In the Lap of the Mountains: The Irrigation Systems of Ladakh's Farming Communities

Film screening on Wednesday, 14th of October 2015.

6pm at ZEF, Walter Flex Straße 3, right conference room.

After the film screening there will be a short Q&A session with the film makers Joe Hill and Patrik Nehls

This documentary film is directed by Joe Hill, using video footage captured during field research in Ladakh under the Crossroads Asia research programme, funded by the BMBF. Patrick Nehls, a Masters student at the University of Bonn, is the film’s editor.

In July 2015 the Urdu version of this film was screened to the villagers who appear in it (research ethics), and aired by a local TV station, STV Kargil. The film's English version was screened on July 27th 2015 at the 17th Conference of the International Association for Ladakh Studies (IALS), held in Kargil.



In the lap of the Himalayan and Karakorum mountain ranges farming communities thrive at some of the world’s highest altitudes, by channelling snow melt to their farmland. The management of water resources is one of the most important tasks performed by communities – for without the judicious control and use of water, it would be impossible for humans and their animals to live in this region. In recent decades the lifestyles and expectations of villagers have dramatically changed – due to government policies and programmes, political and economic developments, and cultural influences. However communities appear to be adapting to these changes by embracing new opportunities while continuing to work collectively to manage their village infrastructure. This documentary looks at how communities manage their irrigation systems, with a view to understanding why they are so successful.

The documentary centres on Karchay Khar gram panchayat in the Suru valley. The documentary’s director conducted field research here in 2013 and 2014. It presents a brief overview of the village’s history, the livelihoods pursued by villagers, and the government programmes supporting villagers. Karchay Khar’s irrigation channels source their water from the Barsoo River and from mountain streams. The system of water rights that governs the use and management of the irrigation channels closely resembles that of the irrigation rights and customs (Riwaj-i-Abpashi) recorded 100 years ago during the land revenue settlements and re-assessments of the early 20th century. Two irrigation systems created since Indian independence, without governmental support, are highlighted, for there are no records of these systems’ irrigation rights and customs. The documentary shows how water-users collectively repair one of these channels using local materials and techniques. This is contrasted with an irrigation department project that is concretising part of the channel. The history and present-day management of the other channel, which sources water from a mountain stream at 3800 metres above sea level, is explored.

The documentary shows how new lifestyles and expectations contrast sharply with a centuries’ old way of life. Villagers benefit from the Hill Council system of governance, which allows local priorities to be factored into development plans. Importantly, government irrigation projects do not interfere with the community’s indigenous water management arrangements. More than anything, harsh climatic and ecological conditions ensure that, even in these times of rapid societal change, communities continue to work collectively to manage their water resources.