Nyiska | Stories from Ladakh (@storiesfromladakh) — A glimpse into Ladakhi culture and traditions through art, language, and photography #storiesfromladakh
Tao | Dao: buckwheat. Buckwheat is one of our traditional crops. There were a lot of villages that used to cultivate buckwheat but don’t cultivate it nowadays just because we have alternative food sources like the ration system of India. This is Julay Ladakh’s* first year of buckwheat experiments in the upper part of Ladakh. We attempted to grow buckwheat in Shara, Sakti, Shey, Gangles, and here in Sabu. People say different ideal depths for sowing buckwheat, and we are experimenting with that as well. The soil characteristics are different in different places; this soil is slightly sandy, whereas the soil in Shey is quite hard. The soil in Shey has more water, whereas this is dry. Similarly, Shara, Sakti and Gangles are quite similar to Sabu. We want to grow buckwheat in upper Ladakh because buckwheat has health merits and economic benefits. There are a lot of people nowadays that are health conscious, even in Ladakh. Many people are suffering from various kinds of diseases, new diseases, and therefore they want to consume something that helps their body, and buckwheat is one of them. They know now. Buckwheat is a super grain. It strengthens the blood cells, prevents internal clotting, and is good for people with sugar diseases. It is also good for the heart and many other organs. And particularly, they are saying that consuming buckwheat can reduce the chance of getting cancers, especially blood related cancers. Therefore, buckwheat is sold at a quite high price in the market. One kilo of buckwheat is minimum Rs. 150-200. There is a big value. Storyteller: Skarma Gurmet, Shey . *Julay Ladakh is an international NGO based in Japan. It facilitates international cooperation, particularly between Ladakh and Japan. It supports the needs of local communities as well as an exchange of knowledge, wisdom, and experiences.
Khuyus: threshing; khuyus scorches: to thresh grain. These horses and dzo will go to a different house. You see that farm over there, they will thresh there now and then at another house after that. Tomorrow, the machine will arrive so we will use that. We have used the machine for seven or eight years now. It has made things a lot easier. In the traditional method of threshing, we are constantly at the mercy of the wind. With the machine, we don’t fear the wind. I am threshing some of the barley the old way to prepare fodder. The machine produces very small husks, which makes good fodder for most animals, but not yaks. For yaks, I will use these bigger husks. Storyteller: Nawang Tandar, Meru
Chuli: 1 generally apricot 2 specifically unnamed low quality seedling varieties of apricot, which in Ladakh are normally dried without the stone 3 apricot tree. A couple of weeks ago, we found ourselves asking a question we had never pondered before: What do you do when you have more apricots than you can reasonably stuff into your tummy? Like many Ladakhis, we sundried loads. It was easy; we just washed them and spread them out under the sun. Dried apricots make for a delicious snack during the long winter. Ladakhis also consume the sweet apricot kernel, and make apricot oil from the roasted bitter kernel. We also made fresh, gooey, delicious jam! We started by pitting the apricots. Use your hands, it really is the easiest and the fastest way. We saved the kernels for later consumption, and placed two kilograms of pitted apricots in a large pot. Unless you have a feast planned, you might want to scale the recipe down by a bit. We added half a kilogram of brown sugar, a glass of water, and rinds of two lemons. The lemon rinds serve as a natural thickening agent, and their flavor adds a beautiful citric undertone to the sweetness of the apricots. We peeled our rinds super long to make them easy to remove before serving the jam. After placing the pot over medium heat, we stirred the mixture at arm toning frequency till the apricots broke down and the jam reached the desired consistency. It took us about an hour, half of which we spent playing dodge ball with jam splatters. We should have used a bigger pot. Use a BIG pot! To be enjoyed with bread or straight out of the pot. Random Note of Great Importance: the bits on the sides of the pot are like apricot caramel candy!
