Leh Ladakh India – services and shopping

Leh is chockful of shops and markets, selling ethnic Tibetan and Ladakhi jewelry, clothing and crafts. The shop with the best selection and fairest prices (and yellow banners all over the town) is Ladakh Art Palace on Main Bazaar Rd, upstairs in the Akbar Shopping Complex www.ladakhartpalace.com . I also found interesting jewelry made of yak bone and horn at Tashi Arts, on Fort Road, opposite the power house. It goes without saying that bargaining is part of the purchase. And for a shopping experience which truly is an experience, seek out Hadji Ramatullah. Just inside the path leading up to the palace, next to the flatbread bakeries, Mr Ramatullah presides over a haphazard jumble of old Ladakhi jewelry. On the back wall of his stall is his photo from 50 years ago, dashing and with a glorious moustache.

The biggest selection of English language books on Indian culture and religion, as well as literature, is at Ladakh Book Shop, Main bazar, near State Bank of India., upstairs. But prices are better at Bookworm on Fort Road, next to Lingzi Hotel. 

Trekking and jeep tours in Ladakh  – see separate entry for details, but recommended agent is Mr Tundup, the director of Tsarap Himalayan Adventures on lower Fort Road, tundupstc@rediffmail.com, tsaraphimalayanadventure@yahoo.co.in who is knowledgeable about everything except the lodging en route – so plan that independently.

For a guide, I heartily recommend Jigmet Chostak, a young man who knows Ladakh intimately and thoroughly, jigmetchostak@yahoo.com, momo_KT86@yahoo.com mobile 9419658545.

For body care, the best massage in India is in a small white building in the compound of Open Ladakh in Changspa ( a 15 minute walk from Leh center). Rajendran is professional, a specialist in ayurvedic massage, and an hour with him ($15)  is recommended before and after each back-breaking jeep trek. rajendran70@hotmail.com mobile 9419815299. You can leave him a message on the writing pad hanging on his door.

For manicures, pedicures, waxing and all other cosmetic treatments, Shamima, the owner of Rahat Beauty Home, is the address. Local girls troop in to have their eyebrows shaped. If you’ve never had a pedicure while lying down, here’s your chance  – mobile 9419090664, just north of the main square. 

Changing money is slow as molasses at the State Bank of India on Main Bazar, open mornings only, but if you’re changing upwards of $200, the small difference in exchange rate might be worth your while. Otherwise, moneychangers are omnipresent. 

Meditation – the Mahabodhi Society in Changspa gives daily and weekly courses. I participated in a  2.5 hour meditation session led by a British guy who was terrific. I’ve never sat so long without moving – and crosslegged – in my life! Just up Changspa road is the Open Ladakh complex, aka Alternative Ladakh, run by Vivek. An ex-Buddhist priest, Vivek runs daily meditation sessions in the center, and also a weekend travel meditation course in his family home in Stok village. Highly recommended if you’re ok with Ladakhi toilets (open hole) and rudimentary facilities. Discussions with Vivek are fascinating, and include historical background as well as current cultural issues. My weekend was cut short by torrential rains threatening to wash away the bridges, so we were hustled back to Leh in a taxi. I still regret not being able to stay on. mobile 9419179917, www.openladakh.com, openladakh@yahoo.co.in .

Internet cafes are all over. The fastest connection I found, with the fewest service cuts, was at Gompa, around the corner from Dzomsa Laundry at the top of the main square. Compared to everywhere else in India, Internet is expensive in Leh, 2 rupees per minute.

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