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editor's letter

It's 11:11 PM and I have spent hours editing, designing and writing emails. There is immense satisfaction in creating something. When I quit my full time job two years ago, I knew I wanted to travel to take journeys and explore both the inner and outer worlds through travel. I wanted to have a sense of community with like minded people, and also be able to express my creativity in the most authentic manner. After a roadtrip across south India, I gave birth to ‘Cocoa and Jasmine’ inspired from the scents of cocoa fields of Coonoor and jasmine fields of Madurai. The journey was special to me as I felt like a foreign traveller in my own country. It made me think how much do we actually know about a culture when we travel. Through Cocoa and Jasmine, I wish to delve deeper into a culture and explore cities, people, design, art, nature, food in the most poetic manner. The purpose is to bring a community of creative travellers who culturally curious together through the publication, events and experiences. I hope to express, connect, and inspire through this issue.

After being digital for a year, we bring you our first print issue for which we travelled across the Himalayas for about a month. I could safely say Ladakh and it’s happy people made the issue very special. Jullay Appo! ( Hello brother) pretty much got us around Ladakh and of course our partners, The Grand Dragon Ladakh, who created an indepth, rich experience for us. Long road journeys, changing landscapes, flying drones, sipping kahwa, meeting nomads, learning about crafts, picnics by a stream, I wouldn’t change a single experience from this trip.

I hope you would enjoy our magazine.

Made with love in Delhi, India

LADAKH and kashmir

BAZAAR | KARGIL

KITCHEN | LEH

BEAUTY | PHOTOESSAY

ADORNMENT | DHA

CRAFT | LIKIR - CHILLING 

HIGHWAY | PHOTOESSAY

RELIGION | LEH

TEXTURES AND PATTERNS | PHOTOESSAY

CITY GUIDE | LEH

FLORA AND FAUNA | PHOTOESSAY 

RECIPE AND STAY | GRAND DRAGON LADAKH

TEXTILE MUSEUM | LEH by Jigmat Norbu 

PASHMINA | CHANG THANG by Catherine Allie

ANHEDONIA | SHAM VALLEY- TSO MORIRI by Paras Borgohain  

CREATIVE INITIATIVES | KASHMIR by Viveka chauhan 


HIMACHAL

RETREAT | SHILAROO PROJECT 

Learning pottery POEM by Kuhu Josh


JAMMU AND HARIDWAR

SAFFRON 

PILGRIMAGE 


INTERVIEW

TRAVELLER | ANNAPURNA MELLOR

LADAKH ARTS AND MEDIA ORGANISATION | MONISHA AHMED 


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BAZAAR | KARGIL

 

BY SAYALI GOYAL

Six hours of driving and many mountains and valleys later we reached Kargil.  Kargil was a cosmopolitan town that lay on the trade route crossroad of Punjab, Srinagar, Baltistan, Yarkhand, and Tibet. Now, it was a stop for travellers from Srinagar to Leh. Kargil is situated in western Ladakh region where the signage is no more Ladakhi but Urdu, people looked more like Kashmiris than Tibetan, there were more mosques than monasteries. For me, it was exciting to know we were only 2 km away from Pakistan, a place that I really want to visit. We chose to explore by walking in the old bazaar. Men smoking, women with their covered heads, bread shops, hairdressers, chemists and meat shops all were fascinating in Kargil. The usual seemed unusual. I have made an attempt to portray Kargil as it is.

 

We also visited the Munshi Aziz Bhat Museum of central Asian and Kargil artifacts that preserve objects from Sarai Caravans of the early 20th century.

 
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KITCHEN | LEH

by sayali goyal

During our two-week stay in the region, we were invited to many Ladakhi kitchens called Chantsa for cha and snacks. A Ladakhi kitchen is more like a community room where one entertains guests, and  families mingle and eat together. A low-floor seating arrangement padded with cushions with wooden tables across, makes the Chantsa a kind of lounge with utensils on display and an open stove that doubles as a fireplace to keep the room warm in winters. I could spot a handmade basket in every household that is  used to pluck apricot and apples from the fields. Traditionally, Ladakh was an agricultural economy until tourism became the mainstay. The foods eaten by the locals are amalgamation of various cultures and regions, as Ladakh was the centre of the trade route. However, of these, the Kashmiri and Tibetan lineage are the most apparent.

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One of our hosts  wore a traditional Ladakhi dress called ‘Konchas’,which is a version of a kaftan, and an amulet called Kagu. She sat down with some fried Meat Dumplings, Butter tea ( made of yak milk and pink tea leaves) , Sheermal Kashmiri bread to be eaten with kahwa or cha) dried apricots, walnuts and almonds. I was intrigued with the  big cha pots and metalware on display. I wanted to know more.   She proudly revealed that in the Ladakhi tradition, when a woman gets married, she brings along utensils to set up her own house. It could be a form of dowry, but locally it is seen as something out of respect.  There are no inter communal marriages between Islamic and Buddhist families, and an unclassified caste system does exist. I was curious about the wedding ceremonies, and rituals. She then went on to explain that  winters are a season for weddings and they can last upto a week sometimes. Big cha pots are then taken out to serve guests, and Kashmiri Wazwan  - upto 72 dishes including meat, breads, vegetables and sweets.  Three to four people share food out of one big plate. A silk white scarf is offered to guests as a sign of respect. This silk scarf can also be seen in monasteries as offerings to Buddha. When a man wants to marry a woman, he sends a proposal with a pot of Chang(local barley beer) with yak butter, this white silk scarf laid upon it. Traditional folk songs called’ Daman Surma’ are played on such special occasions, and ‘Sulma’ a traditional beaded cap with ‘dangshil and ‘lhocha’ ornaments are worn by women.

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Apart from these tea rituals, there was more cuisine, that was of interest to a visitor like myself . Mutton sausages, Skyu ( handmade pasta), Thukpa ( noodle soup) with Tingmo (cloud bread) make for an ideal  dinner. For breakfast, you could enjoy a homemade wheat bread called Khambeer (that is made of fermented dough) and then served hot with yak butter and apricot jam. Tsampa is another all day food option that includes roasted  barley flour mixed with yak milk. Locals who work in the fields, enjoy this carb rich food.

Usually, there are not too many sweets in the cuisine. Spices used in meat curries and Kahwa are cardamom and cinnamon. We were told that   a yak is a provider for the locals, crucial for   agricultural tasks on the fields, carrying loads, providing  fleece for fabric, its dunk is used as a fuel. Yak milk and meat are common in their diet. The average life expectancy in Ladakh was higher than in other parts, owing  to this rich diet.

Learning about their culture over tea was indeed one of the most pleasurable  experiences.

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BEAUTY 

by sayali goyal

‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’- an english proverb.

 

Travelling through different villages  and cities in ladakh, one thing that struck me was how beautiful the women here were. Some working in the fields, some in households, their happiness shone through their eyes. . There skin was both cherry and golden and with vibrant headgears, it was difficult to not ask them for a photo.

 

As seen in

Chilling - Likir - Tigmosgang

Lamayuru, Mulbek, Kargil

Dha, Skurbucchan

Chumathang, Puga, Korzok

Tso kar, Tanglanga, Gya, Rumtse

 

ADORNMENT | DHA

BY SAYALI GOYAL

The idea of adornment is diverse and holds different meanings in various cultures. It has probably existed since the beginning of time. People feel a sense of belonging to the society if they dress a certain way or adorn themselves and one identifies with a community based on the way its members dress. Most people find it a way of expressing themselves too. Adornment in  the brokpa community in Dha Hanu is particularly interesting. The elaborate floral headdresses held my attention the most. Apparently the women wear them even when they work in the fields.The headdress includes rows of coins stitched together for orna­mentation, with some dating as far back as 1890, and bright ribbons. Even the men sport flowers. A man from the community looks sturdy, tall and fair with distinct European features: high cheekbones, deep almond shaped blue-green eyes, and light brown hair. The Indo-ryan features compliment the extravagant outfit. On top of their Kaftan, there are shells, coins, threads, animal fur, silver jewellery hanging from their necks and arms. Some of the jewellery has existed in their families for many generations and there are no new ornaments that are made or sold outside the community.

 

 

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Women love flowers, and wear their perennial flowers called Monthu Tho or Shoklo throughout the year. The older Brokpa wear pearly button ear decorations, and the women tie their hair in interlocked multi-stranded braids similar to knotted dreadlocks. One of the members told us that  each prop on the head gear has some medicinal purpose. The seven colored ribbon wards any ailment caused by the Sun or eclipse. The silver brooches ward off planetary influences, the peacock feather wards off paralysis. Mountains, trees, water and flowers are considered very pure. Thus every Brokpa household grows flowers. The flowers are considered auspicious. Flowers also signify love and prosperity in the community. There is a tradi­tion of singing and dancing within the community, which also becomes an occasion to adorn themselves. During the festival of Bono–na, that takes place every three years to celebrate the fertility of crops and women, the womenfolk sing songs to attract men for copulation, and to ask for their hand in marriage.

