Ladakh is set to become the first Night Sky Sanctuary in South East Asia, according to Union Minister Dr Jitendra Singh. The sanctuary, established with the collaboration of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics Bengaluru, affiliated with the Department of Science & Technology, Govt of India, will be inaugurated at Hanle village in Eastern Ladakh as part of the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary.
Dr Jitendra Singh expressed gratitude to the Lt Governor of Ladakh, Brig (Retd) B.D. Mishra, for his active cooperation in the project. The Minister, speaking at the inauguration of the exhibition ‘Ladakh’s Pride,’ organized by Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) Leh, highlighted the significance of the Night Sky Reserve and its potential to boost astro-tourism in India.
The Night Sky Reserve, spread over 1,073 square kilometers, is located within the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary and adjacent to the Indian Astronomical Observatory at Hanle, which houses the world’s second-highest optical telescope. This unique reserve, situated at an elevation of 4500 meters, will accommodate optical, infra-red, and gamma-ray telescopes, making it one of the world’s highest-located sites for such instruments.
Dr Jitendra Singh mentioned that a tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed among the UT Administration, Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) Leh, and the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA) for the establishment of the Dark Sky Reserve. The site aims not only to fascinate stargazers but also to boost local tourism and the economy through science and technology interventions.
The Minister also commended the efforts of LAHDC-Leh for organizing the exhibition ‘Ladakh’s Pride’ outside Ladakh, showcasing GI-tagged treasures such as Seabuckthorn, Raktsey Karpo apricots, Ladakh wood carvings, and Pashmina wool.
Dr Jitendra Singh emphasized the promotion of ‘Leh Berry,’ an exclusive food product of the cold desert, by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in the Union Ministry of Science & Technology. He noted that the Department of Atomic Energy will establish facilities in the UT for Gamma Irradiation Technology, aiding in the preservation and shelf life extension of fruits and vegetables, with Ladakhi apricots now being exported to Dubai.
Highlighting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s commitment to the development of Ladakh, Dr Jitendra Singh mentioned the establishment of a University, Hotel Management Institute, Medical College, and Engineering College in the region. He also acknowledged the special development package of Rs. 50 crore for Ladakh, describing it as a landmark roadmap devoted exclusively to the region.
Addressing Ladakh’s socio-economic reforms, Dr Jitendra Singh mentioned the introduction of an exclusive Examination Centre for UPSC’s Civil Services Examination in Leh, as well as the conduct of the Common Eligibility Test (CET) for government sector jobs in Leh and Kargil.
The Minister concluded by highlighting Ladakh’s unique cultural offerings, such as the introduction of Snow Sculpture as a tourist attraction, creating job opportunities for locals. He emphasized that Ladakh, India’s youngest Union Territory, holds the distinction of being the country’s oldest civilization, and praised PM Modi for fulfilling the long-standing aspirations of the Ladakhi people by forming the UT of Ladakh in 2019.