Following the appeal of the Buddhist spiritual and temporal leader Dalai Lama for preserving the rich heritage of the ancient rocks with Buddhist inscriptions scattered along the Indus River and other places in Ladakh, steps are being initiated for the Geographical Indication (GI) tagging of these rocks.

The recent appeal of the Dalai Lama to residents of Ladakh for preserving the rich heritage of the decaying rock art and inscriptions has worked and suddenly people have realized the historical, religious and cultural importance of these artifacts.

The appeal was made by the Dalai Lama during his recent visit to Ladakh when he came to know that the ancient rocks with inscriptions of the Kushan period and Bronze Age were decaying due to negligence.

Such rocks are scattered throughout Ladakh but the largest cluster of rocks carrying inscriptions and images of animals, hunting scenes, human giants, masks and various other themes is in the Murgi-Tokpo where the village was preserving these.

Before bifurcation of Ladakh into a separate Union Territory (UT) the general complaint of people was that the Kashmir centric governments were discriminating against the Ladakh region.

Now that the Ladakh region has become a separate UT, the local authorities are focusing on the issues related to preservation of art and culture of the mountainous area.

Tsering Phunchok, deputy superintending archeologist of the Archeological Survey of India, said that the rock inscriptions are rare but figure depiction is seen more on the rocks on the banks of the Indus in Western Ladakh.

He said that he has sent a proposal for preserving such rocks in the Murgi-Tokpo but the villagefolk have religious sentiments attached to these wonderful pieces of ancient art.

Rocks in Khalsi carrying portrait of the then Kushan rulers have decayed or broken.

It is learnt that several such rocks have been broken or damaged due to floods and also during construction of roads.

The Himalayan Heritage Cultural Foundation (HCHF) has established an autonomous Rock Art Unit (RAU) to bring focused attention to the research, conservation and documentation of this precious cultural heritage in Ladakh, said Sonam Wangchok, founder and secretary of the HCHF.

Wangchok said that the Convenor of the RAU, Tash Ldawa Thsangspa, who is based in Leh, is the local pioneer of Rock Art research, and he is assisted by the Co-Convenor, Viraf Mehta, a Delhi-based social anthropologist who has been documenting the rock art of Ladakh since 2009.

Both Tashi and Viraf bring invaluable field experience and a rich database of the rock art of Ladakh through their own personal efforts, and through their contacts with other scholars, researchers from across the world.

Most visitors to Ladakh are unaware of the richness and uniqueness of rock art of Ladakh-a living tradition from prehistoric to historic and modern times. Rock Art in Ladakh comprise carvings or incisions on rock surfaces that are called petro-glyphs which display a very wide range of themes and motifs, and provide crucial information about Ladakh’s prehistory about which very little is yet known, he said.

The rock art of Ladakh, whilst concentrated around the Indus River and its tributaries, is represented in all parts of Ladakh and Kargil districts, including Zanskar, Changthang and Nubra.

However, the Rock art of Ladakh at several locations is under severe risk of damage and outright destruction through road, housing and other development projects, and we are confident that the establishment of the RAU will play a key role with other interested organisations, to create local community level awareness and ownership of this precious cultural heritage, Wangchok said.