 

One can see close resemblance of traditions and style to the Kalash people in Chitral Pakistan. It is said that Alexander's army stayed back and nestled in these regions. Folklore says they came from gilgit in pakistan. These 1800 people now live in villages of Dha, Hanu, Darchi, Garkon and are primarily Buddhist with a minority of Islam. Inter-mixing with outsiders by way of marriage and kinship is  forbidden to maintain their racial purity. It is fascinating that brokpas are preserving their culture and identity of 5000 years through adornment.

The new generation of this tribe goes to the city and is also educated to work as engineers and doctors. The big questions is how will one then preserve the tradition if these few start to mingle with the city people. It is fascinating to see that this tribe can survive with just local products and really live harmoniously in a community. Something that modern societies are trying to do through campaigns of local produce and community living.

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CRAFTS 

BY SAYALI GOYAL

Ladakh, a region between Tibet and Kashmir, is an amalgamation of cultures. It was one of the main centres during the silk route, when nomads would settle, making it rich in culture. From foods to crafts to adornment, all are influences of many such tribes who came through the silk route. Pashmina is one of the most popular local crafts, however on a recent journey across the region we explored the dying crafts of metalsmithing and pottery. Mostly both these crafts are used to make utensils for the kitchen, but it’s interesting to see how the techniques are dating even 400 years back!

 

Metalworks

Lamchung Tsering Jigmet, a metal craftsman in chilling (2 hours from Leh) lives in a village in a family house that is now a private museum. Jigmet shared that his ancestors came from Nepal when the King of Shey Palace invited them to make a sculpture in the 1700s. After that, they were not sent back and were made to stay in Ladakh to work on copper and silverware. Jigmet is probably the 10th generation metalworker and his son is training himself with the skills. In his humble workshop, I see small objects and mostly Chang and cha cups that are orders from the city shops. He says he gets his metal from Leh, and then makes about 2 pieces per day. His youngest daughter who could speak Urdu, Ladakhi and some English and Hindi showed us around the rest of the space, while his wife made us some mint tea. Metal crafts are popular in the south of the country, and very rarely do people know that ladakh has it’s own style of making cups and pots.

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Textiles

Thirdly we explored Pashmina, the most luxurious craft celebrated around the world.  Pashmina comes from Pashm, an animal fiber from the goats of changthang region in Ladakh. These are reared in tough living conditions in the northern plains that are 12000 ft high by the Changpa tribes. Spinners, weavers, designers, and dyers are involved in the process to make pashmina.

We visited the Changthang region to see the procuring of wool, a factory in Leh to understand the cleaning and processing and then a hand wearing center in Leho.Walking around the Textile Museum by Jigmat Couture, we learned about material culture and traditions through a rich archive and insight into the art history of Ladakh. Stacks of woolen running materials in shades of natural, as well as saffron and walnut dyes,  lay in a corner. The designer, Jigmat told us that the museum took 4.5 years to build using traditional methods of architecture with its thick and thin walls that are heat proof and there are elements taken from palaces and monasteries. A vintage kaftan took my attention that resembled ‘Kasi weave’ where a story is woven into the fabric. The trims on these outfits depict the social status of the wearer. Jigmat shared that wool sells in grams like gold. Local designers use these local materials to make clothing, making wool bread for the community. Jigmat shared his vision and ideas on the revival of arts and tradition through textiles and the museum.

There is an immense need to explore and encourage local crafts when travelling. I feel the only way to preserve a culture is through material preservation that includes objects like pots, jewellery, textiles etc. As a conscious traveller, one could be more responsible and encourage local craftsmen by buying from them. Some of the craftsmen we met run a family and earn a living only through these crafts, and travel really could be a richer experience by interacting with these crafts people.

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Pottery

Further exploring slow living and process, we reached Likir, a village on the way to Sham Valley from Leh, where the last potter in the region resides. Shyly he showed us some yaks and goats he handmade with clay, while he was working on clay pots used in the monastery during prayers. He explained he was going to bake them the day after. We needed a translator to converse with him, and understood that he was a daily wage worker and this dying craft needed to be preserved. Local organizations were attempting to organize workshops with him, but more effort needs to put into educating the craftsmen about the shifts in market trends and also to understand the value of the craft. Proper distribution channels can lead to a higher demand as well and with the increase in tourism, it was local businesses who could support these craftsmen.

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HIGHWAY

BY SAYALI GOYAL

Sham Valley- Tso Moriri

 

Hot springs and Sulphur fields

songs of longing, songs that make you feel

 

Cities that are like a countryside

With patches of mustard

And safeda trees

 

The sound of breeze

creates an echo in the valley

 

A picnic by the stream

Makes me wonder

 

It will find its way I am sure

it just needs to be in a flow

 

Gold and Silver Canyon

Red mountains

Grey sky

Indigo lakes

Burning sun

Nature’s changing colours

 

Along the Indus

After curves and passes

And some yaks and marmots

A few apricots and walnuts

Through meadows and lakes

And streams that are white, blue and green

And mountains that are jade, emeralds and quartz

 

We reach.

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Let's keep moving

Solo or together

Through lows and highs

Through shaded and sunny slopes

Through colours and tones

Through rocks and stones

Like whispering streams

Let's bloom in the barren fields

Where water meets sand

Let's keep moving

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Sarthi from Mahabharat ( in Hindu mythology) was both the driver of the chariot and guide. Shaukat ji, our Sarthi on our road trip on NH3  was the first man to have driven from Manali to Leh in 1979. Like a curious traveller I would wonder in awe, why the mountains were red, and the fields so green, and shaukat ji would tell me it was ‘kudrat ka karishma’ ( a wonder  of nature). We spent 4 days on the road through flat and dry plateaus, textured rocks and taking field notes of the diversity in the landscape of this high desert and enjoying the magical flora and fauna. We would stop at pit shops for momos and kahwa and listen to Ladakhi pop music, spot bikers, yaks, horses, marmots, sheep and magpies and learn about traditions and folklore from our guide. Like the Ladakhi Yak who is believed to never lose his way and have strong intuition, we drove through this wonderful region, with Shaukat Ji’s unwavering hand on the wheel.  

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RELIGION

BY SAYALI GOYAL

The contrast of language, rituals, design, and architecture in the context of religion within a region is exciting as traveling only a few kilometers, changes can be seen. Due to close proximity to the Islamic state of Kashmir, western Ladakh is mostly dominated by Shia Islamic culture even though 70% of Ladakhi's follow Buddhism. We visited the Shah-e-Hamdan Dargah in Shey, as well as the Hazrat Abbas Memorial to document this contrast. Finding elements from mosques and monasteries in colors and patterns, we celebrate diversity in the region.

 
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CITY GUIDE | LEH

New shops have taken over this old town. Cafes have opened doors,  with tourism increasing each season. Carpet shops, yarn shops, spice and nut shops look charming in these old stone and wood structures. We curated a listicle for creative travellers to experience contemporary culture in Leh.

EAT

Bon appetit: Best known for its wood-fired pizzas, space is charming as it overlooks a farmland giving a majestic view of the mountains that can be enjoyed both under the sun or moonlight.

Lala cafe: Tucked away from the main street in the market, the cafe finds home in a 200-year-old building with a terrace. Tea, coffee, and homemade cakes are pretty special here.

Coffee Cave and Coffee Culture: For the ones looking to sit with for a cup of coffee and also work on their laptops can find a sweet corner in these perfectly located cafes.

Leh cafe: Ideal for Breakfast and Lunch options, Leh cafe offers pancakes, eggs, pasta and sandwiches.

Cafe Cloud: I little bit outside the main town, cafe cloud is a mini-retreat. Their lunch buffet is perfect for a special occasion.

Tibetan Kitchen: A charming dinner with authentic local meals in an open space. What else can you ask for!

SHOP

Norbulingka: Stationery and Gift items in an upmarket boutique.

Karma: A vintage store with cups and pots and other collectible objects.

Looms of Ladakh: A shop for cashmere, pashmina, and yak wool products, run by a women-only alliance.

The Apricot Shop: Ideal for local apricot products like soaps, balms, organic juices, dried apricot, and tea.

Jigmat couture: A high-end boutique for Cashmere and Pashmina clothing for both men and women.

Gulshan bookshop: For locally published books on Kashmir as well as Urdu and Persian poetry with translations

LAMO:  Shop for art prints and postcards by local contemporary artists.

