Monthly Archives: May 2016

Brokpas- Aryans in Himalayas : Touring Ladakh

Teaser: Ladakh is more than the magnificent landscapes. The fascination is with living cultures which are responses of human communities to this exotic barren environment. Wondering tales of survival and lifestyle dot the caverns in the mountains, one such is the canvas of Brokpas- Aryans in Himalayas…

chospel ladakh
My Friend Chospel In his full Glory – Baima

Aryan brokpa girl

An Aryan Girl                          

The sensational dramatic essence of Ladakh has been much written off. This border district of Jammu and Kashmir has become an attractive destination not only for foreigners who throng to experience lived Buddhist culture, but also large number of middle class and upper class Indians. In most cases people do not take guides and are self-initiated to savor Ladakh on their own.  The main activities are confined to visiting Buddhist Gomkpas (temples), engaging in adventure tourism, driving to experience nature’s beauty by visiting Nubra Valley, Tsomoriri and Pangong Lakes.    However a significant feature of Ladakh is its cultural heritage. Visitors can access the amazing threads of its cultural dynamics by focusing on three aspects: Life in a cold desert, Artistic, Ritualistic and political culture of the Buddhist Gompas (temples) and indigenous culture and communities of Ladakh.

One of the lesser known cultures are the Brokpas who are known as the Aryans. One has to travel and do an overnight camp beside the Indus to Dahanu about 40 kms from the LOC. Special permits are needed. An organized camping facility is set up by a member of the community. Their oral history says that they arrived with Alexander’s army from Gilgit. They don’t have a script but their language is Brokpa which means from the cold land. Their total population is about5-6000 and they live in five village in India and about four in Pakistan. On the Indian side they have converted to Buddhism, while on the other side they are Muslims. The community continues to practice their indigenous religion in which a mother goddess Srimulamu and the Ibex plays an important role. A fertility festival Chopashupla is organized every three years alternately in the villages of Garkon and Dah.  A gap is left for villages in Pakistan. It’s a five day festival in which men and women teach, flirt by singing and dancing. There are 22 songs related to fertility rites. On the fifth day it is believed that the Devta Saralyopa is embarrassed and disappears. The young men and women are now free to partner whomsoever they please.

These are simple, agricultural people who love to sing and dance. Both women and men wear flowers on their head. An orange flower Shokloh does not dry, it is worn and used in rituals. The women wear Bachi, a heavy goat hair collar, the men decorate their ears with buttons, silver coins on their head gear.

Before tourism was opened in Ladakh, two German girls sneaked and lived to participate in the Fertility festival in Baima village. Nobody in the village knows whether their dream to take back original Aryan seed came true.  On request the camp organizes wonderful dancing around the camp fire, with the sound of drums and running Indus as accompaniment.


Journey of the Buddha

Teaser: The World Heritage Site of the Buddhist Caves are called Ajanta which comes from the word Ajitanjaya Sthan – Victory to the Future Buddha the enlightened. Here the visitor travels out of 30 caves from cave 1 to cave 26 where  the metaphor is of  ‘journey’ which the visitor confronts through paintings, sculptures and architecture .dying buddha

Thinking Buddha

The Caves of Ajanta are ideal for Monsoon retreats and the truth is reflected in the  Upanishads (Indian texts of inner mystical teachings)   A place of meditation is one where the searching soul hears the rippling water, and his eyes sees the path of truth and beauty through the environment… this was why Ajanta which comes from the word Ajitanjaya Sthan – Victory to the Future Buddha the enlightened one was selected . 

The metaphor of the journey from cave 1 to cave 26 becomes important as the visitor confronts the world of Ajanta paintings, sculptures and architecture.

