As dawn breaks, the sun edges over the expansive jagged mountains of Ladakh – a remote Buddhist ex-kingdom in the Indian Himalayas bordering Tibet – to reveal a world where time appears to have stood still.
The chant of monks in a centuries-old monastery can be heard in the distance. Villagers slowly emerge from whitewashed stone cottages to tend to their wheat and barley fields, and ready their goats to search for pasture.
Complete with its picture-perfect temples precariously perched atop rocky mountain outcrops, giant shrines and mantra-engraved walls, Ladakh’s age-old Tibetan Buddhist way of life appears almost untouched by modernity.
Until, that is, you hear the energetic yells of scores of young women, clad in sweatpants and trainers. Fanned out in front of a majestic white temple-like structure, they stretch, lunge, jump, kick and punch on the orders of nuns.
Meet the Kung Fu nuns – women from an age-old Buddhist sect who are using their martial arts expertise to challenge gender roles in this conservative culture and teach women self-defense, as reports of rapes rise in India.
Unlike other nuns, their chants and prayers are followed by jabs and thrust kicks. Between meditation sessions, they attend gender equality lessons. Even their traditional maroon robes are periodically swapped for martial arts attire, with black belts.
“Most people think nuns just sit and pray, but we do more,” said 19-year-old Jigme Wangchuk Lhamo, one of the Kung Fu trainers, as she rested after an intense two-hour session in Hemis village, 40 km (25 miles) from the northern city of Leh.
“We walk the talk. If we act, people will think if: ‘If nuns can act, why can’t we?'”
“Kung Fu will make them stronger and more confident,” she said, adding that they decided to teach self-defense after hearing of cases of rape and molestation. – Reuters