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Leh Culture

The indigenous denizens of Leh and Ladakh are ‘Dards’ from the Indo-Aryan ethnicity by origin, however, over the years multitudinous immigrants from Tibet settled in this region and established their majority outnumbering the Dards. Presently, the populace of Leh delineates a mosaic of the Tibetans, Dards, Monpas, Baltis and the Kashmiri Arghon Muslims. They exhibit a strong Tibetan influence in their countenance, appearance, clothing, language and lifestyle and predominantly follow the Buddhist religion. The chief languages spoken in Leh include Ladakhi, Hindi, Urdu and English. The residents of Leh are exceptionally sweet, friendly and hospitable by nature. They gently wish each other saying ‘Juley’ and affectionately welcome their guests offering warm water and hot butter tea. As you cross the streets of Leh you would come across juvenile pink cheeked kids in their uniforms heading towards school who would merrily say ‘bye bye’ to you and give you a high five. The people of Leh though leading a rough and rugged lifestyle always maintain the unique smile on their faces.
The Ladakhi people typically wear warm woolen clothes woven out of sheep or yak wool. The big thick woolen robe also known as ‘Goncha’ is the most common Ladakhi outfit that is tied at the waist with a colorful cummerbund studded with semi precious stones. Ladakhi people also wear loose pajamas, elaborately embroidered waist coat, top triangular hat or the round knitted Balti Cap with a rolled brim and the long felt boots along with the Goncha Robe. The Ladakhi women apart from the long woolen negligee and tie died or stone studded cummerbund also wear a resplendent helmet known as ‘Perak’ that covers the head like a cobra hood. The Perak is made out of the black lamb skin and is bejeweled with precious and semi precious stones like pearls, turquoise and ruby. Women folks also wear hefty silver ornaments and silk and brocade robes particularly on the festive occasions.
The houses in Leh; typically 2 to 3 storied, are built out of mud bricks & timber and are deigned in traditional Ladakhi style. These yellow colored houses due to their perfect dusty camouflage easily blend in the surrounding landscape. The doors and windows of the buildings are outlined with broad black border while the edges of the roofs are decorated with a series of small black circles. The Ladakhi houses smell of butter, Yak milk and the distinct odor of the ‘Kshuppa’ incense. The traditional Ladakhi kitchen of Leh consists of a platform, big cookers for steaming Momos and Tingmos, large pots for cooking Thukpa, Rice and Thenthuk, numerous different types of kettles for boiling tea and metal thermoses painted with Buddhist motifs for storing hot tea, coffee and water. The Ladakhi houses are garlanded with peace flags, both from inside and outside. The drawing room is set with an arrangement of a chain of mattresses with several Ladakhi wooden desks positioned in front. These desks are festooned with carved Buddhist motifs and painted in bright radiant colors.
Owing to the excessive cold and scarcity of water, the people of Leh and Ladakh don’t bathe everyday. Moreover, they use dry Ladakhi toilets wherein a large pit is dug up for depositing the excrement where it gradually turns into the compost organic fertilizer.
The gastronomy of Leh resembles the Tibetan food to a great extent. The must try gourmet feasts of Leh include Ngampe, Momos, Ruchotse, Thukpa, Thenthuk, Ghentuk, Tingmo, Home Made Noodles, Pan Cakes, Ladakhi Nan, Ladakhi Bread, Apricot Jam, Yak Cheese, Yak Milk, Butter Tea, Black Tea, Tea Made from Yak’s Milk, Other Herbal Teas, Gur-Gur Tea, Tsampa, Pava, Khambir, Skyu, Cholak, Mok Mok, Roghan Josh, Yakhnee, Gushtaba, other Kashmiri Wazwan, Chang, etc.
The economics of Leh and Ladakh is principally supported by agriculture, fruit groves, other organic products, yak and other livestock, tourism industry, military services and governmental jobs. The major crops of Leh are wheat, barley and rice while the chief livestock includes yak, cows, dzos, goats and sheep. Leh and the rest of Ladakh are particularly acclaimed for their production of apricots, apples and other dry fruits.
Buddhism is the leading religion of Leh and Ladakh. The province is abounding with numerous historical monasteries (Gompa) raised atop towering hills and embellished with incalculable peace flags and prayer wheels. Also built in mud bricks and designed in traditional Ladakhi style, these monasteries are adorned with impressive murals and frescos depicting Lord Buddha in various forms, other Buddhist deities, the four cardinal kings and other Tibetan themes such as dragons. The sanctums in these monasteries enshrine massive statues of Lord Buddha, Lord Padmasambhava, Goddess Tara and other deities. The people of Leh greatly believe in astrologers and oracles and consult them before undertaking any important assignment. The most famous are the Oracles of Matho Gompa who are possessed by Lord Rong-tsan. It is said that they cut themselves with knives, sprint along the Gompa’s topmost parapet and are yet unhurt.
The culture of Leh is primarily predisposed with Tibetan traditions and customs. ‘Dorje’ is the most common forename in Leh and many people name themselves after their great erstwhile Ladakhi King ‘Namgyal’. Inter caste marriages are common in this region. Even though the head of the family is male women enjoy independent and elevated social status within and outside the household. They earn for themselves and their family and participate in all the religious and social ceremonies and other festivals with incomparable zest and enthusiasm. The birth of a child is celebrated with unmatched pomp and show here while the weddings in Leh are commemorated with dance, feast, merriment and total enjoyment. According to the custom, the groom’s relatives offer Chang beer, butter, tea, ring and many gifts to the bride and her relatives. If the presents are accepted, the marriage is said to be fixed. At the time of the betrothal the parents of the bride present dowry, also known as ‘Raqtqaq’ to the groom according to their affordability.
Sports & Festivals
The major festivals celebrated at Leh include Leh festival, Ladakh Festival and various monastery festivals which are enlivened by the classic music of daman (drum) and surna (shehnai) and the traditional monk dances and other folk dances like Yak, Lion, Cham and Tashispa dances. The Hemis Monastery, noted for its annual ‘Masked Dance Festival’ is acclaimed as the foremost centre of the Drupka Tradition. The Mask Dances performed at the monasteries typically relate the story of the fight between good and evil which is concluded with the victory of good. The Ladakh Festival is celebrated at Leh every year in the first week of September. The ancestral sports of Leh – Ladakh include archery, polo archery, horse polo, ice hockey, etc.