11 July 2005

Book Review/Recensione: Ancient Futures, Learning from Ladakh, by Helena Norberg-Hodge, ***

Recensione in italiano alla fine di questo post


The swiftly evolving socioeconomic life of Ladakh, whose people struggle to balance growth and technology with cultural values, offers crucial lessons in sustainable development. This gripping portrait of the western Himalayan land known as “Little Tibet” moves from the author’s first visit to idyllic, nonindustrial Ladakh in 1974 to the present, tracking profound changes as the region was opened to foreign tourists, Western goods and technologies, and pressures for economic growth.

These changes in turn brought generational conflict, unemployment, inflation, environmental damage, and threats to the traditional way of life. Appalled by these negative impacts, the author helped establish the Ladakh Project (later renamed the International Society for Ecology and Culture) to seek sustainable solutions that preserve cultural integrity and environmental health, while addressing the Ladakhis’ hunger for modernization. This model undertaking effectively combines educational programs for all social levels with the design, demonstration, and promotion of appropriate technologies such as solar heating and small-scale hydro power.


The book is very interesting because it provides a first hand account of life in Ladakh by a passionate writer who loves her subject and spares no effort to understand reality in depth. Helena Norberg-Hodge spent many years going back to Ladakh and has produced a thorough study of how the land is changing under the impact of modernity.

While I appreciate her investigations, and recommend the book, I don't agree with her main thesis, that Ladakh was a happy land where people coexisted in harmony and is now going down the drain because of globalization and modern technology.

Ladakh in the past was a very hard place to live in: there were many wars, religious internecine and not infrequent famines because of natural events such as draught and plagues because of locusts swarming. In 2006 I have witnessed one myself in the Zanskar valley, where millions of locusts, who can eat the equivalent of their own body mass of 2 grams each day in wheat or barley, were destroying the local crop. Illiteracy was extremely widespread and the average life span was shortened by the lack of medicine and hospital care.

I also find it difficult to understand that the "old Ladakh" model could be applicable to modern Western society, as the author suggests. Yes we could certainly learn how to respect our elders and share our resources, but it seems to me rather far fetched that we could in any way replicate that lifestyle.

The author has also produced a movie on this subject.


Il libro è interessante perché ci fornisce una visione di prima mano della vita in Ladakh da parte di una scrittrice appassionata che ama questo paese e non si risparmia per comprenderlo in profondità. Helena Norberg-Hodge è tornata molte volte in Ladakh ed ha scritto uno studio su come questa regione sta cambiando sotto la spinta della tecnologia e la modernità.

Apprezzo molto la sua ricerca, e consiglio di leggere il libro, ma non sono d'accordo con la sua tesi principale, e cioè che il Ladakh era una terra felice dove la gente conviveva pacificamente e che ora viene rovinata  a causa di globalizzazione e tecnologia.

Ladakh in passato era un posto difficile. Ci sono state tante guerre, lotte fratricide anche a carattere religioso, e ccarestie dovute ad eventi naturali quali siccità e invasioni di locuste che distruggevano in pochi giorni il raccolto di una stagione. ne ho potuta vedere una io stesso nel 2006. L'analfabetismo era diffusissimo e la vita media era accorciata da mancanza di medicine ed ospedali.

Mi viene ancora più difficile capire come il modello del "vecchio Ladakh" possa essere applicabile in occidente, come l'autrice vuole proporre. Certamente potremmo imparare a prenderci più cura dei nostri anziani e condividere le nostre risorse, ma mi pare romanticamente utopistico pensare di poter raggiungere la felicità ritornando ad un epoca di agricoltura di sussistenza.

L'autrice ha prodotto un film. Lo si può vedere qui.

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