In Pursuit of Ladakh’s Soft Gold

In Pursuit of Ladakh’s Soft Gold

A brand new curated expertise via Ladakh chases the warp and weft of the area’s prized yarn, pashmina, and uncovers a wealthy textile, arts and tradition historical past.


A view of the settlement of Stok from a parapet on the 200-year-old Stok Palace, the place travellers on The Pashmina Path have an opportunity to dine with the king. Photographs by: Prannay Pathak

Amchong Dorje is my father’s age and flutters with the identical second wind that makes the sixties swing. He wears a baseball hat identical to I do, and is a terrific road-trip DJ. “Are you aware what Taglang-la means? Tag (pronounced stakh) means tiger and lang means this,” Mr Dorje imitates the striped cat halfway via a leap. Very like Aunt Jennifer’s tigers, these huge cats get pleasure from an unparalleled primacy in Tibetan iconography.

La, as any self-respecting traveller to Ladakh is aware of, means cross. We simply handed this hallowed milestone—an important passage for merchants and travellers on the Silk Route—and in a state of reverie at having reached 17,000 ft (my private greatest), I find yourself telling him that if I ever have a baby, I’ll identify them Tag. Amchong lets out a loud guffaw. His religion in me as a succesful front-seat companion is rendered stronger by the minute, ranging from the one when the women within the group (I’m the one male traveller) determined to experience with a bunch of bikers and Shoba George craftily whisked me out of Jigmet Wangchuk’s hip iSuzu, into the entrance of Amchong’s automotive.

Shoba and Jigmet are two of the 4 folks on the centre stage of this unbelievable path via Ladakh. She runs the boutique journey firm The Further Mile and he’s the founding father of Mantra Himalaya, a neighborhood outfit that curates various itineraries throughout the area with an emphasis on sustainability and neighborhood profit. We’re properly into the second leg of The Pashmina Path, a week-long immersion into the area and Ladakhi cashmere’s historic and present-day hubs.

On the day we land in Leh, we’re taken to Uleytokpo, a sunny village near Sham Valley. We examine in on the Ule Ethnic Resort, a scenic cottage resort perched on a flattish cliff overlooking Zanskar. Uleytokpo is at a decrease altitude than Leh, and excellent to get our acclimatisation completed whereas making day journeys to Alchi chos khor and Lamayuru monastery, and a salutary hike to a secluded village known as Tar.

Since journey in Ladakh is all about correct acclimatisation, Changthang, which is at a better altitude, belongs within the second leg of The Pashmina Path. The story of pashmina would possibly technically start on the herder settlements, however this path kicks it off at Leh, with a vibrant workshop on dyeing and weaving beneath the affected person and perceptive steerage of Stanzin Minglak and Sonam Angmo, co-founders of the slow-fashion label Lena Ladakh. The duo hand us two skeins of standard sheep wool and considered one of pashmina, to be soaked in dye. After the dye bathtub has completed its magic on the skeins, we take them to clean, after which Ming’s father will grasp them out to dry. Upon drying, they are going to be made a part of the tapestries we make sitting out within the lush, poplar-shaded yard.


A weaver at work (left) on the Lena Ladakh workshop on Leh’s outskirts. Stanzin Minglak at her father grasp the skeins out to dry after dyeing (proper). Photographs: Courtesy Lena Ladakh (weaver); Prannay Pathak (Ming and her father)


Fifty Shades of Leh

Making our method via the old-world alleys of Kharyog, or Previous City Leh, we present up on the Textile Museum in Nowshar, began by designer duo Jigmat Norbu and Jigmet Wangmo of Jigmat Couture, torchbearers of the daring, trendy Ladakhi sartorial sensibility. The three-storey constructing homes painstakingly procured specimens of the area’s textiles, conventional looms, a classic digicam assortment in a personal gallery amongst different displays in its premises. The depth of architectural element each on the outside and inside enhances its location in Previous City—to the best of the constructing is a former caravanserai from the excessive midday of the Silk Route.

The just about-fragile great thing about the outdated city in all probability doesn’t shock residents anymore. But it surely leaves me in a trance—one imagines that from Tsemo Fort, this nook of Leh will be in comparison with an enormous anthill, segregated into rectilinear containers in tortilla, tan and tawny brown. The 9 storeys of Leh Palace, constructed beneath Sengge Namgyal, Ladakh’s first monarch born of an interfaith alliance, are supported by picket beams, and contemplating it was constructed circa 1600, it looks like a reasonably stable construction.

Curiously, for all of the discuss its lack of color and its muted stature in distinction with the plush panorama of its neighbour Kashmir, Ladakh is definitely residence to a number of the most evocative hues. It doesn’t take lengthy for the mountains to show ash-like from clayey and sea-green from sandstonish. Likewise, clean ridges give technique to jagged edges in a matter of simply turning a bend.

