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Sunday Read Preview

We hope you will enjoy this excerpt from The Sunday Read where we talk about everything associated with natural fibers. We learn how nomads have survived for centuries in the High Himalayas raising cashmere goats., and we travel to Afghanistan to learn how two generations of war has impacted the silk trade.  We learn how cultural traditions evolve and why they fade.  We also spend time exploring the obscure, but no less fascinating.

 

As New Yorker editor Harold Ross used to say, the magazine's objective is to engage and entertain. 

Our goal is to do just that. 

(Photo: a nomadic child walking with great purpose.)

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Heroes of The Himalayas
Story and Photos By Linda N. Cortright

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Cashmere goats heading out at sunrise

I will be long gone before the age of space tourism is within reach of my financial means and even if, for example, I win a free trip to the moon playing Bingo, I would decline. As Stanzin Dorjai, an award-winning, Indian filmmaker from Ladakh says, “Lunar tourism is already here! The air in Ladakh is very thin. It is difficult to breathe. And nothing grows here—even if you plant a small, small tree you must take care of it like a baby.”

 

It is true, India’s High Himalayas are barren and brutal, and I can attest to the fact that it’s difficult to breathe—none of these facts, however, will alter Elon Musk’s quest to build timeshares on Mars. But in less than 20 years, tourism, climate change and politics have altered more than the Himalayan landscape, but a way of life that has endured for centuries.

 

Typically, the shepherds who raise cashmere goats are referred to as nomads. In fact, they are semi-nomadic. Gone are the days when their life was one of continuous motion traveling from one fertile grazing ground to the next. Now, shepherds are semi-nomadic. They have a permanent home where part of the family lives year-round and grows a modicum of barley and other vegetables while the others travel great distances with their animals.

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Harvesting barley

The first time I visited a nomadic camp I could not have felt more out of place then if I had landed on the moon, and in many ways, I couldn’t have felt more at home. Back then, I had a small herd of cashmere goats on my farm in Maine and to find myself standing amidst a congregation of thousands was sensory overload … oxygen deprivation notwithstanding. It was all but impossible to wrap my brain around the realities of nomadic life. It was late August and the snow had arrived. I remember waking up at 16,000 feet only to discover the zipper on my tent was frozen shut.

 

On the heels of writing about the Highland Clearances, where notoriously unproductive land became economically viable with the introduction of more “productive” sheep compared to the complete reverse in New Zealand, where “productive” sheep are now being replaced by more economically favorable carbon offset forests, I began thinking about the productivity of the High Himalayas. What does the future hold for the nomads and their cashmere goats? If not goats and yaks on this expansive landscape—known as a cold desert—then what?

 

How can you monetize 60,000 square miles of spectacularly beautiful nothingness?

 

How about a spectacularly gargantuan solar farm? Twenty-thousand acres—give or take.

 

The project, scheduled to be completed in 2026, will be the largest solar farm in the world (based on acreage). India is already home to the largest solar farm, Bhadla Solar Park in Rajasthan (14,000 acres).

 

Power outages are ubiquitous in India. I remember standing in line at the airport getting ready to board a flight when all the lights went out. I paused and thought, this can’t be good. For those who visit Leh, the largest town in Ladakh, there is always the dichotomy between being mesmerized by the mountains and fresh air, and gagging on the fumes from all the generators that seem to run constantly.

 

The “ultra-mega” solar farm as The Hindustan Times refers to the project, (this seems completely in keeping with Stanzin saying, “small, small tree”) will finally provide reliable clean energy to the country’s most remote region. It will also spell change for those who have forever led a life free of fossil fuels.

Shepherds are understandably concerned how they will cope with the seismic loss of grazing land. In response, the government has been quick to say impact studies “will” be conducted. Existing reports from other areas indicate sheep are typically compatible with solar farms, but cashmere comes from goats and studies indicate goats aren’t quite as compatible as sheep. They’re prone to chewing cables and other naughty behaviors. And that doesn’t even begin to address the issue of yaks nor the loss of native vegetation that is already in a fragile state.

 

India has declared an ambitious goal of producing 500 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy by 2030. It is estimated the entire Ladakh region can produce 35 GW and the new solar project will produce 13 GW. In the war of clean energy versus cashmere —there is no war, sun beats cashmere like a rock crushes scissors every time.

(full article available with subscription)

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