During the short
intense summers, cultivation is sustained by melting snows and a careful
harnessing of water is essential. Ladakhis, particularly the Baltis, are
expert irrigation engineers and construct long channels cutting along the
granite mountains and gravel slopes. Water is thus channeled to raise food
grains like barley (which is roasted and ground to become Tsampa, and is
eaten with salted butter tea called gur-gur), apple trees at heights of
10,000 feet and apricots (chuli) which are grown up to 14,000 feet. Apricots
are useful since they can be preserved by drying for later consumption.
The kernel yeilds oil, useful both for its application and burning votive
lamps. Mulberry, walnut and grape are grown at lower heights.
Apricot blossoms in spring
The main trees are the willow and poplar and they
meet the requirement for fuel and timber. Easy to grow and maintain, they
provide a good yield of fodder for the animals and twigs for baskets. Fragrant
juniper (Shukpa) grows everywhere, and is used for ceremonial and religious
In late October in Ladakh the valleys are a visual
delight - apricots and poplars provide a spectacular display of green,
gold and rust; the greys and chocolate browns of the mountains vie with
the turquoise blue waters and azure blue skies to provide a resplendent
panorama of Ladakh in autumn. At such a time, one marvels at the green
of the summer crops and fruit blossoms which so spring up in a barren brown
landscape, toasting a tribute to nature's miracles.