When you’re in Ladakh, pashmina takes precedence over every other tchotchke. Ladakhi pashmina, a warm, lustrous, and extremely premium cashmere derived from the soft underside of the Changra goats of the high valleys, is coming up in a big way in these parts. Lena Ladakh Pashmina (Dr B. R. Ambedkar Complex near J&K Bank), of which you have most certainly heard, is a slow-fashion label selling natural-dyed (marigold, madder and indigo) shawls, scarves, spu ruks and the like. Their knits start at ₹11,000 and go up to ₹40,000. Looms of Ladakh, another women’s cooperative, also downtown, offers fine woollen wear (pashmina and regular sheep/yak wool) at slightly more affordable prices. The store has an adjoining bookshop where interesting titles on the region can be picked up.
Discerning shoppers with a passion for the region’s textiles often make their way to Jigmat Couture, an ethical textile label steeped in the Ladakhi sartorial consciousness, run by trailblazing fashion-designer couple Jigmat Norbu and Jigmet Wangmo. At the flagship store (opposite the District Library), one can chance upon some exquisite wearables (drapes, coats and cloaks starting at ₹8,000), furnishings (tiger-motif rugs and cushion covers), and gifting and stationery items for your folks back home. Totes and diaries are usually priced in the ₹300-₹2,500 range.
Textile aficionados should also check out their fabric store Ras Hatti in Nowshar, Polo Grounds, where Ladakh nambu, Irish linen, Scottish merino tweed and brocade from Hong Kong and China are available. About a five-minute walk away is Namza Dining, a café-cum-boutique (close to the Moravian Mission Church) that specialises in ready-to-buy pashmina and sheep-wool drapes. Don’t forget to savour their Silk Route-inspired menu at the in-house restaurant.
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Founded in 1974, Ladakh Art Palace in Akbar Shopping Complex (Main Market) is the de facto haunt for lovers of jewellery and traditional artefacts. In addition to rings, gau-amulets, skeypuks and vintage picks (amulets and pendants start at ₹15,000 approx.), the establishment has a handsome assortment of phurbas, brass teapots, incense dispensers, thangka paintings and other antiques. Those in search of precious stones and pearls usually head for Lamo Pearls in the buzzing Moti Market. For authentic Ladakhi handicrafts (clay figurines and metalwork items made by local artisans), don’t hesitate to ring Stanzin Tundup of Ladakh Local (09622024883). Price on request.
Residents love their sea buckthorn, the source of a tart and tangy beverage that acts as an after-hike replenishment, grounding lunchtime drink and diabetic-friendly cooler for sunny riverside brunches. Organic Ladakh on Skara Road has sea buckthorn pulp apart from a whole variety of products (soaps, marmalade, herbal tea and the like). Oh, and don’t forget to pick some fine local apple wine (brewed in Uley on Leh’s outskirts) and buckwheat nutrition bars here. Recently, a 50-year-old ban on the export of Ladakhi apricots was lifted but you can get your fix at Ladags Apricot Store (Zangsti). Should you choose to buy them fresh from the hawkers, don’t shy away from asking for the Raktsey Karpo variety, which is believed to be the world’s sweetest apricot, and at ₹500-550/kg, costs a little more than the usual variety.
Close to Ladags Apricot Store, also in Old Town Leh, is Dzomsa, where apricot and sea buckthorn preserves are available but aren’t the major draw. The convenience store is famous as a revolutionary drinking-water refilling station and laundrette. Patrons also swear by their tsampa and tahini. But that won’t be all; if you’re in Leh, you just can’t head back home without having tried Rigzen Angmo’s organic condiments and brews—their buckwheat tea and three kinds of pesto made from local ingredients is available at Chospa in the Main Market (under the brand name Nima Goos Goos).
This feature appeared in the print edition of National Geographic Traveller India November-December 2021.
Prannay Pathak dreams about living out of a suitcase and retiring to the island of Hamneskär to watch films in solitary confinement. He is Assistant Editor (Digital) at National Geographic Traveller India.