Ladakh is a bucket list destination for everyone – whether it is doing a road trip in Ladakh or trekking in Ladakh. What fascinates me the most about Ladakh is its culture and people. Often referred to as Mini Tibet it is a place where you can find adventure as well as spirituality in abundance. Most people visit Ladakh to get clicked on its butter-smooth highways, Pangong Tso Lake, Khardung La and Nubra Valley. Not many go beyond the usual tourist spots to explore the rich food, art and culture of Ladakh. Even in travel forums, you’ll see people asking questions about tourist attractions of Ladakh rarely you’ll come across questions such as what is the art and culture of Ladakh, How many cultures are there in Ladakh, what is Ladakh famous for or why is Ladakh rich in cultural heritage?
We always characterize a place with its non-living attractions such as monuments, natural wonders, architecture, weather, transportation or food. But we tend to forget that the soul of a place is defined by its people. After all, it is the people that make a country, not the country that makes the people. The best trips are the trips where you begin your journey by understanding the social fabric of a place through its people and their culture. I recently visited Ladakh – the coldest desert of India – and during my trip, I tried to get into the skin of the place by understanding the life and culture of Ladakh through its people. While I experienced a lot of facts about the lifestyle of Ladakhi people – their food, culture, Oracles, Arts & Crafts and much more. In this article, I am going to stick to the untold stories of the Ladakhis.
The land of high passes blew my mind with its undying generosity of the locals. By far Ladakhis have been the most humble and down to earth people. They will serve you their homemade food, they will take out time to talk to you, they respect the mother nature, even in the remotest area they have 3 kinds of trash bins to recycle and segregate their garbage and last but not the least they always offer a helping hand. I have had some beautiful encounters and conversations with the charming people of Ladakh. Here is my attempt of understanding the Culture of Ladakh by listening to their untold human stories.
Sara Banu – Owner of the Grand Dragon Ladakh
I am 78 years old and I am in this Hotel industry since the last 35 years. I am one of the owners of the Grand Dragon Ladakh hotel. We stay right next to the hotel so that we can take care of it. We have built other hotels as well, in Ladakh. We built the Grand Dragon Ladakh 13 years ago. We completed making 30 rooms just in time for Salman Khan, when he came in Ladakh for his movie. I remember Aamir Khan was the first one to come here to shoot for his film “3 idiots”. After that movie, the tourism in Ladakh boosted. She is my granddaughter and she is very mischievous, she doesn’t even stand still for a minute, always fooling around. Here in Ladakh everything is fresh, the air, fruits and vegetables. All our food is organic and we stay healthy because we eat fresh food without any chemicals in it. We do not fall sick much. Even in this old age, I do not need a hand to walk around.
Do you eat meat? I have some mutton momos!
Shaukat Ali – Driver in Leh
I have been a driver all my life and I am more than 60 years of age. I and my ancestors have always lived in Ladakh. I love driving tourists around, some of them happened to be celebrities too. I am fond of tourists, I like meeting new tourists, interacting with them and knowing about their culture. I remember being the first person to drive a traveller bus on the risky and dangerous passes; I think I am the tallest person in Ladakh with a height of 6 feet and 3 inches. I joke around tourists and keep them entertained; they think I have a good sense of humour (chuckles). Once a tourist, on our way to Changla Pass, asked me that he wanted to have a massage with all the travelling in Leh, I told him that wait for an hour and we will reach the massage place. He got very excited with the thought of having a relaxing massage, but he didn’t know that we were going to drive through the bumpy and not so developed roads of Changla Pass. After the uneven road ended, I asked him how the massage (laughing out loud) was.
Mr. Shaukat Ali was like a fatherly figure throughout our journey in Ladakh. He was the head of the driver’s troop and took care of all the cars travelling with us. He made sure that every tourist got what he demanded for and made sure everyone was in good health. He fed us even before taking a bite himself, hilarious and charming for his age. He had some amazing networking skills, greeted “julley” to everyone he met; knew most of the places and people in Leh. He additionally was familiar with the exact spots for witnessing some breath-taking views.
Yagbo Mohammed Khan Kacho – King of Turtuk Village
I am sorry to keep you guys waiting. Please have some dried apricots and walnuts! We were a part of Baltistan, Pakistan until 15 December 1971, but after the war that took place between India and Pakistan in the year of 1971, which lasted for like 13 days, we became a part of India (as India captured Turtuk and other 2-3 small villages) effective 16 December 1971.
We got separated from our family members in Pakistan, some of our relatives and family members are still over there. I do not have a passport, I got married 2 times, have 7 kids and my youngest daughter wants to be an engineer. There was a time somewhere near the war, when the Pakistan army barged into our palace and took control of it. They didn’t leave even after all the requests and pleading. The king then; had to file an appeal in the Lahore court, and after winning the case, the Pakistan army did vacate the place but leaving it in no good condition.
We like it over here; Indian army takes good care of us and our needs.
Resident of Turtuk village
I am not dressed properly so my pictures will not come good. (After insisting) Ok just one picture. (After clicking the picture) Show me how I look!
Jigmat – Founder of Jigmat Couture
I along with my wife started Jigmat Couture in the year 2010 which reminds me that year we will be celebrating 10 years of our venture. Her name is Jigmat too. With the help of local artisans, we created local woollen textile and after being satisfied with the outcome, we decided to start Jigmat couture. Our area of expertise is Luxury and Lifestyle. We use local resources like Cashmere, Yak wool, camel wool, lamb and sheep wool. We additionally cater to customized wear for occasions, be it a bridal outfit or a red carpet one. We have a theme for every floor in our museum; it is a museum of art, craft and culture. Many of the historical items on display are either donated by the locals or occasional celebrities. We organise various workshops for school children and art lovers to develop an interest in textile art. We recently opened a shop that accommodates affordable textile options; so that it can be beneficial for a crowd at large.
Talaa – Resident of some far away village
I live in a very remote village; we recently bought a house there. I travelled around 90 kilometres today to reach here. (Why did you travel so much?) There is Buddha purnima today and we come to Leh palace every year to celebrate this auspicious day.
Shafeeq – Manager, the Grand Dragon Ladakh
I am originally from Kashmir, but I have been working in Ladakh for a very long time now. My family is over there; I save my work leaves and visit my house whenever possible. Sitting near a flowing river, surrounded by abundant greenery, chirping birds and sipping on some tea is my idea of visiting my birthplace Kashmir.
It was pure love and honesty understanding the culture of Ladakh through its people and listening to their untold stories. These conversations are now imprinted in my memory. Wish I could interact more with them, but not getting disappointed as there is always the next time. Whether you visit Ladakh in summers or winters don’t shy away from greeting “julley” to all. The Ladakhis are very sweet people and are always up for a conversation. For them, giving time to their guests is of utmost priority and hence proved, Ladakhi Hospitality is the best. Also, do check out the cultural survival of Ladakh
Interested to know more about Ladakh, read these articles
- Must-do adventure Activities in Ladakh
- Luxury stay in Leh Ladakh
- Ladakh one week trip
- Ladakh in winters
- 10 reasons why you should visit Ladakh in winters
- Chadar Trek
- Offbeat Leh Ladakh road trip to the third pole
- 11 days in Leh Ladakh 11 faces of beauty
- Delhi to Leh Ladakh: extreme and unplanned road trip
- 11 soulful reasons to travel to Ladakh
Nikita Panchal travelled on the behalf of Travel See Write to Leh Ladkh and she was hosted by Grand Dragon Ladkh. Everything expressed above is based on writer’s personal experience in the region. All images used were either shot by her or provided by the hotel. Please don’t use any image or text without written permission.