That’s in all probability how Amchong developed a watch for it: having pushed numerous visiting geologists round, he claims to know precisely the place a sure mineral could be discovered. This place is a veritable goldmine of mineral deposits—the wealthy focus of  uranium and is a recognized reality. Native legend additionally factors to the presence of enormous reserves of gold near Kharnak. In 2007, the Indian authorities thought-about embarking on an exploration of gold in Ladakh. Gold prospecting throughout Baltistan continues to be a low-yield funding of time for optimistic locals. Regardless, it’s gentle gold, or pashmina, that’s the true protect of those components.

A number of days in the past, we drove to Lamayuru to discover the oldest monastery within the Union Territory. Upon coming into Lamayuru, the formidable, jagged hills out of the blue modified their type to vivid, clayey outcrops distinguished by their many folds. The phenomenon has resulted within the space gaining the epithet of Moonland—an prevalence that’s as unbelievable because the Magnetic Hill and the magnificent salt flats and thermal springs of Tso Kar, the place black-necked cranes and kiangs run free.

Our buddy from Mantra Himalaya, Urgyan Thinle comes from Lamayuru, which the Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer described as “a inexperienced oasis in entrance of a yellow amphitheater of petrified clay”. Analysis means that the place is a lakebed from 40,000 years in the past, which is the explanation behind the distinct panorama. The oldest monastery in Ladakh, Yuru Gompa, constructed within the eleventh century, boasts the type of serenity that’s exhausting, if not unimaginable, to search out even in a land as blessed as this. Just one out of the 5 authentic constructions right here have survived the ravages of time.


Clockwise from prime left: Lamayuru Gompa, Ladakh’s oldest monastery, stated to be constructed by Lotsava Rinchen Zangpo, is also called ‘Moonland’. A constructing in Kharyog, also called Previous City Leh. The doorway to Ladakh Arts & Media Organisation (LAMO), which is housed in two historic constructions. Photographs by: Dietmar Temps/Shutterstock (Lamayuru); Prannay Pathak (LAMO and Kharyog)


Artefacts Abound

The opposite exceptional historic cultural centre that I get to go to on this path is the enigmatic Alchi chos khor, which, like Yuru Gompa, is among the 108 monasteries commissioned by the commemorated Lotsava Rinchen Zangpo, a scholar/translator from Tibet. Alchi’s monastery isn’t fairly a monastery however a Buddhist temple that famously survived plunder or sacking by marauding conquerors from Central Asia. The advanced, as outdated as Lamayuru monastery, is ramshackle and quaint, and the evident lack of its structural power will be put all the way down to local weather change—accounting for each irregular rain and snow and hotter climate—to not overlook the elevated vacationer numbers previously few a long time. Even so, Alchi’s murals and ornate Buddha statues stay its greatest draw.

The temple partitions characteristic hundreds of murals depicting nobles and celestial beings, ornate mandalas, and royal scenes from so far as North Africa and Persia in hanging arabesques. The syncretism of Alchi’s artwork has been attributed to its patrons, who commissioned not solely Kashmiri artists, however Hindu, Jain and Muslim artists from far and huge, to make the arduous schlep to Ladakh and depart their imprints right here.

Alchi Kitchen, culinary trailblazer Nilza Wangmo’s subtle however laidback Ladakhi restaurant, affords a scintillating conventional lunch unfold comprising stuffed khambir, chutagi, apricot pulp, Ladakhi-style dumplings—and views of the not-so-distant mountains in the best way of a Swiss chalet.

For the subsequent couple of nights to observe, we transfer to Stok, a half-hour drive from Leh. Whereas the women are proven into Chulli Bagh, a sprawling trendy resort that’s principally an apricot (chulli) orchard, I’m going to the unbelievably atmospheric Stok Palace, an impressive stucco construction watching over this sleepy village. The automotive wends its method up the highway hugging the promontory, and I step out into the jingling of prayer chimes and the whistling wind. If the ascent doesn’t depart you breathless, its splendour will: the ornate home windows and lobby overlook a sprawling courtyard first, after which white chortens speckling the flat expanse of the village. It’s nearly twilight after I look out of the three home windows of my room by turns, deciding to unlatch the glass home windows and set the gossamer silk curtains free to flutter within the evening.

We make plenty of excursions with Stok as base, together with an early morning jaunt to Thiksey. Reaching the monastery by way of a pleasant dawn drive, we rapidly transfer to the terrace, the place two younger monks sound a name to prayer, their silhouettes stark towards the rolling mountains aglow with morning sunshine. Beneath us, this warren of temples, chortens, halls, run-down halls and the like, resounds with synchronised chants. Into the prayer corridor, the place this day by day spectacle is now in progress, we enter gingerly via a low door and seat ourselves alongside its size. That is the well-known morning prayer of Thiksey.

At dinner, after a tour of the onsite museum and temple, we discover ourselves within the comfortable eating quarters of His Highness Jigmed Namgyal. To guests, he’s simply Ka-Jigmed, an articulate, affable, progressive royal with a penchant for historical past and motorcycling.