Meme: 1 grandfather, great-uncle, great-grandfather, male ancestor. Kargil, Baltistan and parts of lower Sham say apo instead of meme. 2 term to address or reference for elderly man. . "When you find a beautiful object, you want to keep it in your room, right? When a cup gets chipped, it's considered very embarrassing. When my family throws it away, I go and pick it up. I use it for paints, and other things. One time, I remember, my grandpa came into my room and saw all the stones and chipped cups and what not. He was looking here, and looking there. I was like 'Grandpa, what happened?' He didn't say anything to me but he went back outside and told my mom 'He has kept stones and broken things. Who keeps stones inside the room? This guy is like some mad shit, huh!'" . Storyteller: Tsering Motup Siddho, Nimoo . Photo credit: @indiainmotion
Ragan: brass. . “Three generations of my family have made brass utensils. My father also used to do this work but I could not learn it from him. My brother was unwell, so my parents took him to a nearby village to get medicine. This was in 1971. Suddenly, a war broke out. My brother was 8 years old then, and I was 12. When the war ended, my family was in Pakistan, and I was left here with my uncle. I used to think that we would never meet again. But then the situation between India and Pakistan got better, and my father was able to get a visa to visit. It took way too many years. My father visited me in 2014. He had gotten old; he was 86 years old. He stayed with me for three months and then went back. They don’t give visas for longer than that. Someone told him to overstay his visa but he said that would be a betrayal to all the other people who want to visit their families. He did not want to make their visa process more difficult. Inshallah, he is still alive there in Pakistan. I never got to meet my mother again. My uncle taught me this work. In the beginning, I used to worry whether my work was good enough. These brass utensils are made to be sold, so they have to be of good quality. I use this stencil to mark the shape of the utensil on the brass sheet. When we used to make them before, they were never the same size. So, I made these stencils. There are no machines used in the entire process. It is all done by hand. I cut the brass with scissors. My arms are very strong! Then, I place the brass sheet on this mold and hammer it into the shape I want. After, I use another tool to engrave designs on the utensils. See this design, I have made this design from my own idea. The tools to shape the utensils and the tools to design them, I have made all of them from my mind. Over here, I have engraved the word ‘Turtuk.’ I didn’t used to engrave this before, but then tourists started telling me to put the name there. They said, ‘people should know where we bought this from.’” . Storyteller: Abdul Rehman, Turtuk
Kabra 1 the caper, a sprawling desert perennial plant found esp. in Sham, Nubra and Central Ladakh. The spring shoots are eaten after processing. 2 MATHO perennial pepperweed, a wild plant which is eaten after processing. Place the capers in a glass or plastic jar and add salt. Put a lot in there, why not. Shake the container to coat all the capers with salt. Shake it every day, otherwise the top ones will dry out. After about a day, throw out the salt water and lay the capers out on a plate to see if there are any bugs. Then, put the capers back in the jar and add more salt. Do this again in a few days. After a total of ten days to two weeks, and two changes of salt, you taste them. If they are just faintly bitter, then they are basically finished. You could spread them out in the sun to dry completely or you could keep them salty like this. And they just stay forever because there is very salty water in there. For caper leaves, boil them in a large pot of water. Last time I timed it, five minutes was just right. And then, you drain it out. The water becomes bright yellow green and it has a mustardy smell. Then put the caper leaves in cold clean water, a lot of water. The traditional method was to put it in a sack and put it in a stream, but you can just do it in the largest container you can spare around the house. Soak it for 24 hours and change the water 2-3 times. If you don’t change the water, sometimes it’s still bitter after 24 hours and you have to go a little longer. Once you get addicted to it, you like it a little bitter but if you are serving it to someone who hasn’t eaten it before, make sure it’s 100% not bitter. Then fry it like a spinach. Just fry it in oil with onion and garlic. Storyteller: Rebecca Norman, Phey Village (resident)
