A Tale of the Last Aryans – Dah Hanu Villages in Ladakh

posted in: Asia, Culture, Heritage, India, Jammu & Kashmir | 46

Long long ago, the Great King Alexander came to the Indus Valley to conquer it. From Indus to Beas, he spread his kingdom before turning back. He went home but left behind a few of his clansmen who settled in Ladakh. These men made this their home and lived a peaceful life in the Indus Valley. Unknown to many, they still live on as the last Aryan village in India. You can find them at Dahanu or the Dah Hanu Villages in Ladakh.

The Last Aryan village in Dahanu, Ladakh
The Last Aryan village in Dahanu, Ladakh

Lost treasures, Lost kingdoms and in this case a lost village and tribe. How could I not visit this, especially since I discovered that it is ahead of Alchi, close to Kargil. With my Ladakh Inner Line Permit in hand, I went ahead to meet the inhabitants of the Last Aryan Village. Questions filled my mind – Did they still have any relics of Alexander? How old was the oldest person? Did they practice their ancient traditions? How many people were there? And so much more. Answers to these lie in my visit to the Dahanu Village in Ladakh.

The Last Aryan Village in Ladakh

There is actually a cluster of 5 villages close to the Indo-Pak border in Ladakh. Dahanu actually represents two of these villages – Dah and Hanu. It is possible to visit the Aryan tribes only in these two villages. The rest of them – Sanit, Bheema, and Garkon are actually out of bounds. The Aryan race here is referred to as Brokpa or Dards.

Sonam - an Aryan offering us Apricots from his farm
Sonam – an Aryan offering us Apricots from his farm

Tall (6 feet and over), fair skinned, high cheekbones and light eyes – these I was told were the key features of the Indo-Aryan Brokpa tribes. Some of them are said to have blond hair too. They say that these are still preserved over generations as the Brokpa community married amongst themselves. The few Aryans that I met during the Naropa festival did not really strike me as typical. I waited to see for myself whether I could see the ancestorial traits of Alexander.

Getting to Dahanu Villages in Ladakh

Following Indus in Ladakh to Dah Hanu Village
Following Indus in Ladakh to Dah Hanu Village

The journey to Dahanu village was quite a long one from Leh. Going past the Alchi monastery, we followed the flow of Indus towards Pakistan. The mountain desert landscapes that accompanied the river kept the shutterbug in me going. I would have loved to hang out of my window as I had done in my previous Ladakh trip, but the chill in the air was quite formidable. (It was -1 degree that morning). Except for that one quick breakfast stop at Khaltse, we kept going till we arrived at what seemed to be single home in a no-mans land.

My last Ladakh trip took me through a different part of this area. It was from Delhi to Leh and Back. Check out what it was like and the route that you need to take if you are planning a Delhi-Leh road trip.

The lifeline of the Aryan Village in Dahanu, Ladakh
The lifeline of the Aryan Village in Dahanu, Ladakh

We have come to Dah Village” – announced our driver. Surprised at the single home, I looked at him. He pointed to another home far below and said “That is where the other homes are. The car cannot go there, so you will need to walk it down“.

Meeting our first resident of Dah Village

With no one in sight but just a small home far below, we had no option but to embark on the zigzag trek downhill. To be honest, I expected a cluster of homes buzzing with activity  – similar to the other villages that I had seen. Possibly like the Corn Village of Uttarakhand. However, this was quite remote. As we approached the lone home, we met our first resident Aryan.

The first Aryan resident that I met at Dah Village, Ladakh
The first Aryan resident that I met at Dah Village, Ladakh

He responded with his toothless grin to my Ladakhi greeting “Julley” and then, the conversation turned alien. He spoke only in the Brokpa Language called Brokskat or Minaro. Gesture language being universal, I managed to understand that his home was down by the stream and there was one more home just a little ahead. Using the same language, I sought his permission to click a picture for which he gave the cutest camera shy smile. 🙂

Chat over the Apricots

Aryan ladies sorting out the apricots
Aryan ladies sorting out the apricots

We walked on towards the first house, where two Aryan ladies were sorting out dried apricots. The older one broke into a smile when she saw us and offered us some of those Apricots. A perfect ice-breaker as we begun our chat with her.  She wasn’t very comfortable with Hindi but was able to reply back in bits and pieces.