VISIT

Wellness: Tibetan Medicine Center

History: Leh palace for the best views of the city

Religion: Thiksey monastery and Shanti Stupa

Stop:  Highest cafe in the world for kahwa and Maggi at Khardungla pass

Getaway: Camp at Nubra valley and Tso Moriri Lake

Spot: Zanskar and Indus rivers at the confluence

Volunteer: https://secmol.org/about/

Read: Janet Rizvi’s Ladakh, Crossroads of High Asia

FLORA AND FAUNA

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STAY

BY SAYALI GOYAL

The sun had risen and I heard a distant truck speeding and children playing. I woke up to a view of the mountains from the big window in my room at The Grand Dragon Ladakh. I began the day by sipping some kahwa and reading poetry. I saw a patch of sun on an overlooking mountain and thought “It’s not sunny everywhere all the time, but let’s enjoy the warmth till it lasts”. Thinking of the clear sky and stars from the night before, I started to write in my journal.  The people, their smiles, kind eyes, art, food, the mountains, the skies, the river, the streams, the walnut and apricot trees, mustard valleys, small houses, everything had my heart. It was already the last weekend in Ladakh and we had climbed mountains, had been fed with local delicacies, visited Pashmina weavers, coppersmiths, a potter, mosques, cafes, vintage stores, bookshops, organic shops, art centres and local bazaars. I have always been a lover of nature and what I experienced in the last two weeks travelling to Sham Valley, Tso moriri and other villages in Ladakh was magical. Every evening at The Grand Dragon Ladakh had been poetic and I was overwhelmed by Ladakhi hospitality.  

 

Our room was rather special as it let us experience Ladakhi heritage in the lap of luxury that was personal and attentive.  From hand painted chests, brocade furnishings, mosaics with semi precious stones, local materials like wood and stone and ofcourse a great view. What caught my attention the most was the cloud pattern I saw everywhere. In Ladakhi culture, clouds are considered auspicious and bring you luck. From bed linen to sculptures, tiles to embroidered motifs, paintings and ceilings, the clouds were present in many a form.

VISIT : http://www.thegranddragonladakh.com/

 
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recipe

Momo, a ladakhi dumpling, that holds  an important place in the local cuisine, is made with white flour and water. These dumplings are steamed and served hot with soup or deep fried. A variety of stuffing like ground meat, vegetables, tofu, paneer cheese and vegetables can be used.  However, we bring you a vegetarian option that can be easily made in any kitchen.

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revival of arts and crafts

by jigmat norbu

STORY OF JIGMAT COUTURE  The beginning of an extraordinary story of a small ethical fashion brand starts with an objective to revive, preserve and promote the textile art, craft and traditional way of life in the remote mountains of Himalaya ‘Ladakh’. Jigmat duo set out to create an industry from local resources. Jigmat Couture was founded in 2010, following two years of research on possibilities of woollen textile in traditional weave as marketable product. Though weaving was not unknown to Ladakh, however there were limitation and constraints in term of weave, design and innovation. Hence the basic objective was to explore possibilities and to create valuable products for luxury market. Way back in 2008, along with few artisans got on the road with creation of local woollen textile (snam-bu) and eventually came out with beautifully textured, warm and durable products. The outcome was beyond expectation. It was time to launch Jigmat Couture.

CHALLENGES After research and development we found various challenges like forming a team of skilled tailors, till weaving we were confident enough but for fine tailoring and cutting we had to train the locals, for whom these skills are new in terms of handling the silhouettes and techniques. It took some time but finally we managed to train them. Second biggest challenge was to promote and introduce a new concept to the market in a way that it is beneficial to the community, how it’s made, sustainability and product beauty. Our products are made in Ladakh, made by local artisans at the very source of the wool, far from urban cities, so it has its own challenges and beauty as well..

REVIVING TRADITIONAL ART Although region is rich with livestocks such as Cashmere goat, yak, sheep and camel, some of the finest quality of wool is found in Ladakh, the main reason of this finesse is that the growth of wool is stimulated by the intense winter cold of windswept plateaus and high altitude. The tribes people were not reaping any economic benefit except for selling its fibers as raw materials at below commodity prices. For generation Ladakhi were dependent on agriculture and raising livestocks as their major source of income. Many of people from remote villages are abandoning the harsh realities of farming and herding animals for a more tempting urban life. In old days weaving was practiced in almost every house, every mother knows how to spin yarn. Now this art is no more in practice. Ultimately the art is dying, if incase one generation does not practice, the art will definitely die. So it is our responsibility not only to sustain these art but also to practice and promote as an artist, with these thoughts, our overall projects and venture works.

INNOVATIVE PRODUCTS IN TRADITIONAL WEAVE Armed with the exposure of industry, fashion education and knowledge that how it works as a fashion house and gifted with rich culture and craft, We figured out how to create an extraordinary textile with an otherworldly beauty and craftsmanship that is unlike anything the fashion world has ever seen. Made with cashmere, yak, lambs and camel wool, they are warm, durable, textured, luxurious, and made to last and passed down as heirloom.

Previously considered rough and raw used only for domestic purpose, we managed to transform the fiber into an exceptional product that links remote Ladakh to the luxury market. Building a base for local economy, the idea is to capitalize on the rich raw materials we have in Ladakh, for the benefit of the community, generating employment, preserving traditional art and craft for future generation to behold. For centuries Ladakhi were weaving and herding animals. But no one had thought about weaving it into beautiful luxury fabrics until we return back home and explore unlimited possibilities with our own resources. 

Our textiles and products are combination of tradition and innovation. Our artisans have a natural talent for spinning and weaving, we still use traditional drop spindles and hand spindle to spin wool. To weave we use traditional foot loom and back-strap loom without changing ancient aesthetic of weave. Today where fast fashion dominates, we offer a product that will last long and ethically made.

NEW PERSPECTIVE & IMPROVING LIVES OF ARTISANS We are unique project and ethical business house, we employ directly or indirectly many local people at our atelier and projects. Now many young talented locals studying fashion at various institutes like to learn the craft, embracing the opportunity to explore possibilities with local resources.  The main intention behind our projects and venture is to capitalize on our own resources and craft by transforming them in Ladakh itself, generating employment, bringing life back to dwindling village communities and let young generations understand scope in these trade beside tourism industry in Ladakh.

TEXTILE MUSEUM of LADAKH Jigmat Couture is a sustainable and ethical business model as well as a healthy social mission for keeping the rich Ladakhi culture by imparting necessary training to people for an authentic image of Ladakhi art to behold in the future. In order to keep century’s old Ladakhi art and crafts alive, we felt the need to come up with a characteristic place where one can simultaneously study, experience, apprenticeship and receive training in traditional textile art forms. Besides, a portion of our profit goes into various projects like (art and artisan) skill development workshops, research projects and now we are excited to see how people benefit out of textile museum in these part of Himalaya. 

Our basic objective behind this project ‘textile museum’ is to preserve the rich Ladakhi art, craft and culture, it will not only benefit the Ladakhi people, but for everyone who wish to practice traditional arts. Eventually we aim to pass on the in-depth knowledge and better understanding of art and appreciation of the profound culture. When you step into our premises you will encounter an unabridged atmosphere of art and craft. On one side of the museum, you will find a heritage house which once used as a caravan sarai during the silk route trade and now this heritage house is being used as a private art gallery. Whereas the newly built textile museum is entirely constructed on traditional style architecture using local materials. We have incorporated all the important elements of a Ladakhi architecture such as Rabsal, Chong-tsay, Sum-stig, Yabs, Nima-lagang and so on in the building. Another notable feature is the details in wood carvings which have mostly textile motifs. The building has three levels, the first level is the museum itself, second level houses Jigmat Couture studio and the third level has workshop for traditional spinning, weaving and dying. These level also accommodates decent number of books and resources in its library.

The museum displays wide variety of costumes and textiles either woven in Ladakh or has reached Ladakh through trade routes, donned by people in everyday life or on occasions and celebrations. The textile collection and ancient artifacts on display will provide all visitors and Ladakhi’s in particular an opportunity to unravel the rich cultural traditions of Ladakh. The museum will provide a strong platform for art students and all those who have keen interest in exploring the rich textile art, cultural heritage and artistic wonder of this remarkable land. 

In recent years Ladakhi textiles have created considerable interest to students and professionals, yet no venues existed to study and explore craft in depth. More importantly the local artisans themselves had no place to view their ancestral art and to consider the creative possibilities. Though the museum primarily focuses on textile art yet our exhibits include great variety of ancient articles for daily use along with traditional costumes, which will certainly leave you with admiration for the great artistic connotations of Ladakhi ancestors. A collection of Ladakhi royal and noble costumes, costumes from remote regions, early leather robes to ancient artifacts altogether not only displays exquisite workmanship but also shows functionality in perfect innovations. All in all they embody diligence, intelligence and persistent pursuits for beauty and creativity. In other words each tool of production or every article for daily use created by Ladakhi people over successive generations represents their workmanship as well as their wisdom. 

