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Sonam Wangchok: Selfless Son Of Ladakh

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Story about “Sonam Wangchok” contributed by Mahima Gir Mehra

SalamatRaho initiative has been launched with the sole purpose of showcasing the stories of HumanKind and connecting such genuine individuals with those who want to support their causes.

Salamat Raho Introduces the inspiring story of Dr. Sonam Wangchok

Sonam Wangchok: Selfless Son Of Ladakh

You were born for a reason, that reason is your divine purpose, and you will never find true success in life until you discover and accept your purpose. Most people just float through life without knowing why they were born. While some people are born to make a difference, and become heroes for their people, totally aware of who they are and what they need to do.

Dr. Sonam Wangchok is one such dedicated, hardworking, compassionate, and selfless son of Ladakh who has devoted his life for the preservation of his slow-losing culture and to protect the identity of his people.

 The Early years of Sonam Wangchok….

Born in the village of Khardong Rongjuk, in Nubra valley, Sonam was part of a family with 6 siblings. His father passed 

Sonam Wangchok: Selfless Son Of Ladakh
With His Mother

away when he was 11 years old. His mother went through a tough struggle to keep the family intact. His early years were spent grazing the sheep and goat. Up to that time he had never been to school. His father taught him to read Tibetan script and pray with him every morning and evening.

“There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you‘re meant to be…” Destiny cannot be toiled with.

His brother realized the spark in young Sonam and his desire to study further, and not just remain managing livestock.

He arranged for his enrolment at the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies (CIBS) in Leh, the capital of Ladakh.

Sonam Wangchok: Selfless Son Of Ladakh

To his good luck, H.E. the 19th Bakula Rinpoche sponsored his further education in Sri Lanka where he did Buddhist studies at the Buddhist and Pali University and received his B.A. (Hons) degree.

This distinction gave him immediate access to the University of Delhi to pursue M.A. degree. Staying and surviving in Delhi, with no additional financial support was a struggle in itself. But he never gave up. In the meantime, he received Diploma in Tibetan Language and Literature, English, and Journalism and also qualified National Eligibility Test (NET) which qualified him for teaching in any University in India. He received a research fellowship from University Grant Commission (UGC) for pursuing doctorate studies and in 2006 he was awarded doctorate degree from the Department of Buddhist Studies, University of Delhi. His interest till then was to pursue academic excellence in the field of Buddhist studies. During this time, he was invited to Ulm University in Germany to assist with some projects related to Himalayan Buddhist studies in the Anthropological department.

Sonam Wangchok: Selfless Son Of Ladakh
International Association For Ladakh Studies

Twist of fate

To his surprise, his life took another turn when he met the King of Ladakh in New Delhi and asked him to work on two projects of Namgyal Institute for Research on Ladakhi Art and Culture (NIRLAC). During his research trips for the Inventory of Cultural Resources in Ladakh, he was completely in shock to see countless numbers of the region’s tangible heritage were in an advanced state of decay. There, he remembered the precious words of H.E. 19th Bakula Rinpoche who, once visited Sri Lanka and advised him to go back to Ladakh after his studies and work for the wellbeing of the people there.

Sonam Wangchok: Selfless Son Of Ladakh
Honored by King of Ladakh
With Mr. Pema Khandu (Chief Minister- Arunachal Pradesh)
Conversation with Mr. John Bray- Former President of IALS

The turning point moment: Sonam Wangchok

 He had to make that moral choice – to listen to the mind and pick up a lucrative job offer or hear his hearts calling and  honor a promise made. Young man Sonam, with a strong character base, knew exactly what was needed to do. He started to volunteer to work for the cultural preservation of the Himalayas as a social worker and a member of the community. He was managing all his volunteer work by mobilizing the village and monastic communities without any funding or a salary for himself.   

Life wasn’t easy for him though.  As they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. His family in Rongjuk was involved in two heavy floods and they lost everything. He moved to Leh and had to restart his life. But all this never created obstacles in his path. A young 11year old boy who was content playing with his sheep and goat, never knew where fate would take him. Destiny had other plans. He is a true soldier of his soil though. Fighting quietly with different challenges in keeping alive the rich cultural heritage of the Himalayas.

