Why did Sonam Wangchuk fast. What is the Way Forward in Ladakh

  • This FAQ puts matters in perspective with questions like why Indians might not wish to buy property in Ladakh, demand for inclusion in Sixth Schedule, Why Sonam Wangchuk was asked to sign a bond, Climate Change worries and solutions.

I visited Ladakh in 1988 and 2016, loved the region and people. It is a must visit. See my albums  Palaces of Leh, Thiksey Monastery, Pangong Lake, Khardungla Pass, Changla Pass, Sand Dunes &Nubra valley, Tso Moriri Lake, Drive Leh to Kargil , Siachen Base Camp , Rezang La War Memorial and Army Goodwill Schools in Karu (near Leh) and Kargil

The movie Three Idiots was said to be inspired by Ladakhi  Sonam Wangchuk. I was happy when Ladakh became a Union Territory (UT) because the people of Ladakh were free of control by Srinagar. However, I was distressed to read about Sonam’s five day fast.  Media reports state the fast is for safeguarding Ladakh and including it under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.


However, on hearing one of Sonam Sir’s speeches am confused if he was an innovator, activist, fighter against global warming, proponent for inclusion of Ladakh under the Sixth Schedule and protector Ladakhi culture. I must add that his speeches are well crafted and delivered.   


When someone like Sonam W protests one sits up. I had read about the water shortage in Ladakh and aware Ladakhis worry, like Kashmiris do, that fellow Indians might buy their land. Hence, this article starts with a comparison.


A bit of understanding perspectives is called for. Here is a simple FAQ.


1. What is area, height and temperature? Will Indians buy land in Ladakh?

Table 1


Area in Sq Kms

Height feet

Max/Min Temperature

1. Ladakh


Leh 11,480

30C to -8C

2. Kashmir


Srinagar 5,200

30C to -4C

To know areas of each region including that occupied by Pakistan, China


According to travel agency Thomas Cook, the best time to visit Leh is May to August, for Srinagar it is pretty much all year round although March to June is considered warm and pleasant whilst October to February is cold and beautiful. Due to lack of oxygen a day’s acclimatization is recommended on reaching Leh. No such restrictions exist for Kashmir. The distance from Srinagar to popular tourist destinations of Gulmarg is 51 kms and Pahalgam 90 kms. Conversely, distance from Leh to Pangong Lake is 224 kms and Tso Moriri Lake is 220 kms. Being a Valley, Kashmir is greener than Ladakh and easier to drive through. 


The Dal Lake, relatively higher temperatures, popular destinations close by and hype make Kashmir Valley a preferred destination that attracts tourists pretty much the year round. The same cannot be said for Ladakh. However, Ladakh has its own charm, is unexplored and preferred by the adventurous. The land route from Manali and Sonmarg is exciting but cannot be undertaken by all.


Given the extreme temperatures in Ladakh, lack of oxygen and limited tourist season fellow Indians will be reluctant to buy property for staying or even to construct a hotel.


Even in Kashmir, the Taj Group’s Vivanta Hotel in Srinagar is a managed not self-owned property. It was built by local entrepreneurs Saifco Group. Third party ownership can be attributed to Article 370 but most hotel groups prefer an asset light model. 


In August 2016, my travel agent told me that tourism to Leh spiked after direct flights to Leh were started in 2015. However, if and when the situation in Kashmir stabilises the number of tourists might fall. Ladakh will always be a high adventure destination and attract bikers from all over.


Notwithstanding the fact that fellow Indians might not find Ladakh an attractive destination to buy property adequate legal safeguards must be introduced to ensure that fellow Indians who wish to buy land in Ladakh for e.g. only in gated communities.  


This would be better than monasteries threatening locals that they would be treated as outcaste if they sold their property to non-Ladakhis.


If land can be owned only by locals, banks might not give locals loan against land because in case of default the bank, not being a Ladakhi, cannot own property.

Maitreya (future Buddha), Thiksey Monastery. 

2. What does Ladakh region consist of?

It consists of two districts. Here is some macro data.


Table 2 – Population per Census 2011


Area Sq. Kms


Popu per sq km

1. Leh




2. Kargil





3. What could Ladakhi people focus on?

Due to the logistics cost and weather India Inc. is unlikely to start factories in Ladakh. 


Ladakhis must concentrate on tourism, solar energy, working on road projects and for the Indian Army. During my 2016 trip, I saw Bangladeshi and Bihari labour.


The 2023 Budget has announced that the Central government would provide Rs 8,300 crore towards a Rs 20,700 cr project for building an “inter-State transmission system for evacuation and grid integration of 13GW renewable energy from Ladakh.”  This will generate jobs on an ongoing basis. Land can be leased to the company that undertakes this project. 


According to this report in The Hindu Businessline, “Renewable energy projects can provide energy to Ladakh and the Union Territory can also make good money by selling electricity to other states. Ladakh is the best place in India to put up solar power projects. Why? A solar photovoltaic power plant needs two factors - lot of light and no heat. Ladakh has both.”