In Cave 1 the theme is renunciation but the metaphor is the ‘journey’. Buddha’s journey of questioning and dealing with suffering is illustrated in the sculptural reliefs right at the entry outside the cave; and alongside on the opposite side are the eight kinds of dangers and fears a common person faces in his physical travels around, These 8 dangers are called ashtbhaya. Inside the cave, the theme of renunciation is played out through the Mahajanak Jataka. Jatakas are moral tales on Buddha’s previous lives in different forms. With each life there is a specific quality which makes him a Boddhi satva or one who has the potential of being enlightened.

In this Jataka, Buddha was born as Mahajanak whose Uncle usurped his father’s kingdom and exiled him.  Mahajanak in his role of a wealthy merchant tried to regain the kingdom of his father. His uncle had a beautiful daughter Shivali who placed three difficult conditions for suitors to qualify to marry her. Mahajanak fulfilled all three conditions and married Shivali only to realize that the material pomp and show did not give him peace. He thus faced internal conflict. The painted panel goes onto shows his decision and journey to renounce material life. The journey of Mahajanak is portrayed on the left wall in Cave 1. The story is illustrated with a wide range of distinct figures wearing a variety of costumes and located in array of architectural structures is a feast for the eyes.

Once this panel ends the visitor is brought back to the Buddha, and there on the left side of the central wall is the thinking Buddha popularly known as padmapani buddh. It is one of the most beautiful paintings in Ajanta. A reflective Buddha is holding a white lotus. The lotus a symbol of the enlightened mind, white the color of clear thinking. Behind the figure is a beautiful peacock and a figure playing a musical instrument. These are symbols of sensory delights that hypnotizes the heart and mind of humans, and on the right hand side is a monkey, symbolizing the unstable moving human mind. The central highlighted figure of the thinking reflective Buddha says it all. So right in Cave 1, the visitor begin his ‘journey’  with the Buddha which ends in Cave 26 where he is confronted with the most sublime sculpture of Buddha in Mahaparinirvana or Buddha in the state where the journey of his soul escapes finally the cycle of birth-rebirth. The Ajanta caves is a road of enlightenment as well as one of submission, where the journey ends in cave 26 with the prototype of the dying Buddha which goes on to inspire large number of sleeping and dying Buddha in different South East Asian countries among many others…Here in Cave 26 when the ‘journey’ ends … there is only silence, and somewhere outside the cave one can hear the rippling water of the waterfall and the Waghora (Tiger) river…

Jafa Journey to the region is scheduled from 1st to 3rd July, you can register now. 

Jafa Journeys Adventures in Assam A Peep into Indigenous Lives & Pampering Palettes

Teaser: Mishings are indigenous community in Assam, Jafa Journeys provided the audience a glimpse to experience this fascinating culture where the highlight was on their array of Traditional Knowle…

Source: Jafa Journeys Adventures in Assam A Peep into Indigenous Lives & Pampering Palettes

Jafa Journeys Adventures in Assam A Peep into Indigenous Lives & Pampering Palettes

Teaser: Mishings are indigenous community in Assam, Jafa Journeys provided the audience a glimpse to experience this fascinating culture where the highlight was on their array of Traditional Knowledge Skills – Weaving Cuisine, Boat Building. Those skills which as a heritage identity has preserved both the environment and communities for millenniums.

Meshing Village
Mishing Village
Mishing weave
Left- Mishing Long Woven Skirt
Mishing weaving
Mishing Women Weaving
Meshing Thali
Mishing Thali –
food in Bamboo
Bamboo Hollow Serving
Boats -Meshing
Boat making by Mishing

There is always the debate on how much to preserve original cultures. All human communities want to get better facilities, education and job opportunity. But the question is about the quotient of happiness. Taking this debate further, one of the features factored in the Jafa Journeys in Assam was the visit to the Mishing village in the River island of Majuli. As a visitor, one needs to quietly observe and relish. It is impossible to present an entire heritage in a couple of hours. Hence, as I presenter I took the themes of cuisine and weaving.

