Traditional Ladakhi toilets are eco-friendly and much better to use in Ladakh than the flush toilets as water is a scarcity in the area. All homestays where I stayed along the Markha Valley trek had of course the traditional toilet.
The toilet consists of a hole in the floor, and there is always a shovel and a heap of earth. After using the toilet you must always throw some earth down the hole, not only to cover your waste, but also to reduce smell and help the composting. The compost is later used on the fields.
Tourist can throw some toilet paper down the hole, but of course not sanitary products. Toilet paper is not available at the homestays so I brought my own on the trek. It can also be bought at some parachute tents along the way.
The various Moastaries and Gompas. They are peppered all around the Ladakhi landscape and give shape to it.
A whole lot of them are within an hours drive from Leh.
There are some basic do's and dont's when you are visiting them... it may be better to be pre-informed.
Every buddhist household will maintain a prayer room in their house. This is the place for ceremonies, prayers and meditation in the house. Poorer household will have a similar arrangement, but integrated in a rregular room or in a niche in the wall. Very solemn places, normally.
When you are in a monastery or inside it, near "chortens", prayer wheels or any other religious objects (these can also be sacred mountains or lakes) always move in the clockwise direction not to ofend local people.
One in a while the Dalai Lama comes up from Dharmsala to meet with the Ladakhi locals and Tibetan refugee community here. Once in the blue moon these are big events that gather thousands of people. Whatever is said there is impossible to understand without an advanced interpeter or an excellent understanding of the Tibetan language, rites and texts. nevertheless, it is an interesting experience to be there and see the attention and devotion of the attendees.
While travelling around the mountains of Ladakh you will see numerous stupas, gompas and monasteries.
It is custom to pass these on the left hand side. This will create an impression of respect to the locals and will not upset the gods.
The organisation International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC for short) has a Ladakh project connected to the Ladakh Ecolgogical Development Group. Together they have published a neat brochure called Tourism for Change - Some Guidelines for Visitors to Ladakh.
Over two pages very sensible and specific advice and guidelines for visitors are listed, focussing on:
Supporting the local economy
Trekking and environment
Instead of me regurgitating what they are, look at their web side and find more interesting information, too. And visit their office in Leh.
ISEC UK, Foxhold, Dartington, Devon, TQ9 6EB, UK.
OK, we all know the warning.. never drink tab or river water in India... Well, ow I?m hapy to inform you that you can... there's a wonderful brand of mineral water out, called Ladakh Indus. So you see, you can now drink Ladakhi water without being worrie about nasty parasites and bugs. Of all the mineral waters I tried in India... it's the one with the best taste. Ladakh rules, I guess!
Often, around Ladakh, you will see some long walls covered with flat stones bearing some strange inscriptions. These are called mani walls, and basically they are Tibetan prayer walls. The stones are prayer stones and the inscription is a mantra - most often "om mani padme hum". These walls have growns generation over generation, and are considered sacred, so you should not touch the stones - you shouldn't walk around them anti-clockwise either
The Sapoo oracle is one of the best knon in Ladakh, and it's about 15 kilometres east of Leh, In Sapoo, which you reach by a side road that bisects before the large army camp. She's a Lhamo, a female oracle, and she can foretell the future and answer personal questions. However the most impressive part of the ritual was when she started to heal locals: she violently beat the evil out of an allegedly possessed villager, she cured some eye problems of a young woman by placing a burning dagger on her tongue and then blowing the smoke in her eyes, and finally she sucked some illness out of some other woman's womb. It was my first encounter with shaman's craft - and I was very impressed
There are two annual festivals that take place in Taktok: the Thak Thok Tse Chu (9th to 11th day of the sixth Tibetan month) and the Viz Thak Thok Manchog (20th to 29th day of the ninth Tibetan month). In 2003 it happened on 9 August, and I was lucky enough to be able to see the dances - slow, hypnotising, with impressive costumes and masks. The best part of the festival, however, was the valley villagers that attended the festival: smiling, friendly in a curious way, and wearing wonderful traditional costumes and bizarre head-dresses. My advice to every Ladakh visitor is to try and take in a festival during your stay.
In India, and especially Ladakh, it is very common for 2 males or 2 females to hold hands or have an arm around each other. And, it is only friendship. It is out of place here for a guy and a gal to hold hands.
Observe what the locals wear. Even when it is hot in summer, they don't wear short pants or short sleeves. The sleeves aren't a touchy issue, but the pants are. They are offended by foreigners who wear short pants, but are too polite to say anything.
When I am in a different country, I think is good to learn some words such as Hello!, Thank you!, Bye Bye!... but in Ladakh you are lucky 'cause you only need to know: JULLEY !!!!!!!!!! for please! and hi! and bye! and all!
There are lots of bars where you can have a rest, drink something, smoke, sing, read, buy water for next day... I love the apple juice!!!! and nice warm cup of tea!!!
It's expensive but we have to be aware that we are in the middle of mountains!
(in the picture bar in Churkimo: from left to right Madi, Paco, Pedro, Aurora and Victor)