A true resident of the Aryan Village -
A true resident of the Aryan Village – she was born here and lived her entire life here.

The lady had left her entire life in that village. She was beginning to get used to visitors of late, people from Leh who came to witness their dance. The furthest that she had been to was to Khaltse. She told us that her kids were on the farm while the children around the village were at school. She pointed out to the place where our bus had dropped us to indicate the location of the school.  It was while talking to her, that I met Sonam Tundup – who became our official source of the tale of the lost Aryan village of Dah Hanu.

Brokpa Food & Life

Sonam Tundup - an Aryan man in Dah Village
Sonam Tundup – an Aryan man in Dah Village

Sonam Tundup is an Aryan farmer in Dah village. A true Aryan – as he proclaimed, his forefathers – including great grandfather are from the Dahanu Valley. Speaking fluent Hindi, he told us all that we wanted to know about their life in Dah. The population of the Aryan villages – all five included would not exceed 1000. There was one leader or sarpanch of all these villages. This particular village had around 100 odd men and 75 women. Most people around the villages know each other pretty well as they tend to marry within themselves.

It is a norm to only marry an Aryan as they believe in racial purity, However, with education creeping in and doors opening out to the youngsters, a lot of the newer lot have married outside. They are not easily accepted back into the village and hence, have made homes in places like Leh. Polygamy or multiple marriages are very common.

I had heard rumors about how German women came to the Dahanu villages to conceive – all in a bid to get a pure Aryan bloodline. Curious about Pregnancy tourism, we asked Sonam. He smiled and said – “There were some ladies who came but now, they no longer come”. Beyond this, he was quite shy to speak any more. 

Sonam's home in Dah Village
Sonam’s home in Dah Village

The typical occupation of the Aryan men is farming – largely apricot. They not only sell apricot in all forms but make apricot jam as well. The farmers also, rear goat, cow and yaks. Their normal food includes Yak milk along with Wheat (referred to as Papa) and vegetables. The newer generation of Aryans has started serving the Indian army and are posted in the nearby camps.

Door to a goat shed in the Aryan Village of Dah
Door to a goat shed in the Aryan Village of Dah
Window of an Aryan home
Window of an Aryan home
The old stone structures of the Aryan homes
The old stone structures of the Aryan homes
Ancient washroom of an Aryan home
Ancient washroom of an Aryan home

To endure the harsh weather, they used to build stone homes earlier. The toilets were just slabs with a low roof. However, with a little modernization creeping in, they now have regular homes. They have limited electricity and highly depend on solar energy, They also, have a gas connection. Earlier food was cooked on fire hearths, some of which you can still spot around the houses.

Fire hearth with the vessel in an Aryan home
Fire hearth with the vessel in an Aryan home

Aryan Festivals of Dahanu Village

Earlier the Aryans did stone worship. Sonam mentioned that his forefathers had rituals around those. There are no written accounts or literature documenting those lost years. Over time, the stories around them seemed to have dimmed as the Aryans now follow Buddhism. However, they still have some of their own festivals.

Bonona festival that takes place in September. This is their harvest festival which they celebrate with their traditional dances. The dances were referred to as Devta dances where the performers dress up like God. There are songs for 3 – 4 days after which the festival concludes.

A Brokpa language festival is now celebrated in August. This is done by the authorities to promote the Dah Hanu tourism and is not really an Aryan festival. The villagers prepare well in advance for the festival, where they practice their traditional dances and songs. On the day of the festival, they dress up in their traditional attire and perform at a single place for the visitors who come in from Leh.

Besides these, they have feasts to celebrate weddings and a child’s birth. The Aryan festivals are an occasion for all five villages to come together.