The Mishings or Miris are one of the largest indigenous groups in Assam who belong to the Mongoloid race.  Originally they lived in hills, and migrated from further east to the plains of Assam which they found more fertile. The Mishings settled along the Brahmaputra River and adapted to settled agrarian life. For example, considering that they are faced with long months of rain and flooding, their homes called Chang Ghar are built on stilts using timber, bamboo and thatch and they are expert makers of boats. They are organized in two major clans – Pegoo and Doley.  The Mishings have an esteemed self-perception of themselves hence their name means Mi (human being) Yashing (Bright). Today several Mishings have been converted to either Hinduism or Christianity. However, according to their own tribal beliefs they remain animists and as such Donyi or the Sun is perceived as their father and Polo or the Moon as their mother.

Weaving occupies an important place for the women in the community. Almost all traditional homes have looms, and as part of their identities as animists, the women weave in very bright cheerful colors, symbols of nature as well as motifs of their own myths.

The food inevitably becomes an important symbol of a community identity.The participants on the academic tour of Jafa Journeys were served traditional Mishing food which was largely boiled, or had minimal oil, measured spices, exotic flavors and served in bamboo hollowed stems. Since a part of their life has to take in the reality of the flooding and the heavy rains, the Mishing culinary heritage incorporates a large scheme of preserving foods. Hence dried food is common both vegetables and meat.  In a small ‘resort’ we were served by the local community, exotic ferns, and vegetables made of banana flowers, delicate really small potatoes, alluring dishes of dried fish or namshing. Indeed sumptuous, delicate and the environment of green all around totally rejuvenating.





Jafa Journeys- Traditional Health workers of Ladakh

Jafa Journeys – Advocacy & Travel in India with Dr. Navina Jafa

Primary Traditional Health workers of Ladakh

Women Amchi


Teaser- Jafa Journeys hopes to advocate the prospective work of Centre for New Perspectives a think tank on traditional skills to help SOS launch a new program on reproductive health in the nomadic area of the Changthan Valley near the beautiful Pang Gong Lake along the China border.  Next tour – 8th-13th September, 2016

For five to six months Zanskar, one of the most remote valleys of Ladakh gets cut off from the rest of the world by snow. The compassionate protector of the medicine Buddha takes precedence to protect the local communities. However, one of the most vulnerable group of people are young pregnant women and small children. In this region, child birth death rate was until 2008 as high as 1:2. One reason for poor reproductive health was the drop in the number of traditional healers (Amchis). The Amchi tradition was male dominated and passed on through family lineage and they were paid in services. The amchi tradition is aligned with rural agriculture. Villagers and farmers collected herbs and medicinal plants for the Amchi who enjoyed high position in the rural society of Ladakh. Several reasons contributed to the decline of the amchi tradition. Introduction of allopathic medicine, cash system, along with the army who provided locals with education and new job opportunities opened with tourism. Moreover, the Wild life act instituted regulated picking and collecting wild herbs and requires cumbersome permissions.

In early 2000s Gary Weare a spunky Australian trekked these areas with group of Australians, and they decided to give back to the mountains and its people. So began in 2005 a unique venture by the Australian Himalayan Foundation in association with the Servants of Society (SOS) a civil society NGO based out of Leh. SOS has about thirty members from different background. This Ngo along with the Zanskar Amchi Association, the Amchi and Civil hospital in Leh had great success in improving reproductive health in Zanskars.  Among the major reason was their success in training about six nontraditional women as Amchis. As a result the death rate due to child birth has fallen to 1:10.

Jafa Journeys hopes to advocate the prospective work of Centre for New Perspectives a think tank on traditional skills to help SOS launch a new program on reproductive health in the nomadic area of the Changthan Valley near the beautiful Pang Gong Lake along the China border.  The plan is to address reproductive health among the Nomads of Changpa communities of the Valley who practice Buddhist rituals far more rigorously as compared to other parts of Ladakh in their daily life. They depend upon the traditional healing system in matters related to reproductive health. The traditional healing system involves consulting Lha/Lhamo(oracles), Onpos( astrologers) and amchis. Like in Zanskar, the traditional skills related to health is a sound knowledge system but the practioners need capacity building. Centre for New Perspective aspires to assist SOS to create culturally contextualized cadre groups of primary health workers comprising of local doctor, astrologer, oracle and nontraditional woman amchi. Jafa Journey to Ladakh brings to travelers not only in-depth experience of Buddhist monasteries, revelation of ethereal landscapes but the life of the cold desert and hidden stories unimagined.