If some minerals are taken from Ladakh for the benefit of fellow Indians, the region should be paid royalties. The said sum can be used for preservation of Ladakhi traditions and environment.

Mosque close to Kargil. 

4. Ladakhis want a Legislature?

Buddhists of Ladakh must realize that in any state election they will be outnumbered by the Shias of Kargil since the population of Muslims exceeds that of Buddhists.


An e.g. of what is in store, that even when Ladakh is run by the Centre the Buddhists were not allowed to construct a monastery in Kargil whilst there are two mosques in the Leh market (see pic 16 of album). According to a June 2022 report in The Hindu, a Buddhist rally for constructing a monastery was called off due to stiff resistance by the Kargil Democratic Alliance.


If Shias rule Ladakh, the condition of Buddhists might not be any different than what existed prior to revocation of Article 370. It can be argued that Muslims of Kargil are Shias and those of Kashmir Sunnis. To know how Islam binds in a non-Muslim majority country read Thoughts on Pakistan by Dr Ambedkar.

Also, it is worth recalling what Brig Anil Gupta (retd) wrote in 2019, “Sheikh Abdullah created another Muslim majority district by dividing the Ladakh region on religious lines in order to counter the growing influence of the Buddhists in the region who had been opposed to inclusion of Ladakh with Kashmir during the administrative reorganisation of the state by the Sheikh and his party National Conference.”

Padum in Zanskar. Pic by Jyoti S. 

“Ever since Zanskar was grouped with Kargil district, it has been struggling to get equal share of resources from the administration. While Zanskar makes up half of the area of Kargil District, it is barely represented at the upper echelons of the bureaucracy in Kargil or Srinagar.”


Also read  How Kashmir Valley marginalised the Buddhists of Ladakh


Perhaps the present protests have made Ladakhi Buddhists forget this December 2021 report in The Daily Excelsior, “In its letter to Amit Shah, the Ladakh Buddhist Association alleged that a planned and sustained Love-jihad has been unleashed against the Buddhist Community of Ladakh. It said that from a meagre 20% in 1947, the Muslim population increased to a whopping 60% in 2011. Kargil is mostly Muslim now and Leh and Zanskar are on the way to becoming Muslims very soon, at the current rate of conversion and multiplication.”  


The above is one of the reasons why the Union Territory status for Ladakh must continue. Having said that, the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council must be given more powers and more Ladakhis involved in local governance.


5. Why was respected Sonam Wangchuk denied permission to protest at Khardungla Pass?

Media reports gave the reason being extreme cold in January. Whilst this is true there could be another reason.


Khardungla Pass is the road taken to reach Siachen Base Camp. If 1,000 protestors blocked the road, a la ShaheenBagh, it might prevent supplies to the Indian Army camps in the region esp. Siachen. If that happened, the Chinese Pakistan combine could, taking advantage of the blockage, launch a lethal attack on Siachen. If Siachen falls the Chinese would be at the foothills of the Khardungla Pass i.e. the gateway to Leh. (see pic 9 of album)


6. Why was Sonam Wangchuk asked to file a bond?

I do not have a detailed report from Leh Police and am not a criminal lawyer. But based on what I know the police can ask an Indian citizen for a good behaviour bond when they apprehend that a person could cause breach of peace. Sections 110 to 116 of the Indian Penal Code prescribe the grounds, circumstances and conditions when a Bond for good behaviour is needed.


If Sonam Sir believes it is being wrongly asked he must challenge the same in court.

Rezang la War Memorial near Chushul. 

7. Ladakh’s water problem!

Given its peculiar topography water has always been short in Ladakh. Having said that, is this not a problem of most upper Himalayan regions or even parts of Rajasthan.


Climate change leading to melting of glaciers, increase in the number of tourists and the Indian Army have accentuated concerns that the problem could get serious, if not so already.


Note the matter has many parts. Strategic affairs analyst Maroof Raza wrote in The Tribune, “If China has control over the Galwan valley, the Depsang plains (north of Leh) will greatly shorten the route taken by the Chinese - to link up with the Shaksgam valley. This valley, though inhospitable, has the largest collection of glaciers (over 250 to be precise) that China regards as a source of water to further its agenda of world domination.


Global warming is not affecting Ladakh alone. The Indian Army is there to protect Indian interests in the region and prevent Ladakhis from living in an autocratic China.


Nivedita Khandekar, a journalist who covers environment wrote in 2017, “A study by the Ladakh Ecological Development Group (Ledeg) found that the average Ladakhi uses 21 litres of water per day, while a tourist needs as much as 75.”

Hotels and Home stays, to cater to tourists, use the flush system in washrooms as against the low water consuming dry Ladakhi composite toilets used by locals. Further, they use ground water wells (mainly in Leh) for tourists needs, thus depleting the ground water levels.


Solutions need to be found at a community and government level. Here are some thoughts.


By law all toilets to be dry composite.


Farmers should be encouraged to shift to drip/micro irrigation. Centre can help. If expenditure included in CSR (corporate social responsibility) spends, India Inc. will step in.