Basket Weaving Workshop

It was with this cognition of the urgent need for safeguarding the cultural heritage of the Himalayas, he founded the Himalayan Cultural Heritage Foundation (HCHF) in 2009.  He put in his sweat and blood to work for his cause.

The first thing Sonam Wangchok initiated through his foundation was to train the local masons to restore Buddhist monuments and stupas. When he founded the (HCHF) there was only one active stupa architect left in Ladakh. Thereafter, with a small but committed group of masons, he commissioned the restoration of several Stupas. Rehabbing stupas in Ladakh is one of the many conservation projects that HCHF has started.

UNESCO Conference

Heritage Himalaya

Soon ‘Heritage Himalaya’ a half-yearly magazine, edited by Sonam Wangchok was also initiated to disseminate knowledge and issues pertaining to cultural heritage in the Himalayas. The magazine is slowly becoming the mirror of the Himalayas as every issue contains articles on different aspects of culture and heritage in different parts of the Himalaya. 

Cultural Workshop

 In 2018, HCHF took up the task of illuminating a much talked about yet equally neglected past history, the Silk Route. A program named “Silk Route Initiative” was conceived to revive and strengthen the intangible heritage associated with the famous Silk Route and its legacy. The Revival of Mamani Festival in Kargil is one such example initiated under this programme. 

The promotion and preservation activities of HCHF includes built, cultural and natural heritage, art and crafts skills, folk traditions, community-based management of cultural and natural resources, and language and literature. Varies research projects have been initiated which will propel the development of sustainable solutions to mitigate its degradation. Traditional sports, traditional cuisines, and folklores have been revived and promoted through traditional festivals. Similarly the Rock Art Unit (RAU) was established under the aegis of HCHF to bring focused attention to the Research, Conservation and Documentation of rock arts in Ladakh. 

Sonam Wangchok
Workshop on Stupa Building & Restoration

Dr. Sonam Wangchok is planning to expand the activities of HCHF in other parts of the Himalaya by involving communities, especially the youth. Heritage Himalaya magazine is a paradigm.  He has many well-wishers from India and outside the country. He has been awarded on different occasions locally for his extensive works in the field of cultural preservation. Besides his foundation, he personally served as a tutor to the 20th Bakula Rinpoche from 2010- 2013, who in his previous lifetime had supported Sonam’s education in Sri Lanka. Presently, Sonam Wangchok is also holding the post of Hon’ble President of International Association for Ladakh Studies (IALS) and encouraging aspiring members from different countries and the youth of Ladakh for research and Ladakh studies. 

Ladakh has always been one of the most difficult places to survive in, due to its harsh terrain and climate. Furthermore, unplanned construction, the tremendous spurt in vehicles, abandonment of traditional farming practices, poor waste management, mass migration from the countryside to urban centres in Ladakh, and the disturbing consequences of global warming have left the region in a precarious situation. The damage to this delicate ecosystem could be irreversible.

Sonam Wangchok
Mamani Festival

The Youth are moving to the other cities for better education and job prospects and facing an identity crisis. Amongst all these issues, Dr Sonam Wangchuk has stood strong, holding his mantle and giving direction to the future generations in protecting the Ladakhi culture. A true hero and an Idol for thousands of locals. Learning about his life story gives us hope that- miracles are possible. All you need to have is true dedication and sincerity.

Sonam Wangchok
With Honorable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi

Closing Note: Sonam Wangchok

What a journey this has been of a little shepherd boy with no formal primary education to attaining a doctorate degree followed by becoming the President of a leading organizations, such as IALS and HCHF working towards preserving and hand holding the culture of Ladakh. A highly inspirational story that is difficult to surpass in one lifetime. I am sure his 91-year-old mother must be so proud of her little Shepherd boy. 

Kudos to Dr. Sonam Wangchok !!

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