Featuring a unique Buddhist lifestyle, the people of Leh Ladakh is generally quite different from those of the rest of India. Apart from the sightseeing options, the culture and lifestyle of Leh Ladakh is one of the reasons why tourists visit this land of high passes. We will give you information about the ethnicity, lifestyle and culture of leh Ladakh which will help you to plan your Ladakh trip.
People of Leh Ladakh
Dards, an Indo- Aryan ethnic group are the original inhabitants of Leh Ladakh but afterwards because of its proximity to Tibet a number of inhabitants from Tibet settled here and finally now it’s more of Tibetans than Dards. By converting to Islam, the Dards of Drass are strongly clouted by their Kashmiri counterparts. Around the Kargil, you will find a mixed race.
As far as the Tibetan population are concerned, they mainly occupied in the central part of the Ladakh. Muslim population are in the eastern end of Ladakh and the Nubra Valley. The Arghons are the Muslim communities that have intermingled with the local Ladakhi community, residing mainly in Leh and Kargil towns of Ladakh.
People of Ladakh exhibit a strong Tibetan influence in their demeanour, clothing, language, cuisine, and lifestyle. Ladakhi is the predominant language of Ladakh which is basically a Tibetan language. Hindi, Urdu and English are other major languages of Ladakh. People of Ladakh are exceptionally sweet, friendly and hospitable by nature. Their skin is very hard and tough due to the high altitude and harsh winter.
People of Ladakh are said to be the most simple and cheerful in nature and they always maintain the unique smile on their faces.
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Lifestyle of Leh Ladakh
Traditionally people in Ladakh involve in a nomadic rustic life and are sincere and honest. 90% of people depend on agriculture based on the Indus River for their livelihood. Most fertile region of Ladakh is Suru Valley and apples and apricots are grown in this region.
Sheep-rearing is another profession of people of Ladakh. Changpas are the name given for Herders of Ladakh and they take care of long shaggy goats and sheep. Chang-pas basically travelled in search for meadows and reside in tents.
People of Ladakh are actively engaged in trade. Their most important lucrative item is wool but in natural form. When tourism industry got shape in Ladakh, a lot of people get employment due to hotels, home stays, and taxis.
Thupka (noodle soup) and tsampa(roasted barley flour) being the most famous foods, Ladakhi cuisines are similar to that of its Tibetan counterpart. Skyu, a heavy pasta dish with root vegetables is strictly Ladakhi dish. Tea in Ladakh is traditionally made with strong green tea, butter, and salt influenced by Central Asia. India style sweet tea with milk and sugar is now common in Ladakh.
Other important cuisines of Ladakh include Ruchotse, Tingmo, Home Made Noodles, Pan Cakes, Ladakhi Nan, Ladakhi Bread, Apricot Jam, Yak Cheese, Yak Milk, Butter Tea, Black Tea, Tea Made from Yak’s Milk, Other Herbal Teas, Gur-Gur Tea, Tsampa, Pava, Khambir, Skyu, Cholak, Mok Mok, other Kashmiri Wazwan, Chang, etc.
Their clothes are more alike Tibetan people. Goncha, a big thick woollen robe is the most common Ladakhi outfit. It is tied at the waist with a colorful cummerbund studded with semi precious stones. Ladakhi people also wear loose pajamas, elaborately embroidered waist coat, top triangular hat or the round knitted Balti Cap with a rolled brim and the long felt boots along with the Goncha Robe. The Ladakhi women apart from the long woolen negligee and tie died or stone studded cummerbund also wear a resplendent helmet known as ‘Perak’ that covers the head like a cobra hood. Women folks also wear hefty silver ornaments and silk and brocade robes particularly on the festive occasions.
Culture in Leh Ladakh
Buddhism greatly influenced the culture of Ladakh which can be seen in various gompas with incalculable peace flags and prayer wheels. These monasteries are adorned with impressive murals and frescos depicting Lord Buddha in various forms.
Other parts of Ladakh also have Hindu, Muslim and some Christian population. Nubra Valley, Padum and the nearby places of Leh have most of the Muslim population.
The population of Ladakh is slicing approximately half between the districts of Leh and Kargil. Kargil with 76.87% Muslim population has the total population of 140,802, while Leh has the total population of 133,487 with 66.40% Buddhist population.
Sports and Festivals:
Most popular sports in Ladakh are Polo, Ice Hockey and Archery. Polo is regularly played every Tuesday and Saturday in the summer on the Leh play ground and a very popular sport in Ladakh. In Ladakh, every significant village has a polo ground and here the game is also a little different from the one which is played internationally.
Ice Hockey played in the open on natural ice. This game is mostly played in between November to January. Also known as Shinny or pond hockey, Ice hockey is the lifestyle of the people of Ladakh during winters. Archery is a Conventional game and inherited from generation to generation. Various Archery Competitions held frequently at the village and in the National Archery Stadium in Leh. Watching archery contests offers an adventure into the Ladakhi people as well into the tourists.
Ladakh celebrates many festivals with Hemis festival as one of the biggest and most popular festival celebrated in June. This festival is famous for masked dance. JKTDC with the help of local authorities organize the Ladakh festival in the month of September.
Diskit is also famous for its 2 Day Diskit Gustor festival which is celebrated annually in October-November. This festival comprises of masked dance performances.
Stongdey Gustor Festival is a must attend festival in Ladakh which is mainly celebrated in June annually. This festival is celebrated with great vigour and enthusiasm in the Stongdey Monastery. This festival evokes numerous locals and many tourists to witness this auspicious event with its famous masked dance performed by monastery monks.
Music and Dance:
Surna and Daman (Shehnai and Drum) are the traditional music instruments. Religious chanting in Tibetan is the music of Ladakhi Buddhist monastic festivals, like Tibetan music. These complex hymns are often narration of sacred texts and chants during the celebration of various festivals.
Ladakh’s cultural life also includes the famous religious mask dances. Hemis as well as all major Ladakhi Monasteries organises an annual masked dance festival. With the inevitable victory of the good, these mask dances are basically the narration of a story of the fight between good and evil.
Art and Craft:
As far as the art and craft in Ladakh is concerned, it is not well developed as Kashmir and most of the items are imported.
Local blacksmiths are responsible for items of everyday use such as cooking pots and bowls, as well as agricultural implements.
Weaving is a chief constituent of conventional life in eastern Ladakh. Men and women both weave on different looms. Gonchas of velvet, decorated waistcoats, boots and hats are common costumes. Here, craftsmanship is limited to the production of everyday items for domestic use.
Customs and Rituals:
Buddhism and Tibet have deeply impacted customs and traditions of Ladakh. Their family and social organizations reflect the values of a people dependent on the land and scarce land at that for their sustenance and for all their resources.
‘Dorje’ is the most common forename in Leh and many people name themselves after their great erstwhile Ladakhi King ‘Namgyal’. Inter caste marriages are common in Ladakh. Birth of a child is celebrated with great joy. Weddings in Leh are commemorated with dance, feast, merriment and total enjoyment.
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Social status of Women:
A feature of Ladakhi society that distinguishes it from the rest of the state is the high status and relative emancipation enjoyed by women compared to other rural parts of India. Not just at home but the Buddhist and Muslim women also works outside the home.
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Unlike the rest of India, here, the tradition where the groom lives with bride’s family is not considered outlawed. However there are less participation of women in politics but in spite of that they enjoy a very high status in society.