Ladakh’s greatest enemy is neither its remoteness nor its winter chill, but it’s aridity. It’s a treacherous case of scarcity amidst abundance. Melting snows generate millions of gallons of water. But as it flows into the mountain streams too late in the year, most of the water goes waste. Understandably, nothing grows in Ladakh in winter as it’s too cold. Cultivation is limited to the extremely short season of spring and summer warmth. Spring arrives in April but by the time the great Himalayan glaciers melt to fill the mountain streams, it is June.
Ladakhi farmers have always been in perpetual need of water especially during the lean months of April to June. Dry toilets, less water intensive crops, efficient farming practices were some of the ways they devised to irrigate their existing farms in the face of dwindling water supply from the glacial streams. But these practices made minuscule impact when seen as a solution to green the vast deserts surrounding the villages.
Ladakhi farmers need water in April to first moisten the dry, winter chapped fields. Then they can plough and plant the seeds. And then in June, the fields can be watered by the gurgling mountain streams. Except there is no water in April because the glaciers are still frozen. This predicament trapped the villagers in a perennial cycle of poverty. They were forced to wait until June to moisten, plough and plant the seeds. All this had to be rushed through in a compressed time frame. Thus, the earth was not sufficiently prepared, dooming the fields to low and erratic yields, even crop failures.
To be continued…