Dzok: a method of making statues, masks etc. using a shape of clay strengthened with cloth and glue. . "When I was in school, my mind was always less on studies and more on art. Every day, we would wait eagerly for the school day to end and then run to the river. There, we made sculptures. Back then we didn’t know that this was art, but we enjoyed playing with the water and the clay. Sometimes we would take small stones and build houses and roads, and then we drove our toy cars on those roads. When I was in Class 7, a new temple was built in my village. Many people came to build sculptures for it. I liked to watch them work. So, after completing Class 8, I decided to become an artist. I knew I would not make a good doctor or a good teacher. Art is what I enjoyed and what gripped my interest. But once I decided that, I also knew that I had to do it well. I went to study traditional art at the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies at Choglamsar. It’s a 6 year course, after which we work with our teacher for a couple of years to gain experience. It’s very difficult because every detail has to be precise. In the first year, they teach us all about the Buddha’s face and body. In the second year, we learn to make the face and the base structure of the Buddha. Then they teach us to make other deities. Everything is taught in steps, not in one fell swoop. In my 4th year, I made a Buddha sculpture at home. I showed it to my teacher and he gave me his blessings to give it to a temple. That Buddha statue is now in the temple at my uncle’s home. While staying at a monastery in Mysore, I was commissioned to make a sculpture of the first Dalai Lama. I also have my work in Changthang, Tsokar, Sham, Agling, and in the temple of my village. My guruji has travelled around the world to make traditional sculptures. I am getting work but not enough. I will have to work on that this year: promoting my work, making a portfolio, having a few exhibitions. Then there will be some exposure. My dream is to do good work and be comfortable, and I will feel comfortable when I do good work." . Storyteller: Stanzin Nurboo, Lehdoo
Mentok: 1 flower or ornamental part of a plant; mentok barches to bloom, to be in bloom. 2 ornamental plant, houseplant. 3 decorative design, decorative motif; mentok ṣulches to embroider. 4 HON body, corpse, remains, ashes after cremation. 5 a personal name. . “I used to like someone in a village across the Shyok river. We were together for 11 years, since we were in school. We didn’t meet very often, but we used to talk on the phone. He was in a good post at the Education Department, but his father had passed away when he was young. He lived with his uncle and younger brothers, and my father didn’t think that the condition in the house was good enough. My father was from a rich family and they weren’t… you understand, right? So he got me married to someone in our village. When we broke up, he cried so much. The first couple of years were very difficult. I wasn’t able to adjust here. Now I have been married for over three years. He’s married too now. I have a child, so I stay for the child. But I don’t like it here. Once in a long while, we call each other. We check how the other is doing, that’s it. There is nothing now, it’s all over. Now, I want to become a teacher. I enjoy teaching children. I also love gardening. I especially love roses. My father’s house had a lot of roses. We used to plant them ourselves. Everyone has hobbies, gardening is mine. I have made a small flower garden near our house. Whenever I want to be alone, I work in the garden. I want to make a collection of roses there. Right now, I have four different types. I have red roses and pink roses. One rose has petals that are both yellow and red. Two colors in the same flower! I will show them to you.” . Storyteller: Tahira Bano (PSEUD.), Turtuk
Lchangma: 1 generally tree. 2 specifically willow tree. . “My dream is to one day build a home for myself in my village. To have my own apricot trees to eat apricots from. My own apple trees and grape vines to eat fruits from. Wouldn’t that be beautiful?” . Storyteller: Thupstan Dawa, Achinathang
Skecha: necklace. Ladakhi necklaces are very distinctive, often made of silver studded with turquoise or beaded with coral. But it was a simple white necklace made of conch shells strung on a thread that caught our eye. When we asked the owner of the necklace about it, he held out the hand prayer wheel he had been quietly rotating. Conch shells are considered sacred in Buddhism, and are used in the middle portion of the hand prayer wheel. The rotating of the prayer wheel gradually creates a hole in the middle of the conch, a process that the people of the Himalayas believe imbibes the shell with blessings. Therefore, they proudly string these hollowed out conch shells and wear them around their neck as a sacred item.
Bungbu: donkey, ass. . “After winter vacations, the schools would open. In March. Farming also started around the same time. During the day, I went to school. After school, we played a lot. From 7th standard, I started to help around the farm too. During the farming season, the first thing we did was take manure to the fields. Back then, we used to carry it on donkeys. They are not used as much anymore. So, I used to walk behind the donkey. Do you know why I enjoyed it so much? Because the donkey would carry manure on the way to the fields and on the way back, it would carry me.” . Storyteller: Namgail Tashi, Hemis Shukpachan . Random Note of Great Importance: Before the mechanization of farming, donkeys played an integral role in agricultural activities across Ladakh. However, with people increasingly turning to modern tools, their importance has greatly diminished. This has resulted in a large number of them being abandoned, leaving them malnourished and susceptible to attacks by dogs and wolves. To address this plight of the Ladakhi donkeys, there exists a Donkey Sanctuary: Home for Homeless Donkeys in Leh. We can’t wait to visit! We are convinced all animators use Ladakhi donkeys as models when illustrating them for cartoons. They are the cutest!