Since the museum is an avant-garde brainchild of Jigmat Couture we aim to cover every aspect of traditional art under one roof, accompanied by in-house library and resource centre accommodating every collection of Jigmat Couture’s research and development samples. As a part of ongoing art initiative the museum wholeheartedly welcomes school children and art lovers for various workshops thereby aspiring to develop interest in textile art.

ENVISION JOURNEY AHEAD We wish to be sustainable enough to expand our venture from textile art, textile museum to other creative possibilities..

www.jigmatcouture.com   

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Dolma prepares the typical tea of the Changpa with fresh butter she hand-churned from the milk of one of the female yaks a few days ago. We sit down next to the small oven in the yak hair tent which Angchok, the husband of Dolma wove over a course of two years. We are exchanging about the last year, the processing of our wool and the creations which have resulted from it. I am wearing the first prototype of the vest and in a very profound way, it connects them with the weavers who once used to be their fellow nomads and have now settled close to the city of Leh, 150 kilometers away. They are touching the lining of the vest, eri silk from Assam and I tell them about the other part of our team living in the flatlands, more than 3000 kilometers south east. While everyone is examining the vest I realize that this is the essence of KAL. Connecting individuals through the creation of a garment.''It seems like this is what they all say; the freedom to be, in the far, in harmony with nature and with a calm and modest heart.''

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VISIT TO CHANGTHANG

BY CATHERINE ALLIE

We have arrived. The air is chilly and the full moon is lighting up the surrounding mountains and softly shining on the tents of the small nomadic community in the Changthang Plateau. The ever-blowing wind is stroking the tents and prayer flags, which are fluttering in the night. Even though I cannot distinguish them clearly, I can hear goats and sheep in the distance. It has been almost a year since I was here last. The lambs have become sheep and the yaks are another year older. The animals have grown a thick fleece, which has kept them warm over the winter when the temperatures dropped to -40°C. I enter one of the yak hair tents and I am welcomed back by Dolma, one of the nomads: ''Ya julley Catrina le, kamzang in a ley? Solja don hey!''Yes, I am good and it seems like there couldn't be any better moment to drink butter tea again.

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Dolma prepares the typical tea of the Changpa with fresh butter she hand-churned from the milk of one of the female yaks a few days ago. We sit down next to the small oven in the yak hair tent which Angchok, the husband of Dolma wove over a course of two years. We are exchanging about the last year, the processing of our wool and the creations which have resulted from it. I am wearing the first prototype of the vest and in a very profound way, it connects them with the weavers who once used to be their fellow nomads and have now settled close to the city of Leh, 150 kilometers away. They are touching the lining of the vest, eri silk from Assam and I tell them about the other part of our team living in the flatlands, more than 3000 kilometers south east. While everyone is examining the vest I realize that this is the essence of KAL. Connecting individuals through the creation of a garment.''It seems like this is what they all say; the freedom to be, in the far, in harmony with nature and with a calm and modest heart.''

In Changthang in summer, the days start early and I am awoken by Tenzin, who wants to take me grazing with the flock and see if I have become a stronger shepherdess over the year. A heavy blanket is resting on me, woven of yak wool with geometric and irregular designs in bright colors. It is fascinating to observe how the culture and craft revolves around the animals and is manifesting constantly. In no other place this has been as obvious to me. The textiles are made by the wool and hair of the animals: capes, blankets, carpets, socks, jackets and even the tent in which the nomads live. Their diet is completely dependent on the milk of the sheep, goats and yak. It provides them with the nutrients which are required to survive in such a climate. Even in Buddhist culture, butter holds a great significance: butter lamps are lit every day to banish darkness and nurture inner peace.''You ask me what will I do with the flock when I am sick? You know Catrina, I am certain that I will not fall sick. Every day, I am trying to treat the animals at my best, and I am respecting my community. Rarely, I accidentally hurt one of my animals while taking wool or throwing stones. It is for this that I am praying in order to diminish the sin.''

We walk up higher in the mountains, Tenzin is running, screaming and whistling, so much force and endurance lies in his voice. I am imagining wintertime here, him running after the flock, day in, day out.From over one hundred nomadic families in Kharnak twenty years ago, only 18 are left in 2018. Everyone has different reasons for leaving their traditional occupation, but they all lead to the same place: a nomadic settlement close to Leh. Some days have passed by and I have left Tenzin and his family and the community in Changthang and brought around 100 kilos to the settled nomads, the community of weavers. ''Ya, in winters the snow is too much and it is so difficult to find food to feed the animals.''''I know I belong there but my husband fell sick and we were forced to leave Changthang and settle here.''

While I am listening to the stories of the weavers Tsering Yangzom and Tashi Yangchen, everyone is taking fleece and yak wool for processing and already starting to spin. ''Our lifestyle has totally changed. We don't own animals, we have a house and don't move any longer. However, the weaving is something we are holding on to. It is part of our cultural identity.''What does it mean to see a craft as part of one's identity? It is time and dedication which is manifested in such fabric. I think of my friend Angtak, the brother of Tenzin who once said to me: ''You know when something is good, it will take time.''

https://www.wearekal.com/

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ANHEDONIA

by paras borgohain

noun: anhedonia: inability to feel pleasure in normally pleasurable activities

On my second trip to Ladakh, covering the most significant spots on NH3 - beyond Upshi into Chumathang and Tsomoriri, I felt a familiariaty, at last, with a land and people that evoked feelings about the relationship I have with my own roots in unfathomable ways.Soon enough, much like the legendary Gesar, and hailing from an often unkind city, my battle with the inability to feel nourished and centered was more than won, even if just for the moment.In this string of free verse, I have attempted to pin the spots on the map that I will always carry within me.  

Clay Hill: Likir

In a most placid hamlet called Likir, west of Leh, a family of potters has survived for generations on earthy riches alone.Lanchong, the head of the family, molds and bakes tirelessly in a shaded corner that manages to get the best light of the day without burning your skin. You can’t tell that his back hurts from a spinal ailment. The pink tea in his gilded thermos always holds out.When we met him, his little zoo of clay animals was out to dry.
 

He presses lightly for pots and kettles

For the animals, you need a free hand

To shape horns, bloated yak bellies

And watchful ibex eyes

Ridges along the sheep’s bust

Make for wool: fluffy and very fine.

 

Look at his spread of snouts and handles,

Lids and bottoms, studs and gems

That were all turned, whipped and smeared

By Lanchong’s hands

With riddling lifelines, and the warmth

From buttered tea and benevolent sun

“Where are you from?”

Brown before the searing oven’s blessing,

They must toughen till they are nearly stone

But time cannot do as fire can

And so the animals gaze

Before the graze

On the potter’s wheel this sleepy noon

 

“We’d like to buy those, if you so please,

The yak, the sheep, the angry bull”

Lanchong smiled, turned to Shauqat

“Now they can’t, it isn’t yet time,

They must bake, until they’re fine”

 

And so they stand, dotting the window

That faces the sleepy step farm

And the benevolent sun.

“Where are you going?”

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The Ruins: Tingmosgang

Tantalus was a Greek mythological figure, most famous for his eternal punishmentHe was made to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches, with the fruit ever eluding his grasp, and the water always receding before he could take a drink.Tingmosgang was built by King Drag-pa-Bum as his capital in the 15th century. It is through his grandson that Ladakh's second dynasty originated, enduring until the Dogra annexation.  His bloodline lives on in the Stok Palace.The scattered ruins, sprawling and silent, bake by day and cool off by night. The walk up to the outposts of the former palace is trying. Depending on the time of day you choose, it can prompt you to make a brave ascent, or admire what is no more, from a safe distance.I chose dusk. And then, there was a storm in my little teacup.

 

In this capital,

Bereft of his citadel,

Tantalus still lives

And no one told me.

No one tells me much

 

When you set foot up the other end

Of Tingmosgang,

A brown calf will peer out a thatch

And implore you to look up

At him - for nothing

And you will.

You will see no sun

But you will feel its slant,

The fan of light unfolding,

Barely moving,

Hushing

This hamlet to peace

 

A howl resounds

When you feel the blow;

The gust will appear

When the aspen

Will point left, then right.

Sometime, they will quiver,

And you will stop.

This hamlet is little,

With many a place

To go,

To live,

To peek out barbed wires,

To find the ancient, the novel,

And not for nothing

 

“So” says Tantalus,

“Go higher, and you will see”

 

You will pass the toddlers

Out to make a sand castle,

The 5:00 p.m castle,

That they deem fortified

From all that ever was in Tingmosgang

You will befriend them,

With a nod

You will leave every prospect

At the base of the tallest chorten

 

And when you proceed,

Remember to tread softly

For the firmament was made loose

It is tired and beautiful.

It is coarse and unmoved.

