Villagers in India's Himalayan landscape grapple with tourism boom

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Himalayan village adapting to tourism boom
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Himalayan village adapting to tourism boom
Phunchok Angmo, 33, a mathematics teacher, poses for a photograph at Thiksey monastery, near Leh, the largest town in the region of Ladakh, nestled high in the Indian Himalayas, India September 28, 2016. When asked how living in the worlds fastest growing major economy had affected life, Angmo replied: "The children here no longer care about the culture and they spend less time talking to each other. They spend their free time on laptops." REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Lights from shops illuminate the city of Leh, the largest town in the region of Ladakh, nestled high in the Indian Himalayas, India September 26, 2016. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
A man walks past shops as the sun sets in Leh, the largest town in the region of Ladakh, nestled high in the Indian Himalayas, India September 29, 2016. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Dorsey Takapa, 65, a retired goat herder poses for a photograph in Choklamsar, a village nestled high in the Indian Himalayas, India September 27, 2016. When asked how living in the worlds fastest growing major economy had affected life, Takapa replied: "Traditional values are being lost as we focus on money." REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Tsewang Lhadon, 36, a housewife, poses for a photograph in Choklamsar, a village nestled high in the Indian Himalayas. When asked how living in the world's fastest growing major economy had affected life, she replied, "The children get a better education and are eating more nutritious food because of the government subsidies", India September 27, 2016. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Testing Yangchan, 60, a housewife, poses for a photograph in Choklamsar, a village nestled high in the Indian Himalayas, India September 27, 2016. When asked how living in the world's fastest growing major economy had affected life, Yangchan replied: "Medical facilities are much better although crime has risen." REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Testing Yangchan, 60, a housewife, poses for a photograph in Choklamsar, a village nestled high in the Indian Himalayas, India September 27, 2016. When asked how living in the world's fastest growing major economy had affected life, Yangchan replied: "Medical facilities are much better although crime has risen." REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Stakna monastery catches the evening light near Leh, the largest town in the region of Ladakh, nestled high in the Indian Himalayas, India September 27, 2016. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Tsewang Dolma, 33, a farmer and housewife poses for a photograph in Matho, a village nestled high in the Indian Himalayas, India September 29, 2016. When asked how living in the world's fastest growing major economy had affected life, Dolma replied: "Our culture is spoiled now. We don't wear our traditional dress." REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
The sun sets in Leh, the largest town in the region of Ladakh, nestled high in the Indian Himalayas, India September 26, 2016. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Vegetable vendors chat in Leh, the largest town in the region of Ladakh, nestled high in the Indian Himalayas, India September 29, 2016. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Phunchok Angmo, 33, a mathematics teacher, poses for a photograph at Thiksey monastery, near Leh, the largest town in the region of Ladakh, nestled high in the Indian Himalayas, India September 28, 2016. When asked how living in the world's fastest growing major economy had affected life, Angmo replied: "The children here no longer care about the culture and they spend less time talking to each other. They spend their free time on laptops." REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Children play on a school playground as the sun sets in Leh, the largest town in the region of Ladakh, nestled high in the Indian Himalayas, India September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
A girl runs across a school playground as the sun sets in Leh, the largest town in the region of Ladakh, nestled high in the Indian Himalayas, India September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Tsering Dolma, 51, a housewife and farmer poses for a photograph in Matho, a village nestled high in the Indian Himalayas, India September 29, 2016. When asked how living in the world's fastest growing major economy had affected life, Dolma replied: "We can now afford new machinery due to subsidies which makes our job much easier." REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
People play polo in Leh, the largest town in the region of Ladakh, nestled high in the Indian Himalayas, India September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Travel agent, Stanton Othsil, 29, sits in the sun in Leh, the largest town in the region of Ladakh, nestled high in the Indian Himalayas, India September 29, 2016. When asked how living in the world's fastest growing major economy had affected life, Othsil said: "More tourists are coming now, especially Indians who are spending more money." REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
Prayer flags stretch towards Tsemo Monastery in the city of Leh, the largest town in the region of Ladakh, nestled high in the Indian Himalayas, India September 26, 2016. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton 
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LEH, India, Oct 12 (Reuters) - Villagers nestled high in the Indian Himalayas are grappling with lifestyle changes in the world's fastest-growing major economy that are eroding their age-old Buddhist culture but opening up new opportunities.

People have long wrested a living from herding goats and tending wheat fields ringed by 6,000-m (19,685-ft) snow-capped peaks, while Buddhist monasteries dotting the landscape are a reminder of the region's ties to its eastern neighbor, Tibet.

Traditions are fading fast as larger numbers of India's burgeoning middle class flock to holiday in the tranquility of the lunar-like terrain.

Yet living in India's remote northwestern corner of Ladakh still has advantages, says Tashi Phutit, an 81-year old wheat farmer and housewife.

"Now we can eat better vegetables and wear better clothes. The problem is people are becoming greedy," she said outside her stone-hut home in Stok, a village 15 kms (9.3 miles) distant from Leh, the region's largest town.

Residents of the village, 3,500 meters (3,800 yards) above sea level, use cow dung to heat their homes and solar power to warm water. They work together to harvest the fields of each villager, before moving on to the next.

SEE ALSO: Destin-Nation India: Off the Rails on the Subcontinent

Buddhists form the majority of those dwelling in Leh's rugged treeless deserts, but make up just 9 million of the 1.3-billion population of India, where Gautam Buddha, founder of the religion, is believed to have attained enlightenment.

Several thousand are ethnic Tibetans who fled across the border after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

Today's biggest change is India's ballooning tourist industry, with the government forecasting arrivals in Ladakh to hit 313,000 in 2017, exceeding the region's 280,000 residents and ten times the number of visitors in 2002.

The resulting strain on resources leaves vehicles clogging narrow roads, spurring worries about growing pollution and the risk of receding glaciers.

But tourism spells a more prosperous future for the youth.

Life has "become much easier and much more comfortable," says Tsering Gurmet, Phutit's 28-year-old grandson, who is a mountain guide.

Mathematics teacher Phunchok Angmo stands proudly in the shadow of the 15th-century hilltop Thiksey monastery nearby, her head adorned with a fur-lined hat studded with turquoise stones that is a family heirloom.

She says schooling has improved as wealth has penetrated to the mountains from the Indian hinterland hundreds of kilometers to the south, but change has come at a cost.

"The children here no longer care about the culture and they spend less time talking to each other," the 33-year-old said. "They spend their free time on laptops." (Writing by Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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