Information provided by: Ishey Namgyal of SOS and Gary Weare





| BLOG ON TRAVEL & ADVOCACY- Untold Stories on Performed India on

I have great pleasure in inviting all of you to my blog on Travel and Advocacy. Jafa Journeys is an initiative where by we present a multilayered understanding of India not merely visits to tourist spots, but bring in participation of non state non government initiatives who address sustainable development. We bring in representation of living skills that have sustained communities for centuries, and I try to bring a performed heritage as Untold Stories of India. Do follow my blog, I welcome your comments and debates on Cultural Heritage, Sustainable development and tourism.

BLOG ON TRAVEL & ADVOCACY- Untold Stories on Performed India

Travels & Advocacy in Assam Boat Clinics on the Brahmaputra Teaser: JafaJourney bring out the story of the Boat clinics on the mighty Brahmaputra river, a program by the nonstate actor Centre f…

Source: | BLOG ON TRAVEL & ADVOCACY- Untold Stories on Performed India on

View original post

Women Empowerment –River & Weave

Teaser – Jafa Journeys are academic tours presented by Dr. Navina Jafa. This time the story is from a circuit in Central India which highlights Maheshwar, where natural and intangible heritage are enjoined to symbolically celebrate the empowerment of women in 2 stories.



Women’s Weave is a non-government initiated by Sally Holker. She along with her team have produced a story of success of handloom and the empowerment of women in a small textile town of Maheshwar. The first story is about the framework of history and cultural context within which the tradition of Maheshwari weave is located.  Maheshwar is a small town on the side of the river Narmada in Madhya Pradesh in Central India and is part of the tourist circuit covering Indore, Ujjain, Omkareshwar, Dhar and Mandu. The town rose in prominence when in the second half of 18th c the hamlet saw the reign of one of India’s renaissance, remarkable Queen called Ahilya Bai Holkar.

The symbolism of both the river and the queen is a living spiritual entity in the town. Both are perceived as ‘Mothers’. The river Narmada or Reva as it is locally called, is considered one of five holiest rivers in India.  Such is her importance in the individual psychological aspect of spiritual evolution that while to reach mukti or release from cycle of rebirth and suffering it is believed that one can bathe in the river Ganges once, or bathe thrice in the now hidden river Saraswati, or seven times in river Yamuna, but the mere sight of river Narmada is enough for eternal bliss. There are, many myths associated with the river, the most common being that Lord Shiva one of the main Gods in the Indian mythological trinity, meditated with such intent that his flowing sweat drops gradually transformed into a river. Both Shiva and Ganga came to reach their mukti by bathing in ‘Ma’ Narmada. Pilgrimage rituals impel devotees to perform over nine hundred kilometers of circumambulation.  The most powerful symbol of the river is that she represents Vairagya or detachment.

