Discovering the hidden world of the Aryans in Leh

leh-landscapes-of-lakes-349608Landing at Leh airport and walking down to the traditional Ladakhi guesthouse, the Moonland Tourist bungalow, a kilometer away, was similar to what the first astronauts to the moon may have experienced. Large tracts of barren land, craggy rocks and mountains stretching from one end of the horizon to the other. The chilly September morning greeted us with endless warm cups of black tea, prepared by Mohammed Rasool, the caretaker of the tourist bungalow, where I stayed. It was like a nectar that I needed throughout my stay in Ladakh.
Being a strict vegan (no animal products including wool, leather, meat, milk, milk products or eggs), I planned to face the biting cold with sambhalpuri kurtas, khadi jackets and cotton earplugs. I also planned some high altitude solo treks, armed with apricots, walnuts and assorted dry fruits. I carried lots of herbal tea-bags. Only biodegradable stuff would accompany me on this eco-tourism trek. My trance meditation audio cassettes, tribal music cassettes, walkman and camera were neatly packed into my rugsack.
At the tourist bungalow, I kept insisting that I was a vegan and the Ladakhi’s immediate question was, “Are you an Aryan?” When I replied I was from Kerala, Rasool told me that on the border between Leh and Kargil, there were a handful of villages where pure Aryans called Brok-Pa lived. They did not rear cows or chooks or consumed milk or any milk products. Neither did they eat eggs, fish or meat. As these villages were surrounded by barren hills and at heights of over 15,000 feet, very few outsiders had visited the Brok-Pa.
I decided to spend a week studying the secret lives of the Aryans. Maintaining a detailed diary, I set out to experience what would be the company of one of the most fascinating tribes of India. My destinations were the villages of Dah and Beema in Leh district and the villages of Garkun and Darchik in Kargil district. I planned to trek and visit the most inaccessible pockets of these villages and spend quality time with this historic tribe.
We rose early and started our jeep safari at 7:00 a.m. The journey was as pleasurable as the destination. The 130-km drive took us through the villages of Khalatse or Khalsi, Dumkhar, Skurbuchan, Achinathang and Hanuthang. We crossed several high peaks before reaching Beema, located at 14,350 feet. Every photograph we clicked enroute resembled a picture postcard. The first glimpse of the Indus from miles away was a very divine and spiritual experience, like a speck of light blue amidst sandunes, rocks and stone. The closer we got to the river, the more beautiful it looked. We finally arrived at Beema, after a seven-hour drive along the Indus. The ice cold bath in the turbulent waters of this river steeped in history, calmed my body, mind and soul. The tranquility experienced while meditating on a bed of round pebbles near the banks of the Indus cannot be described in words.
A group of women checked my bags as I got down from my vehicle. There is a self- imposed prohibition in these Brok-Pa (Ladakhi word for Aryan or white skin) villages. The sarpanch had authorized the women to ensure that no alcohol was brought from Leh by locals, tourists or outsiders. After frisking my bag thoroughly, the three women resembling Greek Goddesses let me enter the government-run guest-house. Here I met my first Aryan, Sonam Thondup, the chowkidar(watchman). He knew a smattering of Hindi. Through sign languages and facial expressions, I tried to create a rapport with this quite unwelcoming Aryan.
I was the only occupant of the guest house. I handed over my inner line permit and letter from the collector Satish Nehru to Thondup. He reluctantly gave me the keys. The guest-house was located on the banks of the Indus and the view from my room was picturesque. The gurgling sound of the river was soothing music to my ears.
The next morning, I was summoned to the sarpanch’s house for a purification ritual. I had to trek 10 km over mountain streams to reach his house. Thondup sent two tough-looking escorts. It took us almost two hours to reach Laisthang, the sarpanch’s village. The landscape began to change and a canopy of green could be seen. Walnut and apricot trees stretched across the horizon and the fields were full of grain, ready to be harvested. I found out later that the staple food of these Aryans was barleygrown on the terraced fields.
We reached the hut of the sarpanch atop a hill. Women breaking apricot seeds to remove almonds. Hundreds of fresh walnuts lay on the floor.