An area within the secluded village of Tar treats the mountain climbing troupe with recent apricots (left). Shoba George poses with a shepherd on the finish of the hike (proper). Photographs by: Prannay Pathak


The Delivery of Pashmina

Again in Amchong’s automotive, swaying to ’90s Bollywood hits and modern Tibetan chartbusters, I’m headed for Kharnak in Changthang in southeastern Ladakh, the chilly plateau the place the wanderings of the Changpa—nomadic shepherds of Changra goats, on whose stomach grows the uncommon, gentle, heat and really expensive pashmina of those components—have traditionally crisscrossed.

The nomadic camp is the pivot of this path. It’s like watching the start of the lifetime of pashmina, the opening scene of which for us is wave after wave of a whole bunch of changras scampering down the slopes. The golden hour is using their gentle backs as they descend clamouring like schoolboys, their bleats echoing all around the valley. In the meantime, a child with a wispy, white coat with blotches of brown, lets out plaintive yells from a bit pen.

“The poor factor has in all probability smelled its mom in that flock,” Urgyan tells Tamchos. Tamchos, a smiling, persuasive younger man in his early twenties is Urgyan’s cousin from Kargil who’s right here as a part of the Mantra workers.

Earlier than the goats, sheep, yaks and drimos make their method down, and are confirmed into their pens, Urgyan, who has been my solely male firm all lately, takes me to a village home owned by Norbu and his household. Whereas a sale of sheep-wool rugs and carpets goes down within the courtyard and the group finishes their butter tea, Norbu presents me a spot of dried yak meat.

Approximating a tree bark gone tender in look, this life-giving bite-sized snack is a privilege prolonged to me by the household; yak meat is survival meals, eaten just for harsh-weather sustenance. At our weaving workshop, I recalled experiencing a way of focus, a fuzzy feeling of hygge as I took the pashmina diving beneath and over the warp threads, including fringes alongside the underside and choosing the right colors from the yarn pile. As I register the heat of this viand, it evokes all of the sensory testimony of the difficulties that cloud nomadic life at this altitude. Pashmina harvesting, spinning and weaving stay primarily a wintertime exercise due to unavailability of weavers throughout the temporary summer season. The colder months are not any joke in Ladakh—in Rupshu, winter can last as long as eight months, and the levels can fall as much as minus 40.


A night pop-up in progress on the nomadic camp in Kharnak (left). A woollen rug being woven on a backstrap loom, a body-tension loom that’s used solely by the ladies weavers of Changthang (proper). Photographs: Prannay Pathak; Courtesy Lena Ladakh (backstrap loom)


Lake Placid

The path presents group-specific customisations, and for ours, Shoba has made the seemingly last-minute addition of Tso Moriri. On our method as much as the world’s highest Ramsar Web site, we cross Puga, a spot gaining in significance ever since a promising geothermal potential was found shut by. Puga is legendary for a residential college for Changpa kids that the federal government established in 2007. The approaching up of the varsity offered the embattled itinerant inhabitants of Changthang with a promise of empowerment.

The Changpa are not any strangers to challenges to their livelihood and commerce. If invasions and ensuing treaties handing the monopoly of pashm to Kashmir have left them deprived traditionally, the current Chinese language incursions have frequently robbed them of their pasturelands. And now, local weather change threatens to remodel their habitat, life and livelihood endlessly. Among the many herder households left right here, most have changed their yaks with diesel 4x4s and their reybos with canvas tents, and the neighborhood’s regular exodus to Leh is a matter of fear for the native textile commerce. Whether or not the Puga college and different initiatives will stem the movement stays to be seen. Amchong, a Tibetan refugee, believes his kids, engaged gainfully in metros throughout the nation, don’t miss residence that a lot.

As we shut in on Tso Moriri, its aquamarine expanse glinting from kilometres away presents a quick distraction from these issues. The brackish lake, stretching for 100 square-kilometres, stands surrounded by rolling, bleakly stunning mountains. From the sundown level, we stare into fjord-like formations and glaciers shining like plaster fillings in gorges. Handing me a pair of binoculars, Urgyan tells me concerning the development of Umlingla, the world’s highest motorable highway to the east, at 19,300 ft. We’re staying at Rupshow Residency, a bed-and-breakfast-style institution run by enterprising Changpa girls.

On the lengthy drive again to Leh the subsequent day, a correct bathe is on all people’s thoughts. Fortunately, on the very opulent Grand Dragon Ladakh, we get rather more than that. Some compensate for much-needed shuteye, others like myself look ahead to our dinner at Syah, put collectively by Chef Pankaj Sharma. The inventiveness with which this menu has been scored is a rarity: fundamental salad makes method for a foraged-weeds preparation; dastuk is completed with endearing delicateness; tender lamb options within the skeu. It’s an beautiful seven-course dinner, topped off with some high-quality apple wine.

We elevate a toast, then one other, and yet another. Earlier than we make our method again to Grand Dragon, I consider Mr Dorje’s phrases as soon as extra: “Sir, in Tibet, they usually say: if a valley can solely be reached via a steep cross, it’s solely both good associates or unhealthy enemies that come.”


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