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Watch Day at Saspol, Ladakh

For years, I have heard about the importance of the Gon Nilaphuk caves at Saspol Village. My recent visit to the caves for the site’s Watch Day was therefore extremely exciting. Located near the world famous Alchi Monastery, the fifteenth-century caves overlook the Indus Valley. Most of the caves are now inaccessible, as climate change—specifically destabilization from increased rainfall in the area—has impacted the Ladakh region substantively.

Watch Day was organized by the local villagers, who are somewhat overwhelmed by the international recognition that has come from inclusion of the caves on the 2016 Watch. The day began with a heritage walk to the caves, on a  trail that was recently developed. The trail allows for relatively easier access to the caves (though with it comes the risk of overexposure, as tourism to Ladakh grows by leaps and bounds). The senior monk from Likir Monastery, the custodians of Saspol, explained the value of the cave paintings. Although the caves are small, the paintings are exquisite.

The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, a group that is well connected with the community, joined the Watch Day celebration, which included traditional dances and local folk music. Many local officials came to the event and assured INTACH and WMF of their commitment to protect and preserve the caves. The highlight of the event was a lunch prepared by the villagers, made entirely of local produce. Considering that this is peak season for farming, it was quite touching that village members made the time to do this; it was an extremely generous gesture and bodes well for the future.

 

Image top: WMF's representative in India, Amita Baig, delivers a presentation during Watch Day, 2016