Updated: Jan 13
Photo credit: Mipham Jigmet
The largest dumping site of waste in Leh city is a place known as Bomb Guard. According to the Leh Municipal Committee, there are restrictions on throwing waste in Bomb Guard however since no one is really monitoring the site, everyone is free to throw their trash there. Several people told us that if we wanted to really see trash we should go to Bomb Guard. So, to see for ourselves what the place actually looked like, we went. A little way in and we realised there was a lot more to see than just the trash. Around us were an extraordinary number of dogs engaged in different activities. Some searching for food, others sitting, some barking at us, but almost all of them turning to take a look at us. They were so many and going about their business so nonchalantly, it was as if we were in a city of dogs. The expression in the eyes of these dogs was striking - all of them looked so tired perhaps from continuous hunt and fight for food.
About a kilometre into the dumpsite, we encountered a peculiar structure - a framework of wooden beams with numerous leather strings suspended from the top in the shape of nooses. Asbestos sheets half encircled this structure leaving an opening through which dogs were running in and out sniffing for food. As we gazed at these nooses, a few metres away, from inside a yard, a sheep was silently staring at us. Close to the sheep was standing a man at the entrance of a small makeshift house looking at us with dark inquisitiveness. Just then our eyes fell on the skin of a sheep hanging down from the asbestos sheet walling the wooden structure. We also took notice of the mud on the floor of the structure because it was unnaturally black. Now we knew what we were looking at - a slaughterhouse. Coming face to face with a slaughterhouse that too in the middle of a dumpsite unnerved us slightly. We discussed how it might be functioning. The slings from the poles might be used for hanging the animals upside-down for draining out the blood, hence the blackness of the floor - from soaking blood. We turned to look again at the animal which was living its last hours - a big, grey sheep. Its image stayed with us for the rest of the evening. At dinner we decided to go back there. It was must to photograph what we had seen.
We set out for Bomb Guard next morning itself when still dark. The place indeed conceals surprises. As we were entering, we saw a column of thick smoke rising from in-between the hills. We drove to the point where the flames were. That huge mass of trash burning in the early morning hours produced a sad feeling in us for no reason. We wondered who might be setting fire to the trash. Some dogs were roaming around the fire. Usually dogs fear fire and smoke but these ones were indifferent to the lapping flames and the occasional sound of exploding glass bottle. The scene was morose making us disconcerted. However, since we had our camera this time, without wasting a minute we started shooting - a sea of burnt waste and ashes, dog defending a sheep head, clumps of sheep fur spread on the ground, pigeons and magpies perching on heaps of plastic, bulls fighting to lick tetra packs of juice. These bulls must have been abandoned after their use was over. But there was hardly any food waste from which they could eat. The trash was of mainly plastics, cardboards, cloth and glass.
An incinerator is also set up inside Bomb Guard. Our assumption was that it was dysfunctional because the facility was lying open. However, when we interviewed the President of Leh Municipal Committee, Mr. Namgyal, a few days later, we learnt that the incinerator has been built recently to reclaim the site as a public park. It's a bit shocking all that trash would be incinerated especially at a time when there is an ongoing movement worldwide to end the use of incinerators which are the chief source of dioxin - the most poisonous gas known.
That morning as on the evening before, without knowing why but all of us turned silent. And the image of the sheep was coming back to our minds. We felt she was asking to be rescued. Who can tell, maybe she actually was. That morning we spotted more sheep in another yard peeping from under a metal door. We left them to their fate in that morbid dumpsite.