Ahilya belonged to the ruling Holkar family. The Holkars formed a part of the Maratha Confederacy and had established their dominance in Central India. There are several stories that are associated with Ahilya and the merit of introducing weaving goes to Ahilya. One version of the story as told by the town’s people goes like this : Malhar Rao Holkar, the Maratha’s military governor of the Malwa region once happened to stop at a village called Chondi in the modern state of Maharashtra. He was most impressed by a young girl who conducted herself impeccably while performing complex temple rituals. He asked her parents for her, brought her back and groomed her as the bride for his son Khande Rao. Unfortunately she was widowed before she even reached 30. As was the custom those days, a widow was expected to sit on the burning cremation pyre holding the body of her husband and would immolate herself thereby proceeding to gain sainthood where she would be called Sati. In Ahilya’s case, her father in law Malhar Rao Holkar not only prevented her from committing Sati¸  but appointed, trained her both in military and administrator affair to take over his kingdom  and appointed her regent for her young son from 1765-1795. She took control as an effective ruler. However, after her father in law’s death, there was opposition from some feudal lords who resented her leadership. Ahilya, strategized ways to win over lords, she commissioned some weavers from the Surat in the Western part of India to weave beautiful turbans which she sent as gifts from a ‘sister’ to the chieftains and requested their help. The chieftains appeared with armies in her defense. Young, small built and courageous Ahilya garnered the support of the Brahmin clergy by bestowing them with generous gifts and alms. The combined support of religious and feudal elite made her invincible. However, as the common tale among with the citizens of Maheshwar goes, the sending turbans had other consequences. Wives of the ‘brother’ chieftains demanded that they too be given a gift, and the queen then commissioned nine yard sarees which then became what is today known as the ‘Maheshwari Sarees’, and locally are fondly known as Sarees of Ahilya.

The young Queen provided the direction to her small kingdom just as the river in Jungian therapy embodies the flow of life or the goal directedness of the psyche. The river represents for the environment of the small town Maheshwar, the symbolism of a powerful flow, and one aspect to provide that direction was the legacy of the tradition of weaving of Maheshwari Sarees, which has been re-positioned in Neo-Liberal India in a manner that provides hope to the survival of the handloom industry.

Such was her rule that she has over time evolved into a symbol and has inspired or continues to inspire all kinds of creative energies, about whom the Scottish poetess Joanna Baillie expressed in her poem Ahalya Baee:

“For thirty years her reign of peace,
The land in blessing did increase;
And she was blessed by every tongue,
By stern and gentle, old and young.
Yea, even the children at their mothers feet
Are taught such homely rhyming to repeat
“In latter days from Brahma came,
To rule our land, a noble Dame,
Kind was her heart, and bright her fame,
And Ahlya was her honored name.”

Over 200 years have not lessened the belief that she remains alive as the reigning ruler. One can see it in the small courtyard house where there is a her throne, a remake of her humble court, her residential area, it can be viewed in the impressive  riverine landings (ghats), soaring temples, cenotaphs, in the woman selling a snack of sprouted black chick peas saying “there is nothing to worry… Ma Ahilya and Ma Narmada are watching over us, over you…” and finally in the rhythmic clacking sound of looms run by women weavers.


Travels in Ladakh- Sacred Geography of Medicine Buddha

Jafa Journeys brings facets of inherent life of the people of the cold desert. Healers that draw the energy from the Blue Buddha. The oracles Lhamo are special people who give energies to those who seeks her blessings!

Next Tour – September


Lhamo – Oracle Tradition


Landing by air in Leh the capital of the rain shadow area of Ladakh reminds one of how small is a human being in face of surmountable unconquered ever growing Himalayas.

The naked mountainous terrain where the rising earth glisten in the sun, where the crevices have sparking stones that seem to shine and remind one of the smile of the laughing Buddha is magical. The geographical setting enchants and captures the mind, and hopelessly reminds the conscience that this is what Tibet is about.

The overwhelming mountains evoke a sense of awe, sublime spirituality and fear of the unknown. Snow leopards, Yeti and many more symbols dominate the minds of the men who drive their flock of cattle across desolate ranges, or the challenges of the terrain that isolate humans as they traverse the vacant spaces, to discover themselves in humble ways. In this entire deserted space resides a distinct curative spiritual force of the medicine Buddha.

Bhaishajya Guru/ Yakushi is the healing Buddha. Blue in color, he is distinguished from other Buddhas by the iconographical symbol of holding a dark lapis colored medicine jar. He is attended by twelve Gods each representing 12 vows. His visual representation motivates the worshipper to cure the devotee from ignorance which remains the most fundamental of all the ills the flesh is heir to. He represents the archetype healer of mental and physical disease – He – is the Buddha of Wisdom.