A traditional Aryan attire

The plaits are typical of an Aryan woman
The plaits are typical of an Aryan woman

Speaking of traditional Aryan attire, Sonam said that they have elaborate headgears. He called them Tepi and said that they are decorated with local flowers that are sewn together. The women wear their hair in long plaits and have long earrings and necklaces. Given the harsh weather, their coats are made of sheepskin and wool. These are brightly colored as they love all that is vibrant.

Escape during the Indo-Pak War

One of the key targets of the Kargil war was the Dahanu village. They had to be evacuated and moved to Khaltse for safety. The army occupied their homes in a bid to protect them from harm. Sonam said that they all volunteered with the army and helped them with their provisions. Minus one death, all of them were safe and alive. The one death was of a lady who refused to move and was killed in a bomb explosion.

Highly recommended read: Kargil war Memorial in Drass

Parts of an Aryan Home that is still stone structured
Parts of an Aryan Home that is still stone structured

Post the war, the Government helped them with their house repairs and other needs. “Things have been better lately, with the Government setting up a primary school in Dah and an advanced one in Khaltse. Our kids now are getting ready for the modern world.” – declared the man who knew Shahrukh Khan and Rajnikanth. 🙂 With a brief fold of hands, a Thank you and a Julley, we turned back to head home.

A Tea Invitation by the Aryan Lady

Bumping into another Aryan in Dah Village
Bumping into another Aryan in Dah Village

I meandered a bit towards the other home where I met another resident. He was in a hurry and hence, I did not indulge in a hearty conversation. However, he did pose for a picture before moving up. I even met a Jawan (Soldier) from the Indian Army in Dah. He was from Bengal but spent time helping these villagers – a thing that I guess all the nearby Army camps do. As I reached the place where the bus dropped us, I met this delightful lady.

The Pretty Aryan Woman who invited me for tea
The Pretty Aryan Woman who invited me for tea

Over 70 years old, she gave me the brightest smile ever. She pointed to a large mansion and said she was an Aryan who lived there with her husband. Her kids were all grown up and in Leh. Quite chatty, she invited me for a cup of tea so that she could show her jewelry. Very apologetic about her non-traditional appearance, she said that she had just washed her hair and hence, was not prepared. She said she had just removed her plaits and her long earrings.

The modern home of the Aryan lady who invited me for tea
The modern home of the Aryan lady who invited me for tea

I assured her that I would be back some other time for the tea. With her permission, I took her picture which I retained, only after she was satisfied with the shot. I regretted not having had that tea for I know she would have regaled me with many more stories of her master race – the Aryans.

How to visit the Aryan Village in Dahanu, Ladakh?

  • The Aryan villages are quite remote and located near the India-Pakistan border. You can get to the Dah Village only by road from Kargil or Leh (165 km). There are plenty of cab services in Leh that you can hire.
  • Leh is the closest airport. There are a lot of regular flights to Leh from Delhi and Mumbai.

Travel Tips

  • You need an Inner Line Permit to visit Dahanu Village. This will need to be shown at Khaltse. You can refer to this Ladakh Travel Guide for information on how to get this Inner Line Permit.
  • The villages are quite remote and there is no restaurant or restroomaround. In fact, you will not get any after Khaltse.
  • The villagers are very simple people and only a few of them can speak Hindi. Remember to be polite to them and seek their permission before clicking their pictures.
  • Apricots are available in plenty and being simple people, they offer you a handful of these to take home. It is only polite to pay them for the crop as this is their livelihood. Sonam offered us bundles and we insisted on paying him. He just charged us INR 200 for half a kg as against 500 that you pay for the same crop in Leh.
  • It is a good idea to go around their festival time so that you can witness their traditions in full glory.
  • Please be mindful of their personal spaces when clicking their pictures.
  • There is a fair amount of trekking you will need to do when you visit Dah Village. Wear flat shoes or trekking shoes for the same.
  • It is always cold here. Make sure you are well bundled with a jacket.
  • The light for photography can get really harsh here. Make sure you have your white balance and ISO settings geared for it.
  • I recommend this as a day trip from Lamayuru or Leh as there are no hotels to stay close by. You could even opt for a Stay in Alchi

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Popularly referred to as a Restless Ball of Energy. My Mom refuses to entertain my complaints about my equally restless daughter & assures my husband that I was born with a travel bug.

