Grandmothers University – A perspective from Ladakh on globalisation

weaving in ladakh

Ladakh’s uniqueness has been calling people from all over the world – the mountain lovers, the seekers, the bikers, the culturally curious as well as the ethnographers.  Ladakh has only been “opened” to tourists since the 1970s.

As a result, Ladakhis stayed out of the globalisation movement – it makes a great case to re-examine what we really mean by progress.

The day after I arrived in Leh, I was fortunate to be invited to a workshop about raising awareness on how we could make a change in terms of sustainable living for a better social and ecological life.

This workshop blew my mind! It was based on the documentary “Economics of happinessfrom an NGO called Local Futures, founded by Helena Norberg.

“We are facing an environmental crisis.

An economic crisis.

And a crisis of the human spirit.”

This was only 2 months after I quit my corporate life I’d been in for the last decade. As a marketing manager, I became used to lots of data about GDP growth, technology and all that jazz.  I was shocked to see the reality.

They key, they suggested was to go local in as many ways as possible:

“Local knowledge is knowledge that tells you about life. I call it grandmothers knowledge. we need to create grandmother’s university everywhere so local knowledge never disappears”. Says Dr. Vandana Shiva. Author of Monocultures of the Mind India.

In the film, we saw the “reality tours” where they took Ladakhis to the west to see the real life beyond fantasy of “progress” that comes from looking at the golden modern consumer world outside.  Ladakhis farmers could see life in the west with homeless people, the lack of care and love in housing for the elderly. You should have seen their faces.

Not only in the documentary. When I trekked further to small villages, staying in homestays I could learn a lot from the household, a farmer and retired school teacher. He explained the wealth of a family is measured in tons of barley (a staple in every meal), not cash.

Many years ago he hosted a French anthropologist lady who lived in his house for 5 years while she was writing a book about Ladakh. And around 4 years ago, she invited him to Europe in gratitude. So, he visited France and the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, he found the “organic” hype, the signs in the markets and the price premium of organic veggies.  In his own words “now I know the value of our vegetables, this is organic”. He was very proud to share this with the villagers after he came back from Europe.

Life in Ladakh touched so many aspects of the way I was seeing the world. It completely shifted.  It gave me immense appreciation for the local, simple, honest life in nature.  Understanding that luxury is not about the fancy but the natural, in every realm of life: the way of living, the innocence, the simplicity, the understanding of nature.

That changed the way I shop, the places I go to eat, the way I treat my health with “grandmother’s knowledge” among others.

As travellers -if we are lucky, we’re exposed to ancient cultures, heritage in the people we meet and these beautiful grandmothers universities. I feel if we are open minded and a bit more conscious, these encounters can change us in many ways.

This is not just a one-way exchange. We also represent the outside world to them, the foreign.  Honest respect to me is respecting without judging, without infatuating, acknowledging the equality in us.

Travelling is not different to everyday life at the end of the day. For me it’s another way of accessing experiences to grow, to awaken, to become more loving and share it back to the world.

If you want to know more, click the links below:

Local Futures

Economics of Happiness

TEDxEQCHCH – Helena Norberg-Hodge – The Economics of Happiness



If you’d like to know more about the Himalayan Odyssey in India, visit the tour page here.

A three week journey into Indian mysticism, cultural, nature in a meditative, non-touristy way.

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