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Himalaya

Day 42: Ladakh

Michael Palin - HimalayaLadakh, meaning 'many passes', is a part of Jammu and Kashmir but has little in common with the rest of India, nor indeed with the rest of the state. Over half the population is Buddhist and its strategic position on the old Silk Road means it shares more with Tibet and Central Asia.

The architecture, too, is different from anything I've seen so far: stone walls and rugged houses with flat roofs that seem to have bushy undergrowth piled on top of them. (I never worked out if these rooftop toupees were fuel stores or a form of insulation.) The run-down palace that dominates the centre of Leh is on a grand scale and has the same upwardly tapering walls that I've seen in pictures of the Potala Palace in Lhasa.

The streets of Leh are busy, in a low-tech way. A row of men, some holding prayer wheels, sit cross-legged on the pavements behind sacks rolled back to show off various nuts and spices and fruits. I buy rather a lot of apricot kernels, because someone said they make you live longer, and am tempted by the piles of shawls, scarves and rugs made from pashm, the fine underfleece of goat's wool that is the speciality of this part of India. The pashmina salesmen look particularly doleful, as their trade, like everyone else's in Kashmir, is heavily affected by the troubles. They seem to face the situation with remarkable stoicism. I'm back among mountain people patient, taciturn and politely wary of outsiders. Masters of survival.

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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 42: Ladakh
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Leh
  • Book page no: 94

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