I am a Post-Graduate in Marketing by qualification and a travel blogger by passion. Besides travel, I enjoy photography and if you don’t find me at my desk, I would be out playing badminton or swimming or just running. I believe in planning for every long weekend through the year. And when I cannot travel physically, I travel virtually through this travel blog. My travel stories have also, got published on various websites and magazines including Lonely Planet India and Jetwings.

 

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46 Responses

  1. Laura

    Wow, what an adventure. Your photos are awesome, especially the portraits of the villagers, so lovely. Would love to visit this region of India.

  2. Mayuri Patel

    This post is really gem.I have heard about them and read it;reading this makes me smile and cry at the same time.Tourism should reach here to promote this community and to support their livelihood.Loved the Post.

    • Ami

      Thank you Mayuri. At the moment, the tourism is limited but then, I can see that whatever it is, it is a little exploiting. They are made to entertain the tourists but am not sure they get much out of it. I hope that people change that and get a little more sensitive to the people living here.

  3. Fiona Maclean

    What a lovely place to visit. I’m honestly not sure whether I’d vote for more tourism in somewhere that is so traditional. It raises a bigger question about whether the kind of changes that the modern world brings are progress or not

    • Ami

      I completely agree with you on this. I think they need a little more human conditions rather than pure-play tourism. Possibly more of cottage industry might help.

  4. Ryan K Biddulph

    Ami this is fascinating. I do see some white-person-features in these folks, I reckon. I just love celebrating our differences and similarities, because we are all One, anyway.

  5. Marvi

    What an amazing trip, Ami! I love your interaction with the locals and having them share stories with you. 🙂 So interesting to know about their traditions and customs. I’m pretty sure their Aryan Festivals are as colourful and full of history as their village is!

    • Ami

      It was so much fun Marvi. I am glad that I managed to meet them and speak to them. Thanks for stopping by

  6. Rashmi and Chalukya

    We did Ladakh a few years back and were left smitten by the beautiful untouched landscapes and tranquil surroundings. But we definitely missed a lot of places Dahanu Village is one of them. The Aryan festivals of the village sounds fascinating must be one of its kind of experience.

    • Ami

      The Aryan festivals do sound different and I hope that I get to see one of them at least. Dahanu is offbeat in the offbeat. Takes a bit of an effort to get here. Hope you can make it the next time.

  7. Amanda

    What a unique experience! I love that such villages are so well kept and yet are still opening to the rest of the world instead of staying completely cut off. I wish you could have stayed for tea with the last lady. I’m sure she had TONS of stories and wisdom to share with you! Next time for sure 🙂

    • Ami

      Ah yes, I wish I had stayed on too for tea. However, time was the enemy. Hope she remembers me when I visit again (if ever!)

  8. Soumya Gayatri

    I definitely got goosebumps while reading through your article. Oh my God, how much I like lost kingdoms, lost cities, and lost tribes. And you got me so interested right at the beginning. Would love to visit the Dahanu and see this for myself. Can totally relate to your excitement. Pinning this for future travels!

    • Ami

      I am sure you will love visiting it. There are such small nuances that are waiting to be discovered here.

  9. Claire

    It is fascinating to learn about this isolated village of a culture I never knew existed! It is so interesting to see how they live, and to see how the exchanges with the outside world will change their culture. Thanks for sharing this!

  10. Kavita Favelle

    Fascinating that the descendants of King Alexander are still living as a cohesive community in Ladakh. What a wonderful experience to visit the cluster of villages that form the community. The visit looks delightful, with your opportunity to meet the inhabitants of the village, and enjoy the village, culture and landscape.

    • Ami

      Thanks Kavita. I loved stumbling into them and listening to their stories. And yes, the landscape was a complete bonus

  11. Danik

    Now thats the ‘something new’ lesson I have learnt today. There are still descendants from King Alexander and they are living in this isolated village. That bit I did find interesting. What was more enjoyable for you, experiencing the culture of the locals there or seeing the truly amazing landscape?

