Over the years, Ladakhis have proven the fact that satisfying life can be lived even with minimal natural resources, extreme heat and cold, little or no rain, a crumbling mud-brick homestead and a cooperative spirit. You already know that journeying along Ladakh’s spectacular supernatural surroundings is an exceptional experience. Now imagine taking it all in along with heartwarming conversations with the locals about their culture and conventional ways of life! Here’s how to bond with this magnificent region beyond just sightseeing
VOLUNTEER AT A NUNNERY WITH A VIEW
Travel does go beyond photographing iconic sites and sampling local food. Volunteer at Nyerma nunnery (in Leh) overlooking the snow-clad Himalayas and give your trip a deeper purpose. Shake off the stress of city life and live like a nun for a few days. Relax, meditate and occasionally help the elderly nuns in their day-to-day chores like cooking food, farming, cleaning up and more. If you’re good at something, share your skills and knowledge with the humble nuns who enjoy bonding over activities and conversations. By giving something back to the society as a traveller, you not only understand and respect other cultures better but also work towards finding a clearer direction in life.
EARLY MORNING PRAYERS WITH THE MONKLINGS
A visit to the tranquil Thiksey monastery as early as 5:45 am in the morning is always soothing. It’s prayer time for the monks and you can be a part of the elaborate spiritual experience that begins from the terrace. The monastery is located at a higher altitude which is just an icing on the cake; trekking up gives you a wonderful opportunity to marvel at the awe-inspiring beauty of Ladakh. Here’s what will stay with you for a long time: the resonant chants of the high-ranking monks offset by the giggles of baby monks, who live up to the fact that they are yet only ‘little men’. A delightful surprise is everyone being served with steaming hot butter tea with tsampa (barley powder) – by little monks running around with kettles – so that no one returns empty stomach from Buddha’s abode. Don’t miss watching the monklings polishing off bowls of this nutritious blend with quick licks!
MOUNTAIN BIKE FROM MATHO
Ladakhis have a lot to teach us in terms of ecological awareness. Pay a tribute to their eco-friendly lifestyle by mountain biking in the magical land of whitewashed stupas and bright fluttering prayer flags. Located at a distance of around 26 km from Leh, on the bank of river Indus, Matho Gompa makes for a lovely spot to start your cycling trip. While this activity isn’t for the faint hearted, the experience of is a perfect mix of thrill, adventure and challange and what you are gifted with are unforgettable views on both sides of the road. Most importantly, dont forget to sport your biking gear for a safe joyride!
WITNESS AN ARCHERY PARTY
If you’re lucky, you might witness a lively Ladakhi-style potluck and archery party in Matho village. It’s a festival where all the male members of the village get together and try their hand at the bow-and-arrow game and perform slow-paced folk dances at intervals. Don’t hesitate to try their local beer called Chhang (made out of barley) which the will pour you with a lot of love and warmth!
THE MAKING OF PASHMINA
When in Leh, don’t just buy Pashmina. Pay a visit to the factory to actually see how it’s made. Pretty close to Leh airport, the industrial area houses many factories that can give you an insight into the extensive process of making Pashmina out of goat wool. These highland goats naturally shed their coat every spring and then the raw material is combed, spinned, weaved, dyed, designed and finished into a shawl. You’ll be amazed to know that it can take around 180 long hours to make a single Pashmina shawl. After all, Pashmina is the pride of Ladakh!
TREK AND TRANQUILITY AT HUNDER TOPO
Ladakh has many hidden spots that are waiting to be explored. One such spot is Hunder Topo near Hunder Bridge in Nubra Valley. A drive of just a few km from the sand dunes leads you to a bridge surrounded by stupas, overlooking a gushing stream. The spot seduces you to the extent that you want to stand there for hours and soak in the surreal beauty, wondering at the region’s extraordinary topographical diversity. Walk around to spot thousands of mani stones – flat rocks and stones engraved with mantras in Bodhi or trek up to the little Chamba temple. Though, it’s a short hill trek, it offers some amazing views of the valley. Got a book in your backpack? You wouldn’t find a better location to sit and read it in utter silence.
LEH CITY HERITAGE WALK
If you’re used to walking a lot as a traveler, you’re likely to find yourself in corners no one has ever been before. Uncover the history of the high-desert city by starting the heritage walk from Leh Polo Ground – shadowed by the 17th century city palace – where locals still play Polo in their original, wild style with fewer rules and an energetic crowd. Every goal is greeted with surna (shehnai) and daman (drum) sounds. Lose yourself in a labyrinth of lanes and by-lanes of Old Leh City while immersing in the liveliness of the bustling bazaar.
Get inside a couple of ancient houses and temples located near popular Lala’s Art Cafe or take some time out for a Tibetan-style meal at one of the many local cafes
Follow the aroma of oven-baked local bread called ‘khambir’ to reach the breadmakers and watch them baking the crusty, pan-shaped snack, usually sold for Rs 8 to 10.
SEANCE WITH THE VILLAGE ORACLE
Curious to know about the mysterious world of spirits? Make an advance booking for a session with a local oracle in Saboo Village. Oracles are part healers, part astrologers, part fortune-tellers; they command the faith of local people who seek their guidance for everything from treating an illness to starting a new business, ploughing the fields, arranging a marriage or setting out on a journey. Coming from a modern city, you may initially find it difficult to comprehend something like this, but once you’ve experienced the age-old flair, you’ll know what it is all about. While it’s an interesting practice, don’t think of it as a mode of entertainment.
When in Diskit village, Nubra Valley, make sure to visit the scenic yak breeding and trout fish farms. Meet the long-haired, grazing bovid or buy some fresh trout to experiment with a Ladakhi-style fish preparation! Or visit the village school established under the aegis of Dalai Lama. It is known for cleanliness, sanitation of its immediate and fragile eco zone and preservation of its rich cultural legacies. Spend a playful time with the cherry-cheeked munchkins. It’s hard to not fall in love with them!
DID YOU KNOW?
Perak is a traditional, attractive headdress of women in Ladakh. Made out of black lamb skin, it is studded with semi-precious turquoise stones, carnelian, coral, mother-of-pearl and amber and protects from extreme cold. The most valued possession of a married woman, it is often considered a status symbol and the number and quality of stones decorating perak indicate the amount of wealth she possesses. Perak is passed down over several generations.