We met Rigzen in the Ladakh region. We were lucky enough to have him as our guide on our trek. Soon we became close friends and we actually keep in touch often. In our first days with Rigzen he was a bit shy, he wasn’t that talkative. But he eventually opened up to us and we had a great time together. We are extremely grateful to him for taking such good care of us.
He told us fascinating things about Buddhism, about the Ladakh region, about his life. Therefore, when we decided to take interviews to people from our travels, he was easily a top choice. Because he is a very sincere person and I am sure that you are curious to know more about him.
As you have already noticed, his interview is divided into two posts, given the detailed answers Rigzen has provided. Furthermore, we have decided to let you ask him some questions. As such, if you would like to know more about the Ladakh region, about Rigzen and his stories, just leave a comment with your question. We are preparing another interview with him but this time it will be based on your questions. So don’t be shy and ask him what you would like to find out.
Who is Rigzen? Tell us your story.
My name is Rigzen Norboo and I am 24 years old. I was born in a very small village called Domkhar in western Ladakh. Domkhar is actually near India’s border with Pakistan and at about 140 km from the main city of the Ladakh region, Leh. Domkhar is a 20km long valley and its lower part (called Dho in Ladakhi) touches the Indus River. The upper part of the valley (called Phu in Ladakh) consists of high mountains. These mountains are part of the trans-Himalaya.
Domkhar is a typical high altitude village in the Ladakh region, at an altitude of more than 14,000 feet. The weather is cold and the minimum temperature can sometimes range from -20 to -30 degrees Celsius. Thus, growing vegetables and fruits can prove difficult. We grow barley, which is actually the staple food in Ladakh and we use it for the main drink called Chang. In the summer we manage to grow some vegetables and there are also fruit trees.
I spent my childhood and studied school until the 5th grade in my own village. Afterward, I moved to Dho (the lower part of the valley), where I studied up to 10th grade. My generation is the first one that got to attend school. My parents and my grandparents did not have any formal school education.
After the 10th grade, I moved to Jammu, the winter capital of our state, where my sister was studying. Jammu is a big city at a distance of about 24 hours worth of driving from my hometown. Thus, I graduated in Jammu.
While in Jammu, I spent my two months summer holidays in Ladakh, mostly in Leh. Jammu is too hot during summer and that is when tourist season starts in the Ladakh region. Being on holiday, I decided it was time for me to earn some money from tourism. When I got enough experience, I started working as a guide. As such, I am currently a guide and studying foreign languages, as well as Buddhism.
What drove you to choose the tourism path?
During my summer vacations, I used to wander in and around Leh. During that time my cousin used to arrange trekking and guiding tourist groups. He asked me if I wanted to go with him so I accepted. I helped him with tourist groups. I went in the mountains with the tourists, helped load the horses, pitch tents, wash utensils, serving etc.
When I learned English well enough, I felt I could also work as a guide and show people around the Ladakh region. I knew I could also share with tourists Ladakhi life and culture, as well as Buddhism. I also wanted to learn more about tourists’ societies, cultures and lifestyles. This cultural exchange made me choose to become a guide. And it has been amazing meeting people from all around the world, sharing experiences and cultures with each other.
What is it like to grow up in the Ladakh region? What did it mean for you to grow up in such an amazing place?
I consider myself fortunate to be born in such a place. Here, people are known for their honesty, simplicity and politeness. In the Ladakh region, young people show respect to elders and greet each other with the famous Jullay. There is also a joint family system where children grow with their grandparents. It is very nice to grow up in a big family where you get lots of family care and love.
In villages, the main occupation is agriculture. As such, children not only get a formal education in school but also learn agricultural work by helping their parents in the fields. This makes them more rooted in their culture.
The social structure in the Ladakh region is strong. Everything has been designed to help each other in need and share the small moments of happiness. We have a group of families called phaspun who help each other in all their times of ups and down. For example, when a family faces a calamity, they are never alone. All members of phaspun and neighbors come together to help them and make them feel better/cared for. During good times, the phaspun will make sure to celebrate together.
Another group of families called Rmosbhes helps each other in plowing time. There are specific groups to help at the time of marriages and deaths in a family. These groups make it mandatory to help each other. This way no one is left to fend for himself. It is a system providing a huge source of security and happiness for people.
How was the school like for you? Is school accessible to every child?
Parents send their children to school when they are 5-6 years old. Most kids can study up to 10th grade. At that level, there is a huge failure rate. Many revert to agriculture or join the army. Others search for jobs in tourism or become government employees.
Yes, the school is accessible for every child, it is free of charge and anyone can attend. In primary schools, kids get free lunch. This was implemented to attract kids to school. This actually works because lunch at school tastes different from the one at home. The major problem is the quality of education, which is reflected in the huge failure rate in the 10th grade.
Where did you learn to speak English so well? And what other foreign languages do you speak?
Oh! I can’t say I speak English so well. But yes, I really wanted to learn English. When I saw people speaking English so fluently it enticed me and made me want to become like him or her. Thus, I went to SECMOL – that is an NGO for youth development based in Ladakh. I stayed there for some months to learn English and it helped me a lot. Since then I am practicing and learning more. I also speak Ladakhi, Hindi, a bit of French and Tibetan.
In part two of Rigzen’s interview, you will find out more about Buddhism and Ladakh. Make sure not to miss it!
What would you like to know about Rigzen and life in Ladakh? Leave your question in the comments and we will make sure to get you an answer!