Yet the geographies are nothing unless one delves into the index of responses to the geographical contexts which manifests itself in a range of cultural practices of rituals, cuisine, clothes, crafts, practices, songs, music and much else.

In this little piece I bring some of the spirits of cultural expressions that make the geography come alive. The compelling aspect of the translated practice of the idea of Medicine Buddha is represented in two living heritage traditions in the Buddhist landscapes that follow Tibetan Buddhism. When the remote villagers in the high mountains are in face of natural dangers, helpless situations of accidents or disease in the inaccessible areas, then only the local Tibetan healers comprising of – Amchis (like local vaids), Onpos (astrologers) and oracles called Lhamu come to their rescue.  They are their Gods, they are their saviors, and they are their only resource for committing them to faith.

Jafa Journeys brings to the participants special interactions with traditional Lhamos or oracles sitting in a desolate hill in a house with apple trees, a few dogs, the Lhamo is revered by all communities, her words of wisdom become the light for those who seek her help. Personal associations with the Lhamo over decades brings to the audience a very special energy that sustains them with special talismans and blessings!


Beyond the Romance of Evenings of Lucknow – A Raw Sensuality


Teaser – Tourism can become stereotyped. Lucknow is much more than the exotica of the Oriental Nawabs, a culture captured in the ethos of the dialect Awadhi of toofane batimeezi- storm of ribaldry

Experiences of tourism can become quite stereotype. For example, Lucknow is sold and seen as a city of the exotic – defined by stylish populace, poetic and decadent Nawab rulers, where there are references to illusions of romance, fairies and delicacies. Or, in tourism experiences is the narrative on  the conflict between the British and Indians related to the revolt of 1857. However, Lucknow as a city, has a wider frame of reference which is associated with an implied cultural character encased in the political ascription –Awadh. Awadh, a nomenclature that emerges from the cultural linguistic context of Awadhi a dialect of Hindi. It is this dialect that captures the inner essence of the region which the Nawabs of Lucknow ruled.  In the British texts the region came to be known as Oudhe. Awadh represents the fertile land of the doab (land between two rivers Ganga and Yamuna). Awadhi, dialect of Hindi and the language of the common man, provided the arena of performative productions and cultural enactments of people in the growing city. This common man’s culture existed as a parallel to the exotic character symbolized by the culture of the Nawabs. It too was characterized by a raw sensuality depicted in folksongs, and metaphorical imagery communicated through the Awadhi language. Folksongs that allude to capturing joking relationships, between two individuals such as sister-in-law and brother in law (Bhabhi and devar). The wording in the songs communicated free verbal or physical interaction. The relationship of the two individuals may be mutual (symmetrical) or formalized in such a way that one person does the teasing and the other is not allowed to retaliate (asymmetrical). The folksongs in Awadhi communicate types of interactions that varies and include light teasing, chastisement, verbal abuse or sexual ribaldry. Folk songs in Awadhi celebrate the monsoon, or holi festivals, romantic interludes, many of them have become adapted in Bollywood like mere angneme tumhara kya kaam hai (what is your place in my courtyard) sung by Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachhan.

On another level, the Awadhi language laced folk theatre like the operatic forms of Swang and Nutanki, stand up shows of acrobats, bhands, melas (fairs), festivities associated with Sufi hospices (Khanqah-dargahs) and temples explore a unique spirit, for example on one occasion the legendary Kathak dancer Sitara Devi on a raised platform on a boat along the river Saryu in Ayodhya danced with cymbals all night until at dawn the temples bells joined as chorus. The Awadhi region is an important element to bring in the comprehension of tourism experiences that surrounds the urbanity of Lucknow, it  provides a significant cultural link between provincial and central power networks defined by romance of the raw exotic culture of mangoes,  swings, celebrations and in rural language toofane bateemizi (storm of iribaldary) that gets relegated in the tourism of exotic oriental Nawabs.