Preservation of Spiti’s unique cultural heritage
Music – Songs, dances and other cultural performances – Songs and dances are ingrained in the very fabric of the social life of the Spiti populace. Most of these songs and dances are a common phenomenon in marriages and other festivals. However, there are various songs and dances that are associated with certain traditional practices that are not as common and hence are gradually getting forgotten. Most of these songs and dances are known only to a select few of the older generation and the current generation has gradually become divorced from the same. Ecosphere is promoting these songs and dances through tourism to enable and help in its revival and to generate an interest in the current generation with regards to their cultural significance and the preservation of this rich heritage. Ecosphere is also working on documenting the same through the funds it generates from the conservation cess kept aside.
Various musical instruments that were once the pride of the men such as Kokpo (stringed instrument) and the Piang (similar to the violin) are now hardly traceable in the Spiti valley. Ecosphere is working towards reviving them through the promotion of performances of the few artists who are still skilled in the same, with the objective to revive the tradition of men learning these instruments as a matter of pride and almost as a mark of being a complete man.
Likewise, Ecosphere also promotes the Bhuchens, a unique sect of minstrel lamas who were the followers of Tholdon Gyalpo (a Buddhist mystic) who invented this art form in the 11th century in Tibet. Having died down in Tibet and Ladakh this art form is now only found in the Spiti valley. Bhuchen performances for travellers is another way of contributing towards the conservation and continuity of this unique sect of minstrel lamas and also providing them with an additional source of income. Promotion of their art form and appreciation of the same by a different set of audience is a great way on ensuring its continuity and preservation.
Festivals – Festivals play a pivotal role in the socio-religious life of the people of the Spiti valley. Festivals such as La Darcha were an important trading festival which linked Spiti to its neighbours from Changthang in Ladakh to Kinnars from Kinnaur. However, in the present time the character of this festival has undergone a drastic transition. We feel that in order to avoid a similar fate to various other festivals celebrated in the region it is imperative to promote them in a way that they are able to retain their identity and character.
Handicrafts – Most visitors are always looking for local handicraft products and are more than keen on spending a slight premium on anything authentic. Ecosphere has set up women Self Help Groups in various villages that are now producing a variety of traditional handicrafts. Trainings have been organised in reviving some of the traditional practices, particularly that of using vegetable dyes. The products that are developed are then marketed through the Ecosphere shop at Kaza and also through various hotels, restaurants and homestays in some of the villages.
One of the key concerns of our attempt in Spiti is to be able to revive the traditional crafts and link them to livelihoods for the local populace. One of the crafts that requires great attention in this regard is that of mud (locally called Zama). Before the advent of plastic and stainless steel in the Spiti valley, all the utensils and other daily items were made from mud. Langza, one of the highland villages of Spiti was the hub of this industry and the entire economy of this village was based around the mud craft industry. However, in recent times the entire industry has completely collapsed with only very few craftsmen left who are skilled in the mud craft. Our aim is to revive this craft and link it to livelihoods of the local populace.
Ecosphere is also involved in the revival, promotion and preservation of other art forms ranging from thangka paintings, to metal work, etc.
Architecture – The loss of architectural integrity and the dearth of aesthetics in the character of the village is a common phenomenon visible in most hill stations around the country. The same phenomenon is rapidly finding a strong foothold in the Spiti valley as well. Most of the new construction that is taking place in the urban centres of this remote valley is RCC (cement) based, divorced from the traditional architectural style and these are primarily guest houses and hotels. As part of encouraging local architecture, Ecosphere has adopted a policy of promoting only those houses as homestays that are locally built and designed. In order to promote the significance and importance of local construction material and design we are also trying to promote those hotels and lodges that are using local material for construction.
Heritage Restoration: One of the major initiatives that has been undertaken in the region with regards to the preservation of cultural heritage is the restoration of the Dhankhar monastery. For more details see www.dhangkar.com.