 

I rose with baby feet

And dusty smudges on my worried shoes,

In a moment’s pause,

Upon your ascent to the palace,

Twilight will mark out a summit

In an arc of gold and brown

 

There are two ways to rise

To the surviving establishment of Tingmosgang

A silt-leaden path that is empty,

And a winding, rocky trail

As steep as anything you’ve ever fought.

 

You may now begin.

 

I advanced with caution,

With silence by my side,

The levity at this height

Is almost too calming

For my shattered nerves

 

“Now” whispered Tantalus,

“Now you see you’re close

To what was once the glory

Of the arid, Northern desert

You may reach for your foothold

Like I reached for the water

I hope it will be different,

I hope you can touch the fruit

And guzzle the water.”

 

One wrong step,

Could be spelt as a slip

My soles tingled,

My weary heart implored to leap,

I set foot on a steady rock,

Took the bend - that at last led me

To all that was once in Tingmosgang.

 

Little feet could now stride,

Leap across to little wins,

I sat on a rock,

I looked at the waves of barley,

The still chorten,

The 5:00 p.m sand castle,

I was fortified.

The weariness of formative years -

Maybe it left with Tantalus,

Away from all that was once in Tingmosgang

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The Cure: Men-Tsee Khang, Leh

 

Many of the tenets of Tibetan medicine originate from the Buddhist thangkas, or scroll paintings that can be dated to a time at least four centuries ago. Much like Ayurveda, the healing is believed to yield results through a holistic, patient approach. Some would argue it is more therapeutic, more in the nature of a tonic, than instant relief.

 

The physicians can tell a lot from your breathing.

 

I’ve been looking for a cure for the bucket of acid inside me.

 

“Give me your hand”, said she

“Give me the other”, said another

The stoic, assenting physicians

Placed fingers upon my pulse,

Now racing, now bequeathed

In the interest of troubled innards,

“For it is the innards that are hit first,

When anxiety strikes,

When something breaks.”

 

Then, ear to the beat,

They ask me of anger, of pain

“Where does it burn?

What time of day?

Do you feel rage all too quickly?”

It burns when I sleep,

And rage takes a hold

In only a matter of seconds

 

“Your body breathes such as a furnace does

What you eat only makes a fire

What you feel are like tinder that feed

This heat that is the cause

Of the gurgling acid burning your innards”

 

So, I am told, there is a time,

To eat, a time to lay flesh and blood to rest

“It must never be all too full,

For the body needs room for air”

 

In my prescription, there are now

Globular amulets and sachets of powder

Made from herbs, brimming with things

That must come together every day

If there is something you see in Men-Tsee Khang,

It is that your troubles are only dust

Looking to bind to your roots, if you never listen

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The Oasis: Tsomoriri – Koorzok Changthang

 

At over 15,000 feet, the Changpa Rebos, a nomadic tribe of shepherds camp around the clear patches of green, sporadic grass and water that changes colour with the time of day and the moods of the sun.You descend from blue waters to brown and magenta valleys in a matter of minutes.The nearly suspended and gigantic Tsomoriri lake reigns supreme. On the way down to another lake called Tso-Kar, a clan of the Rebos were going about their day.They offered us pink tea. I’ve had it before and I had it after, but this one time, my spirits were lifted in a magical instant.

 

“A tuft of wool and prayer flags

Will make for a fine marker

A clearing as fine as this

Must be tended with hands just as well

Here, we will hoist the rebo,

Here we will lay our wares”

 

The Changathma goats wear streaks of colour

For there are others, that belong to the others

They are pride, and capital

(and potential feed for the dog)

Their enclosure of stone is close to camp

And the hearth is at the center

At nightfall and every noon,

It will embrace

It will cook

 

“While we are being visited

Someone must thatch the roof

Of this cobblestone hut

And another must spin a yarn

Of wool from the sturdiest yak”

 

“Where the water treats us gently

We wash, and bathe and draw some

For we are being visited

We will put the kettle on

There will be tea, and questions”

 

Should you choose not to enter the Rebo,

There is a rock, flattened by time and iron

Upon it, you will find the rest you need

With every sip and every gaze,

The Changpas will find their way

To the abscess in your soul

 

You will leave for Tso Kar and beyond

You will sport a streak of their pink.

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CREATIVES INITIATIVES | KASHMIR

by viveka chauhan

The Dara Shikoh Centre was set up in 2008 to facilitate the interaction between students, experts and performers in an atmosphere of safety and open mindedness. The idea of the Centre was to promote dialogue and creative initiatives where the people could express themselves;it was a way for people from the region of J&K who had lived through, and continue to live through unrest, to come together and form a creative bond with each other and be able to share that spark with a larger audience. So the Dara Shikoh Centre became a place where people culminated from colleges, schools, academia, arts and theater as well from ecological backgrounds.They have had 7 festivals in the Valley and have invited experts in ecology, and culture to attend. The festival happens annually, and typically holds 4 days of workshops; in art, theatre, music and creative writing.

M.K. Raina the theatre personality has held workshops and performances at the festival. There is also a seminar, where the central themes of ecology, Education and Sacred Traditions are explored. They hold an evening of music and theatre for the larger audience. At the first festival there was a creative writing workshop held by some Kashmiri authors and this creative writing workshop went on to inspire some young budding writers in Kashmiri, Urdu and English to meet and form a collective for representation of writers in the Valley- they have come together to form the Kalamkar Samith. The workshop continues to be held for inspiring young writers from Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh.

This year’s National Yuva Sahitya Academy Award has been won by Dheeba Nazir, founding member of the ‘Kalamkar Samith’, for her book of evocative short stories in Kashmiri.  She is an inspiring young woman who represents the fiery strong voice that Kashmiri women have had for generations, and that still persist to raise through the din of political upheaval in the valley, to show a much more human, subjective perspective of the region.

  • This year the Dara Shikoh Centre is collaborating with LAMO, Ladakh Arts and Media Organization and are taking some elements of the festival to  Leh, Ladakh.We hope to have a wonderful interaction with students and experts of the area. The general objective is to create links and open communication between the people of all three regions of the State as well as invite experts in various fields to interact with local groups.

  • The Kashmir Art Quest: has been promoting local Artists and have just recently brought together 60 artists from the Valley as well as many who had been exiled from their homes for decades. Amir is an alumnus of the Goldsmiths College in London and is committed to animating the art scene in Kashmir.

  • Theatre: There are several theatre groups that are active in the Valley. The Bhaand Pather, style of traditional theatre was lifted from obscurity by the efforts of M.K. Raina, who worked with these village performers during the most difficult of times. They were involved in the entire process from writing to performance and have travelled all over India with their interpretation of  Shakespeare’s King Lear , among other work.

  • The Commitment to Kashmir Initiative:Some young creative entrepreneurs are being trained by a group called  Commitment to Kashmir in taking Kashmir Crafts to the world designer scene. Many of the entrepreneurs are known designers in the National scene and have set up the Commitment to Kashmir initiative to facilitate young talent in design from Kashmir to be mentored and to promote the handicrafts and designs of Kashmir in a fresh way.

 

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Note on Modern-day spirituality

by Shubhangna Kanthela

We are living in the center of the most advanced era on levels of socio-economic development, rapid technological and scientific progress, mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. All the aspects of our basic survival needs have been taken care of making it the best time to open a discussion on spirituality. In such times, exploring and going beyond the physical becomes natural as our survival has more or less been taken care of. Spirituality is not something that is done on the outside or in competition with someone else, it is a process one does with oneself and having achieved such a strong ground on the outside there is nowhere we need to turn more than inwards.

 

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There are no shortcuts to being spiritual, but something that everyone could and should do is to be 100% aware and responsible for themselves throughout the day. Inculcating gratitude is something one can experiment with on a daily basis; absolute attention and awareness being grateful for the water you drink, being grateful to the earth on that we walk upon being grateful to each other and to yourself. This will bring about a shift in the way we experience life. Another experiment is to follow the cycles of nature as closely as possible; eat on time, sleep early, wake up with the sun and wake up with a smile. This will help in coming to a state of complete clarity within yourself.

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Learning pottery

by Kuhu Joshi

the earth is singing
in wild flowers and noisy rain
Deodars and misty frames
the earth is splattered
on my apron
my naked feet
the earth is cupped
between fingers and palm
an attempt to centre
i slap and throw and press
the earth up and down

the earth is spinning
whirring in motion
stirring in ticks
grrr grrr
the earth is spinning
as fast as i kick

the earth is singing
in shapes and textures
barks as jagged as
the crunch of pine
rows of melodious trees
branches whooshing
dragonflies flitting
mountain weeds swishing
the earth is singing
in colors swelling
around its belly

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retreat

by sayali goyal

Shilaroo, a village town just before Narkanda in Himachal, homes a learning retreat run by a sister duo. I spent 8 days learning pottery, taking nature walks, meditating and doing yoga in this quint home that is surrounded by vegetable gardens and mountain air.