Two old women came out of the hut with burning roots of an unidentified tree in their hands (I later learnt it was a juniper tree). I chanted the gayatri mantra silently. I was about to experience the cleansing ritual of the Aryans. This was mandatory for all visiting outsiders. The old women started chanting in unison and the eldest one brought the juniper smoke close to my face and symbolically waved it across my body.
Later I met the sarpanch, Angmo. As I was trained in NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) or the art of creating rapport through non-verbal communication, I started mirroring the body language, facial expressions and eye movements of Angmo, who knew only broken Urdu and Hindi. After an hour, Angmo asked his wife to serve me tea.
We began sipping our black tea when Angmo put some barley flour into my tea. I told them about my being a strict vegan and that I had come to stay with them to know more about their food habits, music, dances and culture. The NLP had begun to work. The sarpanch issued instructions to my escort to take me to all the neighbouring villages and introduce me to the orthodox Aryans, who still followed their ancient traditions. I saw two books in English/German with the sarpanch. I borrowed “The Aryan Dards” by Rohit Vohra for reading prior to my field trips.
German anthropologists had evinced interest in this pure Aryan race and a few had even visited and stayed with them. This book traces the ancestry of the present day Aryans to the pure Aryans who lived on the banks of the Indus 5000 years ago. Presently there are about 1000 descendants of these pure Aryans, who live scattered around Gilgit, Hunza, Kargil and Leh. They are nature worshippers and believe in Brog-Pa traditions and are strict vegans.
This minuscule community bars both their men and women from marrying non-Aryans (to maintain their racial purity) and polygamy and polyandry is common. Couples who do not conceive are free to choose other partners to give them a better chance of producing an offspring. Eighty percent Aryans marry in their own villages, while 20 percent marry from neighbouring villages. These pure Aryans worship the Juniper tree (Cilgi Deuha). Two 500-year old Juniper trees crown the village of Dah, which is the venue of the Bononah festival, held on a full moon night during October, once every three years. The Aryans, symbolically draw energy from these ancient Juniper trees by hugging them after a ceremonial dance. They also respect the swastika symbol (clockwise) and OM (symbolizing energy).
I started my trek in the wee hours of the morning to Dah to visit the sacred juniper groves. It was a dangerous trek as we crossed several craggy peaks, hanging on to tiny crevices for support. We could hear sounds of gunfire across the Indo-POK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) border. My inner line permit was checked at the army post. One wrong step on this arduous trek could prove fatal.
We reached the ancient juniper trees by noon. I hugged these trees to soak in their phenomenal energy. After that I visited a few of the elderly Aryans. I shared a meal with these humble villagers. The meal consisted of jo (barley) breads baked in an earthen oven, lettuce leaves, roasted potatoes, boiled cauliflower and wild mint. Women cooked in an open hearth, burning fallen twigs, collected from the trees in their courtyard. They worshipped trees and hence observed a strict taboo against tree felling. The simple meal was fresh and tasty.
The next week, I trekked to the other Aryan villages including Baldes, Samit, Garkun, Darchik and Hanu. The population of these Brok-pa Aryans could not number more than a few thousands. But the surprising fact is that they have maintained their racial purity over 5000 years and continue to practice nature-worship in one of the most hostile terrains at altitudes above 15000 feet, subsisting on a vegan diet.
Music and dance are a way of life for these Aryans. Both men and women wear colourful traditional costumes, decorating their hair with flowers and are full of joie de vivre. They live in harmony with nature, are cheerful and stress free inspite of living in small rock shelters. The weather in September is pleasantly cold, though temperatures in January can plummet to -20 degrees.
There is an unusually large number of Brok-Pa above the age of 70. Many elderly Aryans were active even at 90. The most striking feature of these people is their looks. Their blue eyes, round eyes, fair complexion and flawless skin, make them ethnically distinct from Ladakhis or Kashmiris.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the lives of the Brok-Pa is a belief in prophecies and recording of dreams. Most elderly members meet at the juniper grove and discuss their dreams as if nature was communicating to them through dreams.  The fresh mountain air, the nutritious vegan diet, trance music, chanting, dream ceremonies, tree-worship, dances and a way of life in harmony with nature could be responsible for the survival of this miniscule community living in a Himalayan Shangri-La and continuing to practice their ancient religion over centuries of isolation.