2017 IALS Conference

May 2017, Travel grants update : 

Members and Colleagues,

We have the pleasure once again to announce that we received a further generous financial donation—this time from Sonam Wangchuk of SECMOL and Melong Publications. Wangchuk offered INR 39,500 travel grants to support the attendance of five Ladakhi students at Bedlewo. These five were amongst those who had been selected for travel grants in the original competition, and the additional grants were used to help cover the costs of flights to Europe.

Sonam Wangchuk was himself the beneficiary of financial support to attend the 4th IALS colloquium in Bristol back in 1989. The benefits he received from this experience and exposure inspired him to enable young Ladakhis to attend 18th International Colloquium by offering a donation from his personal finances. These awards were offered with the spirit of intention that the recipients will respond in kind to other struggling Ladakhis once they have the financial means to do so.

On behalf of the Executive Committee, the Advisory Board and IALS’ wider membership, we would like to take this opportunity to offer grateful thanks to Wangchuk, and pledge to respect the spirit in which his donation was offered by assisting Ladakh Studies members facing constraints whenever and however we can.

The Conference Organising Committee

18th IALS Conference, Bedlewo 2017

18th IALS Conference: Current Western Himalayan Research

The 18th Conference of the International Association for Ladakh Studies (IALS) was jointly organised by the Board of Polish Academy of Sciences, Humboldt University Berlin, and the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland. The conference was hosted in the beautiful grounds of Będlewo Palace and Conference Centre near Poznań, Poland from Tuesday, 2nd to Saturday, 6th May 2017.

Under the theme Current Western Himalayan Research, approximately 60 scholars and scientists from Europe and South Asia came together to present recent research covering the transdisciplinary themes of religious transformation, cultural and social change, historical issues, and economic transformation in rural areas in what once again proved to be a vibrant and intellectually stimulating symposium. The format combined morning plenary sessions followed by concurrent panels. The programme also included an evening film and an afternoon tour to the old town of Poznań and a visit to a local brewery bar.

The conference was well attended by seasoned Ladakh specialists, independent researchers and early career scholars alike. Twelve Ladakhi scholars from both Leh and Kargil (one based in Hong Kong), and one Tibetan scholar were also in attendance, with occupations ranging from monastic/academic careers, school teachers, journalists, and officers of local heritage, and local arts and media. The inaugural session began with welcome speeches by converence convenors Rafal Beszterda and Diana Lange. Tsewang Rigzin gave the presidential address on behalf of IALS president Sonam Wangchuk, and Marek Mejor, Sanskrit expert and Chair of the Committee of Oriental Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences, welcomed participants.

Following lunch in the splendid Będlewo Palace, proceedings began with a documantry film, a “work in progress” by visual anthropologists and film-makers Kesang Thakur and Carlo Ghidini. The format was a series of short stories offering insights into contemporary life in the valley of Lahaul and posing provocative methodological condundrums for discussion.

Day Two began with the first plenary. Quentin Devers of CNRS and the Achi Association showcased the results of his ten-year career investigating early Art and Architecture in Ladakh, and the contribution both his and his colleagues’ work has made in our understanding of the political and religious history of Ladakh. Gerald Kozicz responded to a scarcity of research of Nyingmapa material art by presenting the results of his investigations of temples and stupas in Nubra, which demonstrate Nyingma influence within wider historical religious authority. Rinchen Dolma of LAMO plotted the history of vehicle use in Ladakh, and the urban problems Leh town faces as a result of increasing congestion from private vehicles. Andrea Butcher reflected upon Ladakh’s “vernacular geology” by tracing historical and contemporary continuities that connect flesh, soil and minerals in Himalayan Buddhist social worlds, whilst Christian Luczantis of SOAS reported on the current status of museum governance and the protection of religious collections in Ladakh’s monastic museums. The first panel sessions began in the afternoon, focusing upon interpretation of ancient heritage, education in Ladakh, botany, and contemporary political border situations. The day was concluded with the palatial dinner in the dining hall of Będlewo Palace.

Day Three’s plenary was handed over to Ladakh Studies’ long-serving members. John Bray took us east, with a presentation addressing the question “What can a Ladakh Historian learn from Kham?” He then took to the stage with Martijn van Beek, Pascale Dollfus and Sophie Day to share their experiences of fieldwork in Ladakh in the 1980s, to reflect on how their work connects with contemporary social and political situations, and to invite early career scholars to approach them for advice and support. Afternoon panels continued with themes of social and religious change, and heritage and interpretation before the hosting of the General Meeting (download minutes) in the afternoon and the dinner and grill party that evening.

Bettina Zeisler opened Day Four’s plenary with an engaging tale of the origins Himank’s road sign “Don’t be a Gama in the land of the Lama” – a possible hidden message for Punjabi truck drivers. This was followed by Georgios Halkias’ documentation of Ladakh’s collection of monastic and private Buddhist canonical heritage, and his invitation to others to assist with identifying sources of materials used for the purposes of tracing the religious and trade networks involved in producing the canonical heritage. The final panels focused upon contemporary religious transformation and performance, and development transitions in both rural and urban areas. Lunch was followed by a trip to Posnan’s delightful old town and a visit to the beer factory bar, located in Poznań’s old market square, where participants were invited to taste varieties of locally brewed beer in a pleasant bar setting.

The conference was concluded Saturday morning with presentations, thanks and farewells. The IALS offers grateful thanks to conference convenors Rafal Beszterda and Diana Lange for their tireless and judicious arrangements that once again made for a successful conference. Thanks also go to the generous financial support offered by two benefactors, which facilitated the travel of two professionals and five students from Ladakh. We offer our gratitude to our anonymous benefactor, and also to Sonam Wangchuk of SECMOL who stepped in with financial support at the final hour, thus enabling the attendance of those who would otherwise have been unable to cover the costs. And finally, the Association is extremely grateful to all those who made the journey to attend and support the intellectual, international and open character that has become the hallmark of IALS colloquia.

We hope to bring details of the location, venue and theme of the 19th IALS conference shortly.