotic flower) forms the important part of the tepi , and lends it its distinctive colour. “This was how we always dressed but now the kids prefer to dress in modern clothes,” says Sonam’s mother, pointing out to her 12-year-old granddaughter dressed in a shirt and trousers. “Now people dress in the traditional attire only during festivals and weddings,” she adds.

It has only been five years since the village has been electrified but the unreliable power supply is forcing village youth to move out. “Youngsters are now going to Leh to study, and many often settle in Leh, Kashmir or some other part of India,” says Sonam, adding, “People will always come back, and tourism has increased as well over the years.”

There are only two places worth exploring in Dah: a monastery (since Dah is a Buddhist village) and a museum. There is, however, the Bono-na festival, which takes place in the month of October, to look forward to. A cultural extravaganza, people dress in the traditional attire — long coats and tepi , and sing local songs while dancing and chanting hymns during the Bono-na. What we hear about the festival from Sonam, makes us want to come back to witness it. For now, though, we sip on hot chai as the sun sets and cold winds start to blow. We watch the valley, the bleating goats, the green fields and the stone homes knowing that we are always going to yearn for this calm.

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