Plowing and Planting in Ladakh by Kelly Klein

Fields of barley, Ladakh - Kelly Klein

Another beautiful day in Ladakh…

Snow layered on the peaks, trees budding, and time for preparing and planting the fields of wheat, barley, potatoes, lentils, mustard, and more.

I joined my Ladakhi family and friends to help in the fields today. While demanding, tiring labor, it is filled with shared laughter, song, food and drink. There were two families present, each owning one dzo, the cow-yak hybrid.  Intimidatingly large, timid critters, the dzo plowed the fields to Puntsok’s familiar song. Sometimes, even when I am across the valley on my own little hilltop, I can hear his song and know he is plowing a field, his own or a neighbor’s. Each man has his own unique songs, which are also directions for the animals of when to turn or stop.

The handmade wooden plow is a work of art, sometimes with an old metal can wrapped around the base of the wood to protect it from rocks. The iron blade cuts through the soil with the weight of the man leaning deeply into the furrow. Those of us around will immediately pick out the invasive weeds followed by one of the women tossing the seed. The next furrow covers the previous one. There are no assigned jobs but we work together as a fluid motion, doing whatever needs to be done at that moment, observing, supporting, participating fully.  At times we stop to drink tea, black tea or butter tea, and chapatis. Other breaks might be with Fanta, or just water. Fanta, such a fascinating drink, orange bubbling sugar, reminds me of living in the village in west Africa, hot Fanta as we had no refrigeration and where the bottle caps were always reused; you could see the brand name of the previous soda on the inside of the cap.  

As the plowing moves down the field, we cover the seeds and level the ground, preparing for the process of irrigating in the future.  Using handmade wooden rakes? paddles?, a simple forked stick with another piece of flat wood attached to the end, a rhythm, a constant rhythm of plowing and planting. No directions, no one in charge or giving orders, just a harmony of working together, laughing, taking turns, resting. No one is ever pushed, asked to do something. Everyone does what they can until someone offers to do it, and then they will flow into another part of the process, spreading the seeds, picking out any weeds, roots, or rocks, It is like a dance. We dance together and independently, responding to the need by what we have to offer, what we choose to offer, and both giving and accepting.  No judgment. Finally, a heavy bar is dragged across the soil that further levels the field.

Fields of barley of wheat , Ladakh - Kelly Klein
Prior to plowing and planting, the fields were watered/soaked about 10 days ago from the canals that carry water off the river that is fed by the melting glacier. It is always a time of waiting, ready to plant but dependent on warm weather begin the glacial melt. Some years, if very cold spring, our growing seasons doesn’t begin until June which leaves so little time to grow and harvest. We are so largely dependent on the natural world, the cycles, the unpredictability, adapting to whatever it is with patience and acceptance. No thinking, No tension.

After watering the fields, the loot as it is called in Ladakhi, which is the human waste from our dry composting toilets, is carried to the fields either by back, or if fortunate enough, by local donkeys or horses, transported from the house toilet to the fields. The loot was dumped in piles throughout the fields a month ago to continue decomposing and is then sparingly spread around the fields immediately before plowing. It is a minimal amount but all that we have, the only fertilizer available for the land as the cow dung is gathered and saved for fuel in the frigid winters. The quantity of loot one has is dependent upon the size of the family, how many folks are pooing in a day. Dried leaves, sawdust, ashes, and/or dirt are used to cover our daily contribution in the local toilet and create additional composting material.

One of my favorite times, at the end of harvest, late fall, every family will have the Buddhist monks come to their homes to do at least one day of prayers. These prayers are specifically for any and all insects or critters who might have been harmed or accidentally killed that year during the plowing, planting or harvesting. What a concept, what awareness, to offer thanks and apologies to the other inhabitants of our world.

This is my life. I am so absolutely incredible grateful to be a part of this community, this way of life. I came back to my home, exhausted, dirty, sore muscles carried me back across the river and up to my home alone. I am alive, very much alive in this day. I am so fortunate to be able to dance the dance of ages, to hear the songs, to share the laughter and Fanta. Brimming with joy and thanks…many Julleys!!


  1. Wonderful description, Kelly ley! bless you for sharing xxx

    1. Many julleys dear Steffie Ley. Thank you for reading and sharing..

  2. Oh Kelly, thank you so much for the invitation to share in your beautiful writings. Many times my phone doesn't work well in the mountains I live in, but I so look forward to the times it does and I can enjoy your writings.

    1. Thank you so much for your words, for reading, for sharing this journey with me. How incredible this life is, every moment.. which mountains do you live in? I find I can't stay away from the mountains, whether the Andes or the Himalayas, I need the wide vistas..they open my heart and soul. You might enjoy a story I wrote about Ladakh my first year here which is published on Maptia, another amazing website. The link is
      You show up here as unknown but I think we know each other?


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