It was time to leave Leh. The city was getting under our skin in an unhealthy way. Like any city it is noisy and dirty, but in Leh that is accentuated with the fact that the streets are narrow and village life, meaning a trip downtown, was a car dodging, loud honking, unhappy time. There is this other thing about Leh too. Three months of the year a collective of shop owners from Kashmir take over the streets of Leh with their Pashmina shops. Unlike shops in America, these shops keep all of their goods outdoors rather than in, therefore it is hard to avoid the man outside every store who yells in your face,‘Pashmina, Pashmina Shawl, I have got a good price for you.’ The reality is that the Kashmiris are here in Ladakh for three months, then take their money and go to their shops in Goa for the rest of the year, hurting the local economy, and causing inflation on all the items, making Leh the most expensive place in all of India. Needless to say we were starting to see only the negative side of Leh, with the exception of one thing. Our lovely Ladakhi Guesthouse.
Set back in a rural farming area, surrounded by poplar trees, soft gurgling creeks and poplar lined walkways, our guest house room was a gem at only 150 rps a night (about 3 bucks). Every morning our Ladakhi guest house mother would have fresh mint tea waiting outside our door, I mean what more do I have to say. On our last night in Leh before heading for a tour of the small villages and monasteries of the area, our Ladakhi mother invites us over for a special Ladakhi dinner. Her English is very limited, but her use of facial expressions and hand gestures, including the sounds ‘Oh, Oh, Oh’ have made our communication possible. But that night for dinner, she had asked her daughter Tenzin to join us and translate as she spoke almost perfect English.
The family dining room is filled with 2x4 Tibetan rugs, which cover the low sitting area that covers a third of the room. In front of the rugs are low, brightly colored ornate tables, similar to the ones we have seen the monks sit in front of during Puja ceremonies. These are their dining room tables. There is a large old fashioned wood burning stove in the room, which now has an electric hot plate sitting on top of it. As the daughter explained, ‘The old stove was not used anymore.’ The side walls were covered with antiqued brass teapots, large brass cooking pots and about 50 pieces of assorted metal dishware, all deliberately layed out in an ornamental fashion. The room smelled of musty yak cheese and of fresh mint tea, which was constantly being refilled in glasses in front of us.
Amelie, the word for mother in Ladakhi, serves us plates of fresh momos, which are Tibetan/Ladakhi version of a vegetable dumpling or potsticker, adorned with a type of Ladakhi tomato salsa. The more we eat, the more Amelie tries to fill our plates, and our bellies, regardless of our cries, ‘Please no more, so full.’ Dessert is the famous product of Ladakh, despite the arid desert landscape, they grow the most amazing apricots, which came straight from Amelie’s daughter’s tree.
At the end of the evening, Seth and I were just beaming. Amelie was calling him son, he was trying to hug her, but I don’t think they hug here in Ladakh. Anyways it was a very special dinner. We have been blown away by the love, laughter, kindness and generosity that these people have shown us.