Members of the Himalayan Drokpa community discuss their own identity: “Lost tribe of Alexander the Great” – Ladakh

Lost tribe of Alexander the Great, Australian Broadcasting Corporation | Learn more about tribal culture in Ladakh >>

TRACY BOWDEN, PRESENTER: This next story comes from high in the Himalayan mountains, a remote area where tourists go searching for the lost tribe of Alexander the Great.

The Drokpa with their ancient language and customs are believed to be his descendants. But as they battle to save their culture there’s debate in the tribe about their heritage. […]

For centuries Ladakh this has been a crossroads of Asian cultures. Different tribes have settled here from the hot Indian plains or migrated across the Tibetan mountains.

Once a year they get together to show off their cultures.

Yet amid all this colour one group stands out, and not just because they wear flowerpots. Known as the Drokpa, they’re said to have come all the way from Europe.

You see back in the fourth century BC Alexander the great invaded northern India. The story goes that some of his Greek soldiers decided to hang around and put down roots and the community they founded has stayed entirely separate for more than 2000 years. […]

The source of the story was the traveller’s bible, the Lonely Planet Guide. That was enough to send us barrelling down the Indus River in search of Drokpa world.

Getting there isn’t easy. They live in a restricted military zone on the frontiers of Pakistan and China.

It wasn’t quite the Shangrila we were expecting. […]

Gurmed Setan (phonetic) who is 75 said he’d heard the story from his grandparents.

GURMED SETAN (subtitled): Yes it’s said that we came down from Alexander. Our ancestors told us that we descended from that race.

ERIC CAMPBELL: But things soon deviated from the script. Gurmed led me through the underground houses where Drokpas used to live.

MAN: All this has been left. There are no more in use.

ERIC CAMPBELL: Rather than staying separate young people are leaving the villages to find work and education.

GURMED SETAN (subtitled): All the people with money have already left and it’s only us poor ones who are still here.

ERIC CAMPBELL: To see the real Drokpas he suggested we climb to the village of Beema which still speaks the ancient Drokpa language. […]

In an otherwise lunar landscape it’s like a Garden of Eden. You could see why ancient Greeks might come here.

But nobody seemed to have read Lonely Planet.

STANZEN (phonetic, subtitled): I don’t feel we are the descendants of Alexander’s soldiers.

ERIC CAMPBELL: In fact our host for the night Stanzen didn’t even feel special about being a Drokpa.

STANZEN (subtitled): It’s nothing special to feel proud about. Everyone is born into one or other community. Likewise I was born into this one. But there’s nothing to feel proud about that.

ERIC CAMPBELL: It looks an idyllic place, especially for children.

But Stanzen told us life here was hard. If he had the chance he’d move his family away.

The one thing he and his wife take pride in is the Drokpa dress, handed down to each generation since whenever their ancestors came here.

STANZEN (subtitled): After finding the traditions were being lost we decided even though we don’t wear them casually to make it compulsory to wear these clothes during festivals and those who don’t wear them either get punished or ridiculed.

STANZEN’S WIFE (subtitled): Whenvere there’s an opportunity to dance and even if it’s very heavy, and it’s not fun to go to far away places, we always like wearing our traditional clothes.

ERIC CAMPBELL: It seems there’s simply no way of knowing where the Drokpas came from and most are more concerned with the present. […]

Source: “Lost tribe of Alexander the Great” ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation); Broadcast: 22/01/2010; Reporter: Eric Campbell
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Date Visited: Sun Sep 15 2013 12:01:53 GMT+0200 (CEST)

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