#EXPLORE: THE WOMEN OF LADAKH
Composed & contributed by Anshul Sharma for The Street Edit
When we travel, we are often curious about the places we are going to visit. Our minds are often stormed by inquisitive thoughts such as how will the place be, the people & their behavior, their lifestyle, food, clothing, customs and all other cultural aspects of that place.
But for me, one more thing adds on to this list, i.e. 'Women'. Wherever I go, I like to know how the women of that particular place will be. How happy they are staying in that place, how they dress up, what they cook, what they do for living, what is their role in that particular society, and how liberated & free spirited they are.
So my recent trip to Ladakh gave me an opportunity to get to know these beautiful women, who really are worth a salute. Ladakh - the land of high passes is a region in North India that extends from Kunlun mountain range to the Great Himalayas to the south, inhabited by people of Indo-Aryan and Tibetan descent. It is one of the most sparsely populated regions.
To me, women of Ladakh seem more liberated and free than other parts of India I’ve had the opportunity to travel to. They work for every possible job that’s out there and are paid equally. There is no distinction between man and woman. Let me share a beautiful incident to further illustrate my point.
Upon reaching, I checked in at my hotel in Leh and climbed up to my room on the fouth floor. I was eagerly waiting for the bellboy to bring my luggage to my room. As the bell rang and I opened the door, I saw these 3 girls loaded with my heavy bags smiling and welcoming me to Leh. I was really amazed and out of curiosity, I asked, 'Aren't there any men to do this job, why are you doing it?' One of them replied instantly 'Aren't we enough?' 'Yes, you are darling, you are more than enough' I replied with a broad smile.
Leh is the main hub of Ladakh region. Hence, Leh is clustered with many schools, hotels, markets and all sorts of commercial centres. The women from far off areas and valleys of Ladakh come to Leh for the sake of working and earning some livelihood. They work in-season, which means the time when Leh is flooded with tourism, but as soon as it starts to snow the tourism starts declining and Leh shuts down partially. So, most of these women head back, to their respective villages in the valleys.
Many of these working women prefer hostels for their children, so that they can study and eat well and live a hassle-free life as they grow up. I came across very young kids, some of them even toddlers at these hostels. The women from this region like to be active and to work, be it selling fresh home grown vegetables at Leh market or working as super bellboys in hotels or working at different restaurants or running a hotel or setting up Tibetan markets. They do it all.
I also feel that the women of Leh feel a lot more secured and safe as compared to some other parts of the country. They can be out at night for as long as they want, dress as they want to, do any kind of work they like; they are respected and loved. I love the fact that women are not eyed upon badly or looked down in this region. It almost seems like the term 'Bias' doesn't exist and everyone is treated equal. People of Leh have a very different and beautiful perspective about life altogether.
Young women of Leh take fashion seriously and love to dress up. It’s a delight to watch people keeping up with latest fashion in such areas where there is so less media reach. Older women are more into agriculture and cattle farming. And they dress up in 'Kuntop' a robe of thick woolen cloth with colorful cummerbund (waist-belt) tied at the waist along with a colorful shawl called as 'Bok' at their backs accompanied with loose trousers. Their earrings often consist of strings of beads, usually of coral, pearls and glass. Their love for stones in ornaments is strong especially for turquoise, corals and pearls. And one of the most beautiful ornament that I caught my eye, was 'Perak', a head ornament and the most valued possession of the women of Ladakh.
The food cooked by these women is very simple, not spicy at all. The main food items include Yak cheese, Khambir and Butter tea, Momos, Thupka, Paba and Tangtur, Thenthuk, Soups and the traditional Skyu which is daily meal of the Ladhakis.
Many NGO's and Govt. organisations are working for women welfare so they can keep the craft and traditional skills & art alive in this area.Women of Ladakh are very hard working and simple in every aspect of life. You just need to greet them with 'Julley' and you will see a beautiful Ladakhi face lit up with a contagious smile ready to have a string of conversations with you. These women are a true symbol of heartfelt warmth and friendliness and I’m so glad to have experienced it all first-hand.
- Anshul Sharma is a passionate travel photographer who loves to think beyond boundaries & explore new places as a way of enlightenment & learning. She goes by the name of 'Himalayan Firefly' on Instagram and you can view more of her beautiful work here.