We’re really pleased to announce that we have just won a grant from the National Geographic Society to begin work on the ecological restoration of Kargil, India.

Nestled between India and Pakistan in the snowy Himalayas, the remote, cold desert of Kargil is one of the world’s most politically volatile regions. It entered popular consciousness as the site of the India-Pakistan war in 1999 and is synonymous with the often difficult relationship between the Hindu and Muslim communities of the sub-continent.

Less known, however, is the fact that Kargil abounds in medicinal and aromatic plants, many of which are threatened with extinction.

Poverty, ignorance and a lack of systematic conservation efforts have led to the environmental degradation of Kargil.

The local population struggles with physical and economic isolation from the rest of India. Moreover, Kargil’s issues are dwarfed by those of Kashmir, of which administrative region it is a part; thus, it gets little government assistance. As with the rest of the region, there is, overall, a high degree of hopelessness and disengagement amongst the youth.

The population of Kargil is comprised primarily of Shia immigrants from Persia. They came to Kargil many centuries ago to partake of the trade along the historic Silk Road. As “migrant” traders, the Shias are still largely ignorant of Kargil’s treasure trove of medicinal and aromatic plants. This knowledge belongs primarily to the region’s rapidly dwindling population of Tibetan Buddhist healers.

We are proposing to restore the ecology of Kargil in three stages: the first stage is raising local awareness of these plants and the need for conservation, to be followed by a second stage where we set up linkages between leading Indian research institutions and local farmers and, finally, a third stage where we begin commercial micro-cultivation/ ecological restoration efforts.

Although the economic benefits of conservation in Kargil will not be immediately forthcoming, we believe that a good place to start is to demonstrate to its residents the global importance of their local conservation efforts. We propose to do this using the citizen science model, where data on Kargil’s biodiversity is gathered by local high school students under expert scientific supervision. In this way, we hope to open dialogue between local youth and conservation scientists, and to demonstrate to the former that their local knowledge has a crucial role to play in conservation.

We will be posting regular updates on our website and social media, and we invite you to join us on our conservation journey.

"Yakzes," a Flower of Kargil
“Yakzes,” a Flower of Kargil