Virangana, co-founder of The Shilaroo Project and a full-time ceramist and fine artist shares the process and values of creating this space.

Her words edited

The Seed

As army kids, we traveled a lot with our parents and that exposed us to situations and people a lot more than other city kids. My mother who is a travel writer and author (Anita Kanthela) had a great influence on us. I studied at the Kalakshetra college of arts in Chennai and then went to the golden bridge pottery school and later worked with Vineet Kakar to learn more about my art. I took a conscious decision to study art and then leave Bombay and move to the hills. And when you have an intention, dots start to connect and things work out. My grandfather had this land and both me and my sister had a calling since our families are from here and we both did not want a life in the city. It took us 5 years of planning and building this space of learning.

Collaboration

Meditation and pottery compliment and facilitate each other, something you realize only after /doing it for some time. The same way I and my sister are a great team. Initially, we had some challenges when it comes to mingling with the locals and somehow justifying our odd choice, however with time we have built that relationship with them and have even organized yoga events for them.

Design

All natural materials have been used in this project including terracotta, wood, and metals. When we were conceptualizing the space, we wanted to incorporate the open space yet have a covered water and windproof functional stay. Hence, it was important to merge the boundaries of the inside and outside. We have tried to make the space comfortable and personal with books we have collected over a period of time and art and pottery in each corner.

Meaning of Conscious living

It’s a state of awareness when you make sense of everything logically but also emotionally. It’s about trusting the path and even being aware of the unclarity. It’s not a moral or habitual choice. Sometimes I miss the city but then I know why I chose this kind of life and what value it brings to me.

Soul

I think it’s important to ask yourself questions and it is a continuous process to create something authentic. It’s important to experiment. It helps in intangible ways even as a potter or a painter as you add another layer of expression to your work. There is a character in this piece of art. It is a challenge to retain your values sometimes, but its a making of a person before art. I try to work with different materials, sometimes 3D, sometimes 2D. I keep myself inspired by Hindustani music, Sufi and Bhakti poetry, and literature. I try to choose quality over quantity.

Road Ahead

We wish to create an experiential space and center for learning by holding longer workshops. Sunil Chauhan of Spiti Ecosphere is someone who has inspired by with his knowledge and experience and we hope to collaborate with him. Another project that is interesting is Allap in Kumaon who work on forest conservation and the idea is to bring this community together.

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JOURNAL

Though we may try to invite the Divine into our lives in many ways, how will we know it when it does?

- Sadhguru

Day one:  Just boarded the morning Shatabdi from New Delhi Railway station. Soon a chai wala and then a newspaper wala will come. What is the thing about travelling that I like? Maybe it’s the curiosity or just a feeling of being in a flow. Maybe the human connection and that feeling that I am going to meet someone who’s destined. I think it’s growth that I strive for.

The landscape changed after Chandigarh. A five-hour uphill drive, and soon air was cooler and trees were more pine. Curvy, bumpy, stormy and foggy. Upon arrival, I found my corners to hide. A book corner, a tea corner, a window by the balcony. We were a dozen women put in a house, all from different walks of life. From a volunteering teacher training to be a pilot, to an economist who is a poet at heart. Potters, painters, meditators and vegan enthusiasts. Bunch of passionate wanderers and women who empower,  embracing diversity.I browsed through the space and found a painting studio in the loft with ceramics, books, view of the mountains, natural light. I later took a walk through the vegetable garden and came back for some fresh bread and tea. It all felt a little bit cosmic. Like something exactly out of my journal. I started to feel that something was bringing me closer to a dream. I was scared and happy, all at once .Conversations on sustainability, feminism, philosophy began  I was listening and learning.

Day 3: In an outhouse

In an apple valley

Centring.

Listening to music.

Feeling of an imaginary presence.

I come back to the room.

I slip into a sweet lull of this winter afternoon nap.

 

Song of Silence

I could hear my breath,

Sunlight on my face,

Wild breeze

A solo bird

Yellow flowers

Smell of cedar wood

Solitude

 

Clouds teasing me

Smell of rain

Shades of blue and green

And Starry nights that make me happy sad

Day 5: We drove through villages to reach a peak of a mountain from where we walked into a dense forest. Sitting in silence in nature, you realise how the forest has all the answers. How nature Balances itself, how beautiful solitude can be, how years of experience forms us, how unique each tree is, how they happily coexist with their differences, how rooted a tall tree is, how many imperfections it holds and yet it blooms. Every-time I saw an element, I learnt something new. I tried to soak in as much as I could, so when I am back to the citylife, i can visualise and experience the same peace again.There are Stones reflect light, that have taken years to form and are unique. Sitting Lakes, broken flowers

Day 7: Hold it. Warmly. Don't put too much pressure. Sense it. Know it. Feel it. Nurture and love it. Be gentle. Be patient with it. Find the Balance. Don't be attached to it. And then let it go. The less you try to change more it loves along. Understand it.

Day 9: We are all beautiful women. A little bit broken, a little alive with our dreams, holding each other. These warm corners where we shared laughters, experiences, hopes and dreams. Pottery room that taught us how to centre, yoga room that made us mellow, tea room and the attic where ideas were shared, all will be missed. Do we have to let go? I am not happy yet.

VISIT : http://theshilarooproject.com/

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TRAVELLER

 

Annapurna Mellor, A photographer and co-founder of Roam Magazine speaks to Cocoa and Jasmine about her travels, inspirations and challenges.

 

I was fascinated by the Himalayas long before I went there. Being named after a Himalayan mountain, I constantly wondered what the area was like. As a teenager, I developed a fascination with Tibetan Buddhism, after I studied religion at college. This was another draw for me to go to Nepal and India.
— annapurna mellor

Could you tell us about how it all started? Was there one particular journey that made you take up travel full time? What did you study and did you have a desk job ever? Did you have travellers, writers, and photographers in your circle of friends and family?

I think my passion for travel started before I was even born. My parents spent two years cycling around the world, and I was conceived in and named after the Annapurna mountain range in Nepal. They had trekked through the area and were convinced it was one of the most beautiful parts of the world.

I was born in England but spent most of my childhood living in Dubai and Australia. For holidays, we would go to places like Thailand, Sri Lanka and Fiji and I generally always had a sense of movement throughout my life. We came back to England when I was 11 and I didn’t start travelling independently until I was about 18. I moved to London and spent summers backpacking in Croatia, California and studying abroad in China. These were my first real experiences of independent travel - roughing it, living out of a backpack, sleeping in cheap hostel beds or wild camping on beaches. I fell in love with this way of life and as soon as I graduated I booked a one way ticket to Kathmandu, to trek through the mountain range I was named after and to learn more about Tibetan Buddhism. I spent a year travelling solo around Asia - from India to Myanmar to Vietnam to Mongolia. I started taking photographs during this year, which eventually led to my career today as a travel photographer.

I never had a desk job as such, but I did spend a few years after that first year doing odd jobs like teaching English in Burma and Taiwan, and working in a bar in Australia and the UK. I did whatever I could to make money, go travelling again and keep on taking photographs.

My parents are definitely avid travellers, and my dad is also a travel photographer. I have very early memories of seeing his photographs on the covers of Lonely Planet Guide Books and him always having a camera wherever we went. My mum is a great writer and my sister is too. It was never pushed for me to have a creative career though, I was pushed much more into the sciences and academic subjects. I felt very lost when I was at university because of this, and it wasn’t until I went travelling the year after that I really had the time to discover who I was and where my passions lied.

I also should point out that I don’t travel full time - I did it for a while but it’s a very hard lifestyle when trying to maintain a career, even when it’s one which is location independent. I am based in Manchester in the UK, but try to travel a lot for work, and try to do a number of long personal photography trips each year.

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We see that the Himalayas is a favourite in your feed. Any particular inspiration/ stories you'd like to share? What is it about people/ the region/ landscape/ culture that you think is special.

I was fascinated by the Himalayas long before I went there. Being named after a Himalayan mountain, I constantly wondered what the area was like. As a teenager, I developed a fascination with Tibetan Buddhism, after I studied religion at college. This was another draw for me to go to Nepal and India.

I would say that the Himalayas is my favourite region of the world. The landscapes are of course breathtaking, but really it’s the people, cultures and spirituality which always draw me back. The first time I went to Nepal, I trekked to Annapurna Base Camp with my mum which was one of the best things I have done in my life. One of my favourite memories is waking up one morning, after days of mist and not seeing mountains, and suddenly the clouds had cleared and the sun shone onto Annapurna South which is one of the most beautiful mountains of the region. We scrambled out of our sleeping bags and watched the mountains come to life beneath strings of prayer flags, with chai and bowls of banana porridge. These sort of mornings when you are completely transfixed by the beauty of the earth are much heightened in the Himalayas.

During that trip, I also did my first 10-day meditation retreat at Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu, and I then went down to India where I lived for a few weeks in Dharamsala, volunteering with a Tibetan Newspaper. Over the years since I have been back to the Nepali and Indian quite a few times. Late last year I went to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh which was an incredibly special place, and in March this year, I did the Annapurna Circuit with my two sisters. It was one of the hardest, most intense and most wonderful experiences of my life. I have also been to Darjeeling and Uttarakhand in India. I would still like to see much more of the area and have such a desire to go to Ladakh, Bhutan and Tibet.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes the Himalayan region so special, it’s definitely a combination of the people, the Buddhist religion, the landscapes. But for me, I think I feel a particular kind of peace in the mountains which I don’t feel anywhere else. I feel very connected to that part of the world and feel a lot in common with the calm and quiet mindset of the people. I also cope very well at high altitude, which I think is further evidence that I was a Tibetan in my past life!

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You also run an independent publication. Please share the journey of starting that. How do you manage time between travelling and publishing? Do you think with a rise in the trend of independent publishing, it is no more as curated and niche as it was 2 years ago? How would you define your travel style in 3 words? Any tips for travel microbloggers/ publishers?

I started ROAM about 2 years ago with my sister. There are a lot of independent publications now around the world, but I felt like a lot of the travel publications were focusing a lot on ‘camping in Iceland’ or ‘Van Life’, rather than what I believe really makes travel special - which is the cultures and people of the world. I wanted ROAM to fill that gap, and also to give travellers and creatives a platform to showcase their work. It’s been a gradual journey and we are still learning all the time what we want to be and how to market ROAM in the saturated world of travel media. We feel we have a place though, and our aim is to get ROAM to be a print publication, with perhaps quarterly publications.

As for tips for travel microbloggers/publishers, I would say publish what you love and what you feel passionate about. I think so many travel bloggers now go down the same road with what works and what gets lots of views, but I don’t really think those kinds of posts have any longevity. I’d much rather publish a poignant travel story or photo essay about someone's experience at a homestay in Sri Lanka or exploring the streets of Amman than another post called ‘Top 10 things to do in Paris’.

My travel style in 3 words: Independent, cultural, photographic.

VIEW: https://www.annapurnamellorphotography.com/

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Contemporary art is not something commonly associated with Ladakh where the emphasis has been to look at more traditional forms of art such as mural and thangka painting, or statue making. But as change and innovation are inevitable, new directions in the art are also taking place in Ladakh.
— MONISHA AHMED

LADAKH ARTS AND MEDIA ORGANISATION

 

The LAMO, Ladakh Arts and Media Centre is located in the historical old town of Leh, below the 17th century Palace, and dates from the same period. It comprises of two houses – the Munshi House, home to the King’s secretary, and the Gyaoo House, home to court artists. Both homes were not inhabited, the former since 1984 and the latter for about 100 years. They were in a state of decay, many rooms were without roofs and walls below had collapsed. Beams had bent, pillars warped and water penetration had occurred. The external areas were covered in garbage, human and dog waste. This is the case with much of old town, especially the areas below the palace, and though declared an endangered site and included on the World Monuments List in 2008, the area is vulnerable to threats by redevelopment. From 2006 to 2010, the two homes were restored by LAMO and revitalized as an art space with exhibition galleries, offices, library, sound studio and open-air performance site. The Centre conducts outreach programs, research and documentation projects, workshops, art residencies, performances and exhibitions that showcase Ladakh’s material and visual culture, performing arts and literature. It has become a vibrant space for Ladakhis and visitors to the region and is especially popular with the youth.

We spoke to Monisha Ahmed, Co-founder and Executive Director of LAMO, to understand the goals of the organisation:

 

Could you tell me about the inspection of LAMO and the purpose of the initiative?

The Ladakh Arts and Media Organisation (LAMO), was formed in 1996 as a public charitable trust by Monisha Ahmed and Ravina Aggarwal. Both of us have many years of working in Ladakh, as students of anthropology we have done our doctoral degrees there.

In addition to its educational, cultural and social aims, LAMO wanted to identify a heritage building in Leh, conserve it, and establish an arts resource centre within its premises. Alarmed at the neglect of heritage buildings in Leh and the rate of demolitions, LAMO wanted to demonstrate the rejuvenation of a historic building, and to contribute to the social and cultural life of the community. It was during this time [2003] that they were introduced to the owners of the Munshi House, Dr Angchuk Munshi and his father Ishey Stobden, by the conservation architect John Harrison. Both father and son were interested in restoring their home and exploring various possibilities, including approaching an ngo that may be able to turn it into a museum or put it to a suitable use. Their home had been identified in the 1987 INTACH conservation plan for Leh as an important historic building; the plan had proposed its restoration as a museum. In principal it was agreed that the house would be restored and leased to the ngo.

Soon after work started at the Munshi House, Stanzin Gyaltsen of the neighbouring Gyaoo House approached LAMO to restore his home as the two houses shared a wall and he wondered how they would look standing beside each other, one restored and the other not.

Together with John Harrison, LAMO drew up a plan for the use of the two houses, as a community arts and media centre. The organisation’s brief was that it wanted a space from which it could conduct outreach programs, research and documentation projects, workshops, art residencies, performances and exhibitions that showcase Ladakh’s material and visual culture, performing arts and literature. The restored buildings were accordingly designed to accommodate a library, offices, artists studio, sound studio, and spaces for exhibitions, performances and workshops. At the same time, the LAMO Centre would in itself be a historic example of Ladakhi material and visual culture.

The LAMO project started at a time when conservation projects were still not a widely familiar concept in Ladakh and awareness of the rejuvenation of private historical buildings was largely unknown. The few projects conducted there till then largely focused on the protection and restoration of palaces, Buddhist monasteries, mosques and other religious structures of a more monumental status.  

At the same time, so many historic towns in the Himalaya and Tibet have been lost or irrevocably damaged through wars, natural disasters and redevelopment; Leh Old Town has remarkably survived. However, threats to it are imminent and have been increasing with each passing year. As LAMO began to look for a physical space in Leh town, the words of the then Principal of the Moravian Mission School, Elijah Gergan, influenced the organization’s choice. He said, “The successful restoration and rehabilitation of one historic structure in Leh, will be the most effective statement to demonstrate the potential and value of the much neglected architectural heritage of the old town.”

Conservation architect John Harrison had been working in Lhasa with Tibet Heritage Fund when in 2000 the Chinese government decided to close down most foreign NGO's there. Soon after, he came to Ladakh and by 2002/3 started the restoration of the Lonpo House (funded by the INTACH UK Trust) below the palace in Leh. He also began to survey and investigate the possibility of emergency repairs at the nearby Munshi House.

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You are not only a gallery but also a resource library. Space is engaging and not a traditional museum/gallery format. How do they support each other?

We see ourselves as both a community arts space plus a research/resource center, and much of our work has a multi-layered approach. So, in the sense, much of the documentation and research we do works itself into exhibitions and workshops that we hold at LAMO, also outreach programs and visual art forms.

When we take a subject to look at and study – say the Neighbourhood project – the work we did over 3 years culminated in an exhibition that included photography, art, installations, historical objects brought in by community members that talked about old town, as well as a report on the status of homes in the area, water and sanitation, residents of the area, and two publications by children living in the area.

 

You also organize workshops with the local community. How do you go about engaging with the local community and interacting with people both within and outside of Ladakh?

The local community has been one of our first and biggest support. The children, espcially, are regulars at our workshops or come to use the library. One of the first projects we worked on was ‘The ‘Neighbourhood project’ from 2010 – 2013, documenting, researching and disseminating the cultural practices of Old Town in Leh with a view to revitalizing the cultural and diverse heritage of Ladakh. This was funded by the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, Mumbai. It enabled us to get to know the community of Old Town. It led to the exhibition ‘Mapping Old Town – Archival Studies and Contemporary Responses’, in 2013, which brought in many more people to understand the complexities of the area. The exhibition was funded by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Jammu & Kashmir.

Since the restoration work began on the Munshi and Gyaoo Houses, LAMO has been raising awareness of Old Town Leh’s vast historical importance, its cultural, social and economic contributions as well as the imminent problems and threats the area faces. It has worked with both the stakeholders and residents of the area, as well as local leaders and policymakers to increase the understanding of the significance of this part of the town and its importance for future generations of Ladakhis. LAMO’s main objectives for working in the Old Town are as follows:

1. To identify and spread awareness about the artistic heritage and cultural legacy of the neighborhoods of the Old Town

2. To create a sense of involvement and ownership of Ladakh’s cultural heritage among local communities by building their knowledge-based skills, and soliciting their active participation and ideas in various stages of production and dissemination of the project

3. To adopt and disseminate an approach to conservation that is sensitive to the contested claims of the people who occupy these spaces, especially marginalized inhabitants. To advocate the importance of the Old Town’s creative heritage to planners and policymakers. The organisation has carried out numerous research and documentation projects on the area, made short videos and films, initiated a visual archive, encouraged new photography, published children’s books, had art exhibitions, conducted heritage walks amongst other activities and events including several talks and presentations on the Old Town of Leh.

