Raja Jigmed W Namgyal is the thirty-eighth generational descendant of the Namgyal Royal Dynasty of Ladakh. He is the chief patron of the hospital in Leh, which is run by an NGO, Karuna. He has worked on several restoration and conservation projects in the Ladakh valley and has thrice received the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Award for Cultural Heritage conservation.
He was a speaker at the Mountain Echoes Literary festival recently and spoke to KUENSEL.
Q&A: Your Highness has been in Bhutan for a few days, how do you find it?
It’s like being back home actually. The relationship between Bhutan and Ladakh goes far back in terms of alliances historically and in terms of understanding, art, culture, ethos and everything for that matter.
What are some of the issues the two have in common?
Is the Himalayan region taken seriously by the world since there has been so much of a change in the climate? Are we just a community from the Himalayas? Do we really not have representation?
There are lots of other questions that need to be looked into because we do contribute so much to the society in terms of Himalayan region. It comes in terms of glacial water, which contributes to irrigation, vegetation, food and livelihood. Himalaya has got its own tenacity to take on everything in itself, it’s like an umbrella, it absorbs in lots of things such as carbon emissions. From that perspective, what is the world giving to the Himalayas? In what way are they giving it to us? All these things need to be looked into. We as a community need to look inside and find out who are we and how do we create one voice as a people from the Himalayan kingdom.
Spaces need to be created so that people from Bhutan can come to Ladakh to talk about their experiences, culture, among others. It’s been too long since we were alienated. We are all into our own spaces but not really looking into how do we take it forward and sustain it in the long-term.
You have talked about the need for the region to have one voice but the region seems to be fragmented with countries having different agendas.
I think fragmentation is definitely there. I can understand the situation we all are going through. But we can always try hard, and bring in initiatives and begin it somewhere. So it is not that difficult. If something like Mountain Echoes can play a role in a way why can’t we all do it together?
Is it about climate change alone that we need to talk about?
When you are talking about a cultural landscape or environment, everything comes into it. In my case, there used to be a time when we never used to have rain. We didn’t even know what monsoons were all about. Now things have changed so much. We are suddenly looking into this issue of how to deal with rain because our buildings and monasteries are all made of mud mortar and wood. Everything from cultural heritage, environment to climate change is interconnected.
You have been a champion in conserving the heritage sites, any suggestion for us?
Ladakh is not really a champion but it’s that because it comes with a responsibility. I come from an old family, which goes back to Langdarma’s period and being a direct descendant of Songtsen Gampo’s family lineage, it has a heavy baggage to it. But I think in our own ways, I am contributing by doing certain kind of conservations and trying to keep it for the future generations for them to harness and enjoy it, and continue the legacy.
You have been in a democratic country for a long time while it has only been eight years for Bhutan. What challenges and opportunities do you see for us?
There are lots of challenges. I think His Majesty The King Jigme Singye Wangchuck really has a big heart to give people a taste of democracy. I think it is a great contribution on the way he has taken forward his whole vision and slowly and steadily giving space to people and community so that they could talk and reflect on it, to think about how we shape the overall situation of the country.
It is difficult also but at the same time he has created this balance between royal patronage and the community. So he has drawn a fine line to ensure that the bond between the community and the King remains and I think that is very important.
Your message to the youth in Bhutan
My message to the youth would be that it is very important for the younger generation to absorb and understand the rich cultural heritage of Bhutan. You all have to take the responsibility of carrying forward the legacy and take pride in what you have. And that’s the only way you can save your identity, which is again very critical. So youth are all custodians.