    • Ami

      Thanks Danik. I think you cannot separate the two – the landscape totally merges with their life and culture. And I loved em both.

  12. Daniel

    Aryan is so amazing and your post just brought back so many nice memories. I visited last year and had such an amazing time. I come from Macedonia btw (the land of Alexander the Great) and this was a place I definitely wasn’t going to miss. The trip was nothing short of spectacular.

    • Ami

      Now you have got me with that Macedonia heritage. I sure would want to visit there to figure more so that I can compare my visit to this village with the origins. And yes, good luck to you in terms of planning a trip here.

  13. Blair villanueva

    This is an amazing trip you had and experience their genuine lifestyle. Thank you for sharing us this very remarkable experience and now we are educated of this place and the people.
    Where are you heading next?

    • Ami

      Thank you Blair. This was a unique experience and as to where I am heading next….fingers crossed. Somewhere soon!

  14. Migration Expert Australia

    Haven’t heard about Ladakh yet, ’till now. Good thing I came to visit your blog. I wish you could have tried the Aryan lady’s tea at least to share it with us. Anyway, your post is surely interesting, now I started to wonder about Aryan people. Looking forward to more of this.

    • Ami

      It is an offbeat part of India and so not surprising that you are not aware of it. I think you should visit here and explore the surreal landscapes. Cheers

  15. Janine Thomas

    What a lovely encounter with the old lady who invited you for tea. It’s moments like that on my travels that I treasure. It’s an experience that money just can’t buy and that makes it such a special occasion.

  16. Punita Malhotra

    Interacting with the locals in these remote villages and peeking into their (different) lives would have left an indelible impression on your mind, i am sure. India has so much diversity, sometimes it blows one’s mind. We are truly blessed with so many riches.

  17. Hannah

    What an amazing place to visit – I didn’t realise there were still enclaves of the Aryan bloodline in existence. While it’s amazing I get to see the Dahanu through your eyes, I kind of hope that tourism and the modern world doesn’t catch up with them too soon. Ladakh is so spectacularly beautiful – especially the river running through the gorge like that.

    • Ami

      This is a place where you need some responsible tourism so that it does not get spoilt. I hope people figure that out soon. At least I hope my readers can make a difference.

  18. Annick

    What an interesting visit with the Aryan descendants in India. It seems so strange that they’ve managed to keep their population as pure as possible and stick to their old ways. I wish you’d stayed for tea because who knows what other stories you would have learned. That’s a bit strange about the German Pregnancy migration. What a welcoming people.

    • Ami

      Thanks Annick. I too, wished I could have stayed for tea but well, time as always had me rushing. Nonetheless, a good interaction it was.

  19. Jyotirmoy Sarkar

    Very interesting post, it was really good to know their origin,culture and lifestyle. It was known to me that Alexander left some clansmen here but did not have much info what happened to them later.
    Captures are beautiful, loved the houses and the doors .

    • Ami

      Thanks Jyotirmoy. These guys are so proud of their origin and totally love sharing the tales. I hope you can visit the place too.

  20. Sinjana Ghosh

    Beautiful post about a topic that is unknown to many (atleast me). Your pictures speak a thousand words and i especially loce the portraits. I did not know about this part of Alexander’s history of conquering the world

    • Ami

      Thank you Sinjana. Glad you enjoyed the story. I hope you get to see it for yourself. The whole Alexander lineage does make it interesting.

  21. Same Day Taj Mahal Tour by Car

    Thanks for sharing your tour experience of Dahanu village of Ladakh. I read your post, I really appreciate from your post, your post is very beneficial for every reader including me. Your pictures are saying everything you had a great time in Ladakh.

  22. Diana

    Thanks for sharing. Very deep, the photos are incredible, it creates a perfect authenticity of the village. I haven’t been to India yet but if I go I might check this place. Great to know the travel tips.

    • Ami

      Thanks Diana. I hope you visit India soon and when you do, make sure you head to Ladakh. It will give you a different picture of the country.

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