The memory of the spectacular Pangong Tso lake haunted me for some time and completely occupied my mind. At that point, my body, too craved for rest badly and so, for the next few days I simply relaxed at Leh. My daily schedule slowed down to a molasses-slow pace and I slept till late every day. That was followed by a large brunch of aromatic frothy cappuccinos, crunchy fresh salads, and crusty filling pies. Window shopping at the countless curio shops in Leh, sleeping in the delicious Himalayan sun at noon, and watching all the movies on my long pending must watch list completed my day’s work. Dinners were always predictably big, wholesome, and at my favourite Tibetan Kitchen restaurant.
The little Himalayan town of Leh
Despite my sedentary routine, I enjoyed those relaxing days and Leh is a charming little mountain town. It seems to have been made for unwinding and bustling, pleasantly walkable with picturesque markets, little prayer wheels, quaint restaurants, theme shops, friendly non-hustling residents, Leh was an incredibly photogenic place as well. It is also an interesting minuscule global village teeming with travelers from all over the world and this made people watching in Leh a lot of fun. From shy Indian newlyweds locking eyes, next to passionately kissing hippies as swish elderly European couples discuss Buddhism next to grungy climbers and adventure bikers…Leh was a global village.
It is a global village of immense shopping opportunities
Elderly orthodox Indian families strolled around for good bargains in porcelain and cheap winter woolies while precious stone and antique dealers hunted for turquoise and vintage Buddhist relics. There was a lot of exotic, eye-catching things for sale in Leh and from prayer bowls, dhamma beads, dusty scrolls, exotic religious masks, the list was incredible. I too shopped a bit, frequenting the Tibetan Refuge Market, and picked up an extra bag full of cute gloves, colourful earmuffs, and beautiful stone bracelets.
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Leh Shopping Tips
The little Himalayan town of Leh is a great shoppers’ delight. Tiny tucked away shops and the brightly lit main road showrooms offer a plethora of exciting items. The clotheshorses can choose from a gorgeous array of the incredibly soft Pashmina shawls, scarves, cardigans and pullovers along with the gorgeous traditional silk Tibetan dress. Original pashmina doesn’t come cheap and according to the genuine Kashmiri Pashmina weavers, it cannot be dyed. Thus the original 100% Pashmina is only available in basic earthy and ivory shades. However, there is equally wonderful silk pashmina mixed fabric which also gives an incredibly luxurious feel and comes in vibrant shades. It is also cheaper, easier to maintain, and more durable.
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NOTE – Please refrain from buying or showing interest in Shahtoosh products as it is a contraband and buying and selling of it is a punishable offense. Shahtoosh is the legendary wool (original Shahtoosh shawl was so fine that it used to pass through a finger ring-its unique trademark) of the hard to find high altitude chiru antelopes who have been hunted in masses from the British colonial era. They are now nearly extinct.
Opt for local crewel embroidery, stones, and Buddhist masks
Another unique Ladakhi product is the beautiful crewel embroidery which looks most vibrant in handstitched handbags, cushion covers, and tea cozies. It’s a beautiful bold chain stitch design in floral and paisley patterns and stands out for their bright colours. For the fashionistas, there is an impressive accessory and jewelry range made of stunning precious and semi-precious stones. These come as delicate bracelets, ornate statement neckpieces, earrings, finger rings, and lovely stone studded belts. You can also shop for hand embroidered slippers, waistcoats, and scarves. Antique hunters can indulge in amazing Buddhist knickknacks, richly embroidered traditional Ladakhi hats, old Buddhist scriptures, exquisite Buddhist masks and silk paintings. You can also opt for readily available organic incense sticks, herbal teas, and yak cheese to satiate the glutton in you.
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Leh in late afternoon feels like home
I found Leh to be most beautiful in the late afternoons when the sun was gloriously warm and the air felt perfectly nippy. The distant white peaks used to get shaded in soft pinks from the blazing noon sun and the little town lit up in the golden light, softly leaving long deep blue shadows. I loved walking around Leh at that time, wandering past the dazzling mosque, checking out the colourful produce market, and diving headlong into the jostling household goods stores near the bus stop. The shopkeepers were an interesting blend of Kashmiris, Ladakhis, mainland Indians and the nomadic tribal people. My dinner always took me to the Tibetan Kitchen where the most secluded spot by the blazing fire was reserved by my favourite waiter, Irfan. He always suggested the freshest dishes on the menu and his tips of nearby interesting offbeat places to visit.
Onwards to the beautiful Nubra Valley
It was because of him that I sampled the awesome Ladakhi butter tea, superb momos, deliciously slobbery thukpas, great trout dishes, and most awesome traditional Tibetan food. Thus my days passed pleasantly enough getting Leh’d, until an impromptu last minute travel plan took me to the beautiful Nubra Valley. Keeping Ladakh’s beauty in mind, it was yet another drive to remember and this time, the route was the highest motorable road on earth.
What to eat in Leh?
Must try goodies at Gizmo German Bakery are the peach pie, sheesh tawuk, salads, and the yak cheese platter. At Tibetan Kitchen don’t forget to indulge in the succulent piping hot fried chicken momos (vegetarian options are also available) and butter fried rainbow trout. Ladakhi cuisine is heavily influenced by the high altitudes freezing weather and their food is hence laden with fat to keep the body warm. Try a bit of this cholesterol-laden cuisine and I am sure you will get addicted to butter tea (gur gur cha). A local specialty made with special black tea, butter (churned from yak’s milk) and salt, it is creamy, salty and prevents chapped lips. Other culinary favorites include Thukpa, a thick soup with vegetables and/or meat that provides a complete meal and delicious Momos or steamed/fried dumplings stuffed with meat or vegetables, accompanied by a fiery chili sauce.
Khambir and apricot jam is a must have combination in Leh
The staple food of Ladakhi people is Sku(a nourishing pasta dish with root vegetables), Thukpa (heavy noodle soup) and khambir (local bread). For the food Spartans or extreme budget travelers, enjoy freshly baked bread/khambir from one of the innumerable bakeries in Leh with locally made apricot jam. Nourishing and easy on the pocket, it also gives you the rightful claim of having tried a bit of local Ladakhi food too.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE