Society and Environment in Ladakh: Historical Perspectives and Recent Dynamics
The 16th Conference of the International Association for Ladakh Studies (IALS) was held at the South Asia Institute (SAI), Heidelberg University, Germany, from 17-20. April 2013. The IALS conference was hosted for the first time by Heidelberg University. The conference organisers were the Department of Geography at SAI, the Heidelberg Center for Environment (HCE) and the IALS. Under the topic “Society and Environment in Ladakh: Historical Perspectives and Recent Dynamics”, about 60 scholars and scientists from different parts of the world participated and presented papers to discuss and address historical perspectives, political developments, cultural change and identity. Other topics included the history of art and architecture, Buddhist studies as well as climate change, water management and livelihoods. The Ladakhi participants included representatives from local NGOs, the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Council (LAHDC) Leh, and the Sonam Norbu Memorial (SNM) Hospital, as well as independent Ladakhi scholars and a number of Ladakhi research students from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi and Jammu University. A total of 87 members registered for the conference and attended the sessions, demonstrating a great desire to learn and share. Most participants were accommodated in two neighbouring conference hotels close to the old town of Heidelberg.
The inaugural session started with a welcome speech by Prof. Dr. Hans Harder, Executive Director of the South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University. This was flowed by introductory speeches by IALS President John Bray and Dr Juliane Dame from local organising committee. The sessions on Urban Development, Climate Change and Water Management, Political Change in a Borderland Region and Livelihood Strategies were successfully covered in four sessions on the first day’s presentations culminated with an inspirational address from the keynote speaker, Prof. Dr. Marcus Nüsser, head of the Department of Geography on “Landscape Changes on a Himalayan Scale”. The day concluded with a welcoming reception at SAI.
The sessions on Day Two included Buddhist Studies, Historical Perspectives (1), Cultural Change, Identity and Belonging. The day ended with a memorable field trip to Heidelberg and its surrounding in two groups. Group One piled into a bus set for a city tour to see the historical places in the old town of Heidelberg and its famous castle. Group Two trekked along the Philosopher’s Way and through the forest to enjoy the nature and scenic views of Heidelberg city and the river Neckar. The group was welcomed at a local ecological micro-brewery at Klosterhof Neuburg on the outskirts of Heidelberg for a short introduction on the process of brewing. The first group joined Klosterhof Neuburg for a dinner at the brewery’s restaurant.
Day Three comprised sessions on Historical Perspectives (2), History of Art and Architecture (1&2) and Ladakh and its Neighbouring Mountain Regions. The Biennial General Meeting of the Association took place after the final session. In the evening of 19th April, the conference dinner with Asian food was held at the SAI.
The sessions on Day 4 included Cultural Change and Contemporary Society, Health and Society and Language and Culture. It was followed by closing ceremony and farewell.
The IALS owes a great debt of gratitude to the conference convenor, Juliane Dame and her associates for the wonderful arrangements in Heidelberg that ensured the conference’s success. The association is also grateful to all the paper presenters for taking note of organisers’ request to limit their presentations to 20 minutes and five minutes of discussion. We would further like to acknowledge the financial support granted by the German Research Foundation (DFG) as well as the South Asia Institute (SAI) and the Heidelberg Center for the Environment, both at Heidelberg University.
We hope to hold the IALS’s 17th conference in Kargil in 2015.