Sunday, July 20, 2014

Ladakhi lifestyle – ebullient, joyous and something to smile at

The Ladakhi crafts tradition had a narrow base as it was confined to the needs of a self-sufficient agrarian economy, dependent on its own pool of artisans. Essential goods such as grain and raw wool are traditionally exchanged for salt and tea, while luxury items came through the Led trading center. Much of Ladakh’s culture even today reflects the need to keep the ‘kafila’ – life-line going. With the intervention of the cash economy, this village based tradition was not strong enough to extend its skills. Today, mass-produced goods dominate the local markets.

In Chilling, the center for metal workers, families make tea-urns, mostly of copper or brass, Gold ornaments that were the specialty for four Nepalese are rare today, but silver work has survived. The best of this craft can be seen in the gompa treasures or in the homes of rich Ladakhis who have inherited jewellery and ceremonial dishes from their mother. For most, seeing a Ladakhi woman in festival finery is often the only way of glimpsing some rare silver ornaments today. 

Decorative gur-gur tea churns, and the chogtse, a typical Ladakhi table, low and ornamented, can be found at the crafts center at Leh. But these are no longer as fine as those of old, when the craftsman was an artisan and not a souvenir producer. Ladakh did not need to develop a craft culture by virtue of its location on the Silk Route. 

Read more about Leh and Ladakh

Winter is the time to work the loom or to weave a carpet. As the weaver’s spindle turns, and the hands fly over the emerging pattern of the Tibetan dragon in search of eternal peace, the sunlight becomes warmer and the sky less magnificent blue; the bones seem to rest easier and the sinews with the desire to break free of the constraint of winter’s labor. Summer, short but sweet, beckons with its own demands.

Life of nomads and sources of enjoyment

The nomads are denied the joy of seeing miles of barley waving under sunlit skies. Nor do they share in the pride of husbanding a fine crop. Their existence revolves around the urgency of finding pastures, their cash flow depends on the pashmina, but their flock includes yaks and the huniya sheep. The yak is the mainstay of the nomad’s life, providing milk, butter and meat, and material for the tent-lie canopies woven from its hair. The sheep is a source of coarse wool. Only when an animal becomes a burden on the shepherd’s scarce resources, is it slaughtered. Culling from the flock occurs only at the start of winter, a schedule that is evidence of unerring Ladakhi logic: conserving scarce fodder and the that same time using winter’s natural refrigeration.

Read more about Ladakh life

Most people find chang more appetizing than gur-gur, the buttered tea which tastes like weak broth, or sheer-chai, the salted tea with its lurid pink colour and acquired taste. Everyone takes a few turns at the tea-urns that churn out the buttered tea, drunk copiously in the dry climate. The wood stove that burns day and night in the kitchen reflects both time past and present.

For the young Ladakhis, sleeping under the stars which shine like lanterns in the midnight blue sky, summer passes like a dream, all too soon. It is a kind season for an ebullient and joyous people who always find something to smile at. Particularly when sun is bright and the scurin-ba festivities get under way, chang vessels are brought out from the cellar and briskly consumed by the all-male crowd. There is an abundance of smoke, noise and good-humored clowning. As the drums begin, there is dancing. The feet move in a slow and shuffling motion, but the arms wave in all directions, the hands holding a white khat-tak, a loosely woven scarf, in lieu of a garland of flowers. In the afternoon, everyone returns home to change into ceremonial dress and the men to collect bows and arrows for the archery contest.

Ladakhi gastronomic delight

The menu is an eloquent reminder of the gastronomic and cultural streams that make up Ladakh. The diet is poor in variety and quality because it’s dependent on the seasons and the scarce availability of ingredients. But it is well suited to the climate for each dish contains ingredients vital to compensate for the dryness and cold. Tsampa (parched barley flour mixed into a gruel) is eaten with buttered tea or chang to combat the rigor of the climate.

Well-to-do Ladakhis vary their diet with thug-kpas (soup of meat, vegetables and small flat noodles), or pa-ba (mixed flour of roasted ‘naked’ barkey and kerzey gram) added to soup, chang or tea. Another popular dish is sky – fried wheat-flour dumplings mixed with meat, potatoes and turnips. Most dishes are steamed, although today the richer households add tarka (seasoned butter or oil) to a dish. Most visitors relish mok-mok, steam-cooked meat dumplings or gya-tuk, Chinese style egg noodles.

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  • thomas says:
    August 2, 2014 at 5:14 PM

    looks like a hard life for the nomads here

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