The Brokpas of Darchik village in Ladakh.
Two large almond shaped eyes stare curiously at me from behind the door. I sit with a Brokpa family in the living room of their tiny mud cottage in the Darchik village of Ladakh. The women dress in a traditional salwar while the men in a rough shirt-pant combo. If you judge by attire or even their general way of life, you’ll find these villagers strikingly similar to any other in Ladakh. But I just can’t take my eyes off them. The Ladakhis I had seen were generally short and lean with a pudgy nose, tiny eyes and weather-worn skin. The Brokpas have long aquiline noses and strong cheekbones on elegant olive-toned faces.
I wasn’t a believer of the Aryan Myth when I decided to come here but I couldn’t deny there was something very enigmatic about them. They are said to be descendants of Alexander The Great’s army, who stayed back during his invasion of India. But that is just a hypothesis. The closest link found towards the origin of these people is the Indo-Aryan Dard community that resides across Pakistan and Afghanistan in addition to the Ladakh region of India. The only community to have preserved their Aryan lineage due to their isolation from the rest of the world. These people have adopted the dominant religion of their inhabited land, be it Islam or Budhhism. Just like the Brokpas.
Like many others before me, I ask them about their history. Their response is a confused jumble of fragments about their culture and being Aryan. Somehow they don’t sound convinced themselves. But they have been told the story so many times, they have started believing it, though not entirely.
Faced with two pairs of large curious eyes
When it comes to talking about their culture, they sound completely at home. Animatedly they tell me about how the goat is sacred to them and how the cow is not, thereby abstaining from eating or using any by-products of both these animals. Most of the food they require is grown in the village itself.
They give me full access to as many apricots as I want from an abundant grove of trees weighed down by the fruit. Making apricot preserves and oil is their primary source of income.
Flowers are an integral part of their culture so they show me their headdress made of fresh flowers for daily use and even the more elaborate ones made with artificial flowers for special occasions.
A fading flower
They claim they don’t drink but offer me some of their traditional rice beer called Chhang, a staple in every household of Ladakh. A Brokpa man lectured me about why drinking is bad while I was sipping from the cup, diminishing my chances of asking for a refill. The one who offered it to me in the first place, skulked around apologetically as though he was ashamed of his love for the drink.
The Brokpa man telling me why I shouldn't drink while I sat with a glass of Chang or rice beer in hand
The community comprising of four villages has been extremely isolated. Until 2013, entry to these villages was banned for any tourist and a special permit was required. Since then it has become easier for Indians to visit Darchik and neighbouring Garkun, which lie in the heavily monitored Kargil district, while becoming tougher for foreigners.
The most beautiful girl in Darchik
Although by now they have had some mixing of DNA, some of them still carry genes that are well-preserved over centuries. They are forbidden from marrying outside the community. A shame, since they are all so unbelievably beautiful.
Largely ignored for most of history and isolated by even the Ladakhi communities for being different, they savour the admiration and respect they get when discovered by the world. There are crazy tales of Neo-Nazi women coming all the way down here from Germany to be impregnated by Brokpa men, so as to secure the pure Aryan seed.
From my interaction with them, I sense that these people were living dual lives. The one that they knew well and another that had been thrust upon them. I sensed them struggling to retain their ethos against creeping modernity and at the same time trying to live up to the expectations of society.
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By Karishma Goenka
Photographs by: Karishma Goenka