A LABOUR OF LOVE
Outlook Traveller|September 2021
Yes, its sweeping, picture-postcard views will take your breath away. But look closely, and you’ll discover so much more in Ladakh. Precious, priceless textiles, traditional handmade crafts and superfoods that nourish the soul

Prayer flags flutter on a windswept bridge. A group of bikers halt in the middle of nowhere to soak in the magic of the rugged mountains and the deep blue lakes. Point your lens almost anywhere, and you’ll capture what any photographer would acknowledge as “a gorgeous frame.”

It’s hard to shake off these screensaver like images from your mind. The barrenness of the towering mountains lends a unique contrast to the deeply enchanting azure lakes, and the zephyr of spirituality carried from the monasteries in Ladakh fills you up with calm. But Ladakh is as much about its people and culture as it is about uplifting views.

Drift into the Ladakh of people, culture, and its unique superfoods!

Craft Story

With free-spirited youth hanging out at the popular spots, elders indulging in leisure conversations over cups of warm tea and shopkeepers inviting tourists with a gleam in their eyes, Leh has a uniquely absorbing vibe.

The popular Leh Market is a melting pot and you’ll find yourself among the treasures on display — the vibrance of the painted wooden boxes, the ruby and turquoise studded jewelry, warm rugs, silk thangkas, an array of fabrics, and shiny copperware. Each of these exquisite pieces comes from a rich tradition that often follows centuries-old secret techniques passed down through generations. It’s not only about buying from the market because it’s a touristy thing to do, but it’s also about returning with a souvenir to celebrate its culture and tradition.

Feeling the warmth

Ladakh is frequented by travellers during the warmer months but there’s a distinct beauty to the region in the winter. With a blanket of white, you’ll witness a beautiful contrast of monochrome and color. The reason? Bright prints and patterns on the various clothes made of Pashmina that people find warmth in.

Against popular belief, Pashmina has always belonged to Ladakh and the region is the only source of the finest variety. Pashmina is the softest, downy undercoat of a special breed of goat called the change, found only on the highest regions of Ladakh. A pastoral community known as Changpas from the high-altitude Changthang region has been rearing changra goats, which produce the precious pashmina, for centuries. They lead a hard life as they rear the goats and sell the raw wool in the large towns, where they are cleaned and the hair removed, leaving only the fine wool. Unlike most other wools, Pashmina is not easy to weave.

Called Lena in the local language, Pashmina is handspun and manually woven, which makes the finished product a bit coarse. There are many myths about the Pashmina, including one that claims that it passes the test of purity only if it can pass a finger-ring. In fact, if that happens, you know for sure that the Pashmina has been mixed with other materials like silk or polyester to make it tough enough for embroidery work. You are likely to find many fake replicas in the market, so beware.

Since 2019, after Ladakh was carved out as a Union Territory from the state of Jammu and Kashmir, there has been an added effort in creating awareness about the Ladakhi Pashmina and to get designers to collaborate with local artisans and to develop new designs that can be woven using pure Pashmina. Today many of Ladakh’s designers, who have studied and worked outside Leh, have also made their way back to the region to create their own interpretation of local textiles and to promote the weavers and artisans of the region.

Textile Tales

Apart from Pashmina, Ladakh has an interesting canvas when it comes to diverse textile traditions. You’ll see silk-brocades, ikats, and velvet to simple homespun materials such as the Nambu, one of the main woolen textiles.

When in Leh, don’t miss out on the Textile Museum, set up by designer Jigmat Norbu and his wife Jigmat Wangmo, which displays a wide variety of costumes and textiles woven in Ladakh or some that reached Ladakh through trade routes in the past. The museum showcases textiles and outfits worn by men and women, both in their everyday life as well as on special occasions. It offers a glimpse of the rich cultural traditions of Ladakh. There is some interesting folklore about weaving.

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