We work with schools in Leh and the degree college. Our outreach programs extend in the Leh area but we have also held workshops in Changthang and Sham areas. Beyond Ladakh, we reach out to people through Facebook, Instagram, and our annual newsletter.

 

The building itself is quite unique. Could you share the restoration process with us? Are you planning to expand this?

When the buildings were being restored we thought we had too many rooms and we’d never be able to fill them. Now we find we don’t have enough space!

We would like to take on lease the building directly below us and restore it – it is not a very large building, just two rooms and at one time used to be a part of the Munshi house till the owners sold it. We would like to use the space for music – maybe even a small music school, for traditional and contemporary music.  

But not sure, for now, we have enough to do with the space that we are in.

 

How do you fund your projects? Are there patrons and volunteers? Is it self-funded? Do you collaborate with other cultural initiatives like yourself?

The restoration work was privately funded by Monisha Ahmed. John Harrison was supported for his travel and accommodation by the Intach UK Trust.

Since then, we fund our projects in various ways and would like to work towards being self-funded if possible. Towards achieving this, we charge a nominal entry ticket at the door (as a donation), and we do heritage walks in Old Town. We have a small shop from where we sell a range of LAMO products from cards and postcards to T-shirts, and books we have published. We also charge a rent to various people or organizations who want to hold events in our space such as a music concert, or an art exhibition. Or a workshop and seminar.

Some of our exhibitions are selling exhibitions.

For the rest of the work we do, we submit proposals to agencies that give grants - for instance, the Neighbourhood Project that was funded by the Dorab Tata Trust, a film on music in old town was funded by India Foundation for the Arts, an art conservation project by the Kalpataru Trust, Mumbai.

More recently we have been approached by people in the community for various works – in 2018, 100 years of the 19th Kushok Bakula Rinpoche was celebrated throughout Ladakh in many ways. Spituk monastery approached us to organize a photo exhibition and bring out a catalogue on Kushok Bakula’s life and work. In 2019 we are working on a booklet for ‘Walks in Leh’ and putting together a website for the tourism department.

A more recent addition to our building was a Sound Studio, we were supported in this endeavour by the Siddhartha School.

Lamo Centre before restoration.JPG
View of LAMO Centre from above, before restoration.jpg
Workshop with artist Baptist Coelho, 2015.jpg

 

Could you comment on the current landscape of the Ladakhi artist community? Where do you see it currently in the national landscape and what are the future prospects?

 

Contemporary art is not something commonly associated with Ladakh where the emphasis has been to look at more traditional forms of art such as mural and thangka painting, or statue making.  But as change and innovation are inevitable, new directions in the art are also taking place in Ladakh.

Contemporary art is a still a fairly new and emerging field in Ladakh. There are probably not more than a dozen Ladakhis who have either graduated from art colleges in India or still studying there. At times there has been parental pressure on them to follow a more conventional path – doctor, teacher, engineer.

At the same time, the artists draw inspiration from the Ladakhi landscape focusing their work on religious symbols, concerns, and dilemmas facing the region.  At other times they explore traditional methods of producing art to create their own works.

LAMO held the first exhibition of Ladakhi contemporary art in 2014 ‘Among these mountains – Nine contemporary artists from Ladakh’. It was well received.

 

Since then we have held many exhibitions with Ladakhi artists at LAMO and also in Delhi –

In April 2017, LAMO showed artists Chemat Dorjey, Tashi Namgail, and Tsering Mutup at ‘The Inner Path - Festival of Buddhist Film, Art & Philosophy’ in New Delhi.

In December 2107, LAMO showed artists Chemat Dorjey, Isaac Gergan and Nyentak at ‘Bodhi Parv’, an exhibition at the Indira Gandhi Centre for the Arts and Ojas Art, Delhi.

At the last student biennale at Kochi, two Ladakhi artists took part  - one in a group installation from BHU and another from Shiv Nadar in a performance.

 

There is still a long way to go – for contemporary art in Ladakh to be recognized both in Ladakh and outside, for it to fetch decent prices. But I think the movement has clearly begun and it is a very exciting one. I think there is great potential among the artist community, they are young and motivated and hugely enthusiastic.  And while they move forward they are also aware of their backgrounds, community, and identity. Who they are and where they come from.

I think they need to explore different forms, break away more from conventional art forms, and ask more questions. Take risks and explore new themes, ask questions about Ladakh and its landscape.
 

For more information visit: www.lamo.org.in or write to lamocentreleh@gmail.com


 

PATTERNS

TEXTURES

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Saffron

by sayali goyal 

Saffron, or ‘ Kesariya’ in Hindi, the golden orange colour holds a special place in Hinduism and can be seen everywhere in Haridwar. Like an undecided code for an overcrowded gathering, I see saris, dhotis, threads, vermilion, painted temple tops, flowers and diyas (mud lamps) Jalebis and ladoos ( Indian sweets), the sky and sun, all belonging to a shade card of orange.  Hindu saints have always been inspired by nature, and experimenting with nature has formed components of the Vedas. One can see that a lot of importance has been given to the time of sunset and sunrise in our rituals and fire is cleansing during these rituals. I wondered, maybe the colour saffron is symbolic of these important elements of Hinduism. It may be symbolic to the purity and divine strength, light, and salvation, hence maybe all the sadhus adorn it. Maybe in the path of seeking the ultimate truth, the colour holds some importance.

 

Further walking through the streets there is a whiff of burning oil mixed with cardamom and ginger from chai being made. This place is anything but quiet. As I walk along the Ganges, I see a lot of wet, naked people ( not something I would see a lot outside of here). All are here to wash off their sins. Some of them are seekers. Some are like me, just wandering.

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BY SAYALI GOYAL

Following a flight, a car ride, a walk and then a chopper, we reached our destination. Jammu, a city mostly visited by spiritual travelers, is located in the western part of the northern most state of India, Jammu and Kashmir .A coolie whispers ‘ghode loge?’( “would you like a horse?”) in my ears and a most overpowering smell of horse poop fills my nose and then my face. I see sharp-jawed Himalayan men carrying people’s bags, taming horses and even lifting older men and women. There are many shops on both the sides of the road, all selling red netted fabric to offer to the goddess in a cave on top of the hill with coconuts and sweets in a jute bag.

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Most service providers, local shops and businesses are run for spiritual visitors. So could we safely say, that religion is a strong base for the local economy to run? Does the Hindu belief of ‘Teerth Yatra’ help the local vendors earn their bread and butter? According to mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik, Teerth Yatra was a way for people to travel in the days when there were no automobiles. The idea then was to explore the world outside, just as it remains today. Due to years of belief, Indians have taken journeys across to country to be closer to god. Ironically, a wave of modern-day spiritually can be felt in this generation with an alternate belief system burgeoning  every year. Many choose to take inner spiritual journeys through these alternate methods. However, the increase of journeys taken to spiritual destinations like Jammu, Haridwar, Varanasi and many in the south of the country has given birth to a flourishing industry. From the fruit and flower vendors to other merchandise sellers that include Vermillion, plastic stickers, threads and idols of gods serve these seasonal customers. Motels, dhaba shops and local taxis have increased tremendously in the past couple of years. Jammu is also known for its authentic nut shops for walnuts and almonds from Kashmir. I see families shopping in kilograms and the supply has increased with the demand. I wondered about the ideas of sustainability that have been floating in the contemporary travel industry. Most of these visitors seemed unaware. Another conversationalist could raise the topic of animal rights, with horses used to take unfit travelers to the temple on top of the hill. In the temple, the connection with god remains largely ritualistic that involves paying the priest and a  security guard to get ahead in the cue. It was apparent that these travellers who are motivated by a belief, had given rise to many jobs and opportunities for the locals. But we are a country that is overpopulated and needed these opportunities. So is this a vicious cycle? I see families coming together in the name of this spiritual journey. With them exchanging snacks through journeys, singing religious songs, buying souvenirs, it could be a little bit of an ideal family getaway. They hope that God will now be now pleased with them. Sometimes ‘Ignorance is bliss’, I told myself, and the question of whether spiritual travel is a good or a bad thing, is, as always,subject to discussions over time .

LAUNCH EVENT VIDEO

Created by Chinmoy Sonowal and Neelansh Mitra

Music by Dee En

 

The Making

 

Souvenirs

pashmina socks from looms of ladakh

apricot scrub, jam, balm and oil from the apricot shop

vintage cha cup from karma

Postcards from LAMO SHOP

RICE ART PAPER FROM NORBULINKA

POETRY BOOKS FROM GULSHAN BOOKSHOP

what to buy in lEH?

 

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