By Shyamal Sinha
Hemis is situated around 45 kms to the south of Leh on the western banks of the Indus River. The Hemis Monastery is the biggest and very richly endowed monastery of Ladakh. It was built in 1630. Impressive and intriguing, Hemis is different from the other important monasteries of Ladakh. The monastery is decorated on all four sides by colourful prayer flags which flutter in the breeze and send prayers to Lord Buddha.
Fifty-two young innovators gathered in the historic Hemis Monastery in Ladakh on Sunday in the graduation ceremony for the first batch of students to have taken the year-long Naropa Fellowship academic program. During the course of the fellowship, the 52 young entrepreneurs, who hail from different parts of India, with one-third from Ladakh, came up with innovative projects intended to help to shape a sustainable future for the Himalayan region.
“Perhaps never has been a convocation held in such a beautiful and iconic setting where the grand beauty of nature puts you in a sense of awe,” said Pramath Raj Sinha, educationist and co-founder of the Naropa Fellowship. “And, as you graduate today after finishing the fellowship, innovation will be your watchword but the sustainability of the Himalayan region at the core of it.” (India Today)
The Naropa Fellowship is a one-year residential post-graduate academic program focused on nurturing young students as agents of change who will help build a sustainable socio-economic environment in Ladakh and the greater Himalayan region, while preserving its ancient cultural heritage. Initiatives originated by the fellowship’s first group of graduates include agro-tourism, sustainable greenhouses, and cultural restoration projects, including reviving the local tradition of carpet weaving.
The Naropa Fellowship states as its mission:
To offer a high impact, post-graduate, academic programme that provides quality education to students from Ladakh and the Himalayan region, while focusing on region-specific areas of interests in eco-tourism, cultural and heritage preservation, entrepreneurship, sustainable development and education, and empower them to contribute to the development of the Himalayan region.
Among the guests for the occasion, Ladakh member of parliament Jamyang Tsering Namgyal observed that the Naropa Fellowship was introduced for the first time in Ladakh, and that the measures it was dedicated toward drawing up were essential for Ladakh’s future and for the sake of the global ecological system.
Ladakh, known as “the land of high passes,” is a mountainous union territory in India’s far north, bordering with Tibet. Extending from the mountains of the Himalaya to the Kunlun Range and including the upper valley of the Indus River, much of Ladakh stands at elevations in excess of 3,000 meters. Hemis Monastery, established in Ladakh in 1672, stands some 45 kilometers from the territory’s capital, the high-desert city of Leh, which sits at an altitude of 3,524 meters. Leh district has a large ethnic Tibetan population, most of whom speak Ladakhi, an East Tibetan language, and practice Vajrayana Buddhism.
Gyal P. Wangyal, chief executive councillor of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, said in an address during the convocation that the Naropa Fellowship would engender entrepreneurial skills to “foster a sustainable environment in Ladakh and also in other parts of the country.” (Hindustan Times)
“Through innovation, people in the Himalayan region will thrive and prosper for generations to come. This fellowship will address also rising challenges of unemployment and lack of training and skills, besides the steady cultural erosion of our old school tradition and morality,” Wangyal added, noting the need to educate the younger generation “about the struggles of our forefathers and companionship with nature, and the Ladakhi culture.” (Hindustan Times)
Named after the Indian Buddhist mahasiddha Naropa (1016–1100), a contemporary of the Buddhist master Atisha (982–1054), the Naropa Fellowship, was inspired by His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa, the spiritual head of the Drukpa lineage of Vajrayana Buddhism and a renowned humanitarian, educator, environmentalist, and an active proponent of gender equality. The fellowship was co-founded by His Eminence Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche, spiritual regent to the Gyalwang Drukpa, along with Pramath Raj Sinha, also the founder of Ashoka University.
The curriculum encompasses entrepreneurship, communication skills, and personal development, engaging students to work on sustainable solutions for the local community in Ladakh and neighboring regions, and aiming to address rising of unemployment, lack of training and professional skills, and cultural erosion in Ladakhi and Himalayan communities.
“We named the fellowship after Naropa, as he was a great scholar and also was a student of the Nalanda University,” Rinpoche said. “The program seeks to foster in these select candidates a spirit of innovation with a sensitive eye on the fragile Himalayan region. These are our Himalayan heroes.” (Hindustan Times)
Rinpoche added that the majestic setting for the graduation ceremony would inspire the young students to dream big but remain humble toward nature.
Graduating fellow Jigmet Singge, a native of Ladakh, expressed happiness about Ladakh’s new union territory status, saying: “We want to design a sustainable future for Ladakh as we move forward. And our project is one such step.” Ladakh will get a new identity on 31 October when it will officially become a union territory, a long-standing demand of locals.”* (Hindustan Times)
In July, the Naropa Fellowship formally announced the commencement of admissions for the second batch of students, who will begin their studies in September.