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Ladakh: What makes it so special?

Ladakh is no novelty really – neither it is as inaccessible as it was a few years back. Every year around June to September, the timelines get overflooded with images of rugged curvy roads with clear skies, pristine lakes and giant mountains. People wearing vibrant jackets, holding steaming bowls of Maggi with liberating smiles against backdrops of earthy terrains.

I have been to Ladakh 6 times over the last 7-8 years, ranging from 3 days to 3 months duration. Even though the place feels like home, there’s so much yet to be witnessed. I often get questioned for my love for the place, what makes it so special for me?

The people we meet, the places we visit, and the way we feel about them, is all reflection of us – one of the reasons I keep running towards this raw beauty, is to find my raw self – unpretentious, peaceful and ready to be surprised.

I love the extremities of the terrain. The mighty mountains holding their heads high in calm, serene prayers – appear exhilarating, unattainable once you start the climb. Transcendent rivers often indulging in delicate melodies, have the strength to make sturdy bridges surrender in no time. The sky continues bestowing mysteries – from light blue hue to never-ending sunsets to enigmatic solo rain clouds on its determined journey.

The place holds such significance in my heart that I feel like being a part of the original intuitive design.

Be it Ladakh, or Spiti, or places with Tibetan influence seems to know the secrets of the universe – people smiling through their hearts regardless of harsh weather and living conditions – ‘Less is more’ is truly manifested in the culture – clothes, houses, Jewellery and even food.

Ladakhi food is very simple, not only on the stomach, but even to cook, as it entails scarcity of resources, yet nutrition-rich. The cuisine takes inspiration from Tibet and Kashmir. The cooking process is quite convenient, by mixing protein-based gravy with sides carbs and fresh garden salads fibers. Visually appealing, aromatic and uniquely flavored, the food doesn’t fail to impress the senses.

The most popular dishes are soulful Butter Tea, succulent MokMok (fondly known as momos) and light gingery Thukpa -Noodle soup with veggies broth with(out) meat) These are indeed traveler’s delight, but there’s more:

Skyu: A staple dish in Ladakhi household, similar to veggie or meat stew – with wheat or barley-based pasta-like shapes. This spicy, flavorsome dish aroma begins tantalizing taste buds even when it’s being cooked on slow flame. A delicious looking hearty meal to keep one full and energetic for hours.

Tigmo (Teemo): Inspired by Tibetan cuisine, Tigmo is a favorite household snack, made from fermented dough and steamed to perfection. This well-crafted croissant-like bread roll is served with vegies or meat stew, very delightful to bite into the layers and layers of steamy goodness.

Khambir: Pan shaped thick and crusty bread, often served with gravies for a meal, or butter tea or Chhurpi (Yak Cheese) as a snack. Traditionally Khambir would be made on fire-wood stove. Slightly burnt taste and sharp crispiness make the dish a standout.

Makhori: Another wheat bread – but with the ends delicately turned into beautiful twists giving it an artisan look. Makhori is a festive preparation – and could be filled with either sugar, fruits and ate as dessert or meat and butter for the main course.

Sweetened Apricots: Imagine freshly plucked fruit, rolled in warm syrup for glaze, topped with chopped almonds, cashews, and pistachio, some lovely orange saffron – watching lazy sunset over snow-peaked mountains, with a bowl of this in your hand.

One could try these dishes at various Ladakhi cafes that have sprouted on Fort Road in Leh city – or the best way to relish the taste is to befriend a Ladakhi and that way also experience jovial hospitality.

As I would say, there’s so much that Ladakh has to offer – far beyond what the five senses could feel – for me – it fills the void in my soul – like a missing piece of the puzzle.

This article is written by Prachi Kulkarni.

All pictures are taken by her and edited by me.

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