After another great sleep and leisurely 7 am wake-up, I ate a satisfying breakfast of omelette and freshly baked khambir (Ladakhi bread) with butter and apricot jam (apricots grow well in this region) and milky coffee, followed by a sample of salt-butter tea (namkin chai). It tastes exactly what it sounds like and is traditionally made with yak butter (this one wasn’t). I think it’s an acquired taste, but if you imagine it as more of a soup than tea, it might hit the spot with a stretch of the imagination.
I then set out to check in with my trekking company, The Ladahki Women’s Travel Company, about my upcoming 6-day trek beginning on Sunday, and then to explore the town on foot. Again, it seems that I’ve evaded altitude sickness. Walking up a hill is only slightly more effort and my eyes are a little more dry than usual, but otherwise, no symptoms.
I mainly browsed through the Main Bazaar and Nowshera Bazaar running along the alleyways behind it. With the colorful prayer flags weaved in between the buildings and slow-moving cows meandering the streets, the town is charming—not a Starbucks or McDonalds to be found. When you gaze upwards and take in the sheer immensity of the surroundings, you feel microscopic. Each little shop is equipped with a mind-boggling array of pashmina and Kashmiri wool scarves and shawls (not all are what they claim to be).
In my brief shopping experience, I noticed that the Kashmiri shop owners are animated, smooth-talking, and tell you what you want to hear, whereas the Ladakhis are more subtle and let you wander in without influence. The Tibetan Refugee Market and the associated shops around town run by Tibetan refugees were my favourite (and buying from them is also for a good cause). After speaking with a few of them, it was apparent they were genuine, warm, and gracious people. Karma, a lovely shop owner and also a refugee, told me about Buddhist practices and celebrations over hot lemon-ginger tea in her shop. The Dalai Lama visits Leh for a month or so each year, and she enthusiastically described his birthday celebration last year, which he was in attendance for, making it extra-special (and also included a giant birthday cake). A few friendly Indian tourists from Mumbai wandered into the shop and even snapped a selfie with me.
Minor celebrity moment.