10 July 2005

Book Review: Ladakh - Crossroads of High Asia, by Janet Rizvi, *****

Synopsis
This highly readable volume offers the first authoritative account of the history, religions, culture, and social conditions of Ladakh, the land often celebrated as the last outpost of Tibetan civilization. Relatively isolated from the rest of India as well as from Tibet by the world's highest mountains, Ladakh stands at the crossroads where Islam and Buddhism met and blended to produce an entirely unique culture.

Writing with feeling and personal knowledge born out of years of study and years spent in the region, Janet Rizvi presents much more than a mere coffee-table pictorial guide.

She explores the region's rich oral tradition, and its literature and artefacts, as well as its trade and economy. The volume also includes appendices on the Jesuits in Western Tibet and additional information for visitors, a glossary, select bibliography, and index. Now available in paperback for the first time, Ladakh will provide tourists, travelers, scholars, and general readers with hours of enjoyment. (from Google books)

Review

This is an excellent book on Ladakh, the author writes well and her research is accurate and thorough. She adopts an interdisciplinary approach, and her subjects range from the nature of the imposing Himalayan mountains to the convoluted history of Ladakh to the even more complicated present.

In the first section of the book we read about the nature and the geology of Ladakh, where water, or the lack thereof, has played a crucial role for centuries.

In the second section we learn how history shaped the region.

And in the third and most important part we read about the local traditions and how they impact on the present multicultural reality, with Buddhists, Muslims and Christians (and few Hindus) mixing and matching their heritage to find (most of the time) an exemplary modus vivendi not easily found these days in this part of Asia. Polo and polyandry, the living heritage of the gompa, the role of Jesuits are just some of the topics covered here in a captivating prose.





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