Community effort to build check dams just like what was done in Gujarat in the first decade of this century.


Kunzang C wrote, “We need to urgently revive the traditional ‘rZing’ systems that act as groundwater recharging mechanism.”

Ladakh does not get lots of rain. The possibility of making an artificial reservoir in an area that gets rain and snow water can be explored.


Some U Tubers are comparing the situation in Ladakh with China. I would urge them to read this UN News report which states that roughly one million Tibetan children in China have been separated from their families and placed into Government-run boarding schools, forcing their assimilation into the dominant culture.


The institute co-founded by SonamWangchuk runs a course on Responsible Tourism. According to the HIAL site, “The primary aim of this course is to understand the negative impacts of the conventional tourism industry and bring about changes through sustainable, responsible, innovative solutions.” I did reach out to HIAL for knowledge about responsible tourism and the Ladakhi way of water conservation but am yet to hear from them. 


Sonam Sir could lay out a roadmap for people of Ladakh to lead carbon neutral lives. This would benefit people across India.


Also read All is not well with Ladakh’s glaciers

7. Do Scheduled Tribes of Ladakh pay Income-Tax?

According to section 10 (26) of the Income-Tax Act, “in the case of a member of a Scheduled Tribe as defined in clause (25) of article 366 of the Constitution, residing in any area specified in Part I or Part II of the Table appended to paragraph 20 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution or in the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura or in the areas covered by notification No. TAD/R/35/50/109, dated the 23rd February, 1951, issued by the Governor of Assam under the proviso to sub-paragraph (3) of the said paragraph 20 [as it stood immediately before the commencement of the North-Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Act, 1971 (81 of 1971) or in the Ladakh region of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, any income which accrues or arises to him,—  (a)  from any source in the areas or States aforesaid, or (b) by way of dividend or interest on securities;”.


From the above it seems that Ladakhis are exempt from paying income-tax provided the income arises in the region. It is not clear if being covered by the Sixth Schedule is a pre-requisite for tax exemption. Can the Centre clarify please?


Further, Ladakhi Buddhist being declared as scheduled tribe could be justified but Shias of Kargil!


Also read  Tax laws should be the same for all Indian citizens

8. Demand for inclusion of Ladakh under Sixth Schedule of the Constitution

What is the Sixth Schedule? According to Drishtiias.com, “The Sixth Schedule under Article 244 provides for the formation of autonomous administrative divisions-Autonomous District Councils (ADCs)-that have some legislative, judicial, and administrative autonomy within a state. The Sixth Schedule contains special provisions for the administration of tribal areas in the four north-eastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. Autonomous Districts: The tribal areas in these four states have been constituted as autonomous districts. The governor is empowered to organise and re-organise the autonomous districts. The acts of Parliament or the state legislature do not apply to autonomous districts or apply with specified modifications and exceptions. The power of direction, in this regard, lies either with the President or Governor.” To read more


This Indian Express report states that, “ADCs have up to 30 members with a term of five years, and can make laws, rules and regulations with regard to land, forest, water, agriculture, village councils, health, sanitation, village- and town-level policing, inheritance, marriage and divorce, social customs and mining, etc.”


The Drishtiias report adds, “Recently, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) constituted a high-powered committee for the Union Territory of Ladakh to “ensure protection of land and employment” for the people of Ladakh. According to a recent report tabled in Rajya Sabha, Ladakh administration recently increased the reservation for the Scheduled Tribes in direct recruitment from 10% to 45% which will significantly help the tribal population in their development.”


This Indiatimes report states that, “While the LAHDC has jurisdiction over land, it cannot enact regulations restricting the use or transfer of any land. It can only assign and stipulate how government land should be used.”


If the Centre is willing to provide enough funds for the development of Ladakh, having safeguards against acquisition of land by fellow Indians and involve locals in governance (excluding statehood) why are people insisting on inclusion of Ladakh in the 6th schedule.


The BJP erred in not fulfilling promise of inclusion of Ladakh in the Sixth Schedule. Can Sonam Sir tell why he is insisting on inclusion of Ladakh in the 6th Schedule?

Leh Palace. At foothill in a huge mosque.  

The people of Ladakh are free to continue their traditional way of living and create a breed of youth who combine local tradition with modern interventions. Sonam Sir’s HIAL (Himalayan Institute of Alternatives Ladakh) runs a course on this. It needs to be supported by the government and expanded so that Indians from all over can benefit. 


However, we must accept that net connectivity opens the world to all, youth included so some amount of dilution of way of living and values is bound to happen.


Did Sonam Wangchuk protest this way when Ladakh was part of Jammu and Kashmir?


Ladakh is in my prayers. Do visit Ladakh atleast once in your lifetime, the younger the better.


Unless stated, all pictures by author clicked during 2016 yatra. Sleeping Sonam Sir in cover pic is courtesy Indian Express. 


Also read

1. Statehood to Ladakh will hurt Buddhists   

Receive Site Updates