Pabu: 1 shoe, boot. 2 specifically traditional Ladakhi woolen shoes. . “I learnt to make pabu from my father. I practiced on scraps while he worked. He told me that learning to make things was good. He said, ‘Your kids will wear the shoes. Your family will wear the shoes. There’s no harm in knowing an extra skill. So, learn it.’ . No one really wants to make pabu anymore. It’s a lot of hard work. First, you have to get some sheep yarn and spin it into thread. Then, there’s a lot of intricate stitching involved. I do everything by hand. It takes at least three days to make a pair. Young kids don’t want to spend three days making shoes when they can just go to the market to buy one. . Earlier, we did not have outside products in Ladakh. Everything we wore, we made by hand. Those things were made to last. The things we consume now have a short lifespan. We use them, and we throw them. But if you take care of these hand sewn pabu, they will last you a decade.” . Storyteller: Nawang Thospel, Shara
Pagbu: brick, which in Ladakhi usually means earth brick, adobe. . "We use the earth from our farm to make these bricks. We remove the top soil and get the dirt from underneath, which we mix with water. That’s it." . "I watched other people making bricks, and then I copied them. It was not difficult to learn. You just need the intelligence to watch and understand what they are doing. Right?" . "How many bricks does it take to construct one house? That depends on the destiny of that particular house." . Storyteller: Joldan, Shara
Dep: book (commonly used Hindi Urdu word: kitap). . “I started working at Ladakh Arts and Media Organization in 2013. I was an intern for the first year or two and then I joined as the librarian. When I first came to LAMO, it felt like I was transported to another place. Its traditional architecture is so unique and is appreciated not just by me, but by everyone who visits.” . “I learn a lot from working here. I learn through my interactions with the interns, and by meeting the various artists and authors that are invited for workshops. I have never had such opportunities before.” . “I didn’t like books before I started working here but I have since realized how important it is to read and how much you can learn through it. Now, when I have some free time at work I look through the books in the library.” She adds with roaring laughter, “I especially love the children’s section. I really enjoy reading the sweet, short stories I find there.” . Storyteller: Tsering Chozom, Umla
Tshertalulu: sour berries. Some regions use this word for seabuckthorn berries, other regions use it for rose-hips. However since the introduction of commercial seabuckthorn juice in Ladakh in 1993 by Ladakhi women's cooperatives, most Ladakhis know this word for seabuckthorn berries. . "When I was younger, I went to a private school in Leh. I only went back home on the weekends. Going back home was a very romantic moment. At that time, the brooks had a lot of water. If it was summer, we would go swimming. All day, playing around there. Laying on the rocks, cycling, playing with marbles in the fields. We would walk around the village and collect seabuckthorn to take juice back to school. We would put the berries in a container with sugar, shake the container hard, and we had juice." . Storyteller: Tsering Motup Siddho, Nimoo
Rtsi: paint, varnish, pigment, colouring. . I got interested in art because of my father. He is a teacher who wanted to be an artist. One of my first sketches is still in his drawing book. It’s an illustration of a fauji (soldier) I had seen on the packaging of some brand of salt. . I knew I wanted to be an artist since sixth grade. My father always encouraged me. After twelfth grade, I went to Delhi. I didn’t know which art schools there were. I didn’t even know where to get off the metro for Pragati Maidan. . I gave the entrance exam for Jamia but I didn’t get in. I was scared I might not get into the College of Arts either. I had good grades in twelfth grade, so instead of wasting a year I decided to do Geography Honors. That lasted only fifteen days because I was accepted at the College of Art. It’s a good thing too because I was bored those fifteen days. . College was good. Every college has its own style of fashion and a way of thinking. In so many places people segregate into groups based on ethnicity or economic means. At my college, there was an entire range of people, from those wearing flip flops to those wearing everything else. Everyone together. It was fun. After graduation, I went to do my Master’s at Banaras Hindu University. . Now I take freelance art projects. I can do most things related to painting, whether it is oil, acrylic, watercolor or ink. I have always had a good sense for colors. . I think my father is proud of my work. He doesn’t say anything, but I think he is proud. . Storyteller: Tashi Namgial, Skurbuchan
Marpo: red (including pink, reddish-orange, magenta, etc). . "A couple of years before 1985, we saw one of the first cars in Leh. It was a Maruti 800. Cars were so foreign to us that we assumed it was called Maruti because of its red (marpo) color. So when we saw a white (karpo) car, we called it Karuti." . Storyteller: Tashi Phuntsok, Sakti