At Leh, don’t buy anything except ‘pashmina’ products like shawls, scarves, stoles and semi-precious stone products like ear-rings, bracelets, bangles ans other similar trinkets. All other ‘tourist’ items, like ‘tankas’ and other Buddhist artefacts, are manufactured in mainland India. The reason? As one owner of a shop selling ‘authentic’ Buddhist artifacts explained, it’s too costly making these items in Leh; cheaper to buy them wholesale in mainland India, eg., Chandigarh or Delhi and sell them at a hefty profit in Leh. So, bargaining is a must.
Usual story - try to avoid being ripped off by the traders when buying presents etc. There are some bargains but most will require time to haggle, which I find tiresome eventually.
A useful tip is to walk out of the door when negotiations stall. this is usually enough to kick start proceedings!
The Kashmiri shopkeepers are very very cunning and are talented con-men. Although their products are good and also made by Tibetans, they make it look like terrorists have taken away their lives in Kashmir and they're living a hard life. It is bad in Kashmir, but trust me, NOT WORTH PAYING 10 TIMES FOR SOMETHING YOU'D GET NEXT DOOR AT A TIBETAN'S SHOP!!
Unique Suggestions: If you must buy something from the shop, directly quote a price of one-tenth what the shop guy tells you. Don't make it look like you're attached to the product, and look at the chap in the eye. They get intimidated a bit easily.
Fun Alternatives: Best alternative : Buy from the many Tibetan shops in Leh. Some are like the Kashmiris, but most are very fair.
Cultural shows are dance shows that most hotels in Leh can organise for you. There are supposed to be several cultural groups that can perform these dances for you. A private show costs about 100 dollars. To their defense, the dances are suggestive and the clothes, from the several Ladakhi regions, colourful. Some of the dances performed only took place at the court of the king.
Unique Suggestions: It's a trap, and yet it's probably the closest one can get to watching traditional dances and costumes - I'm not talking about authenticity, but chances are that one can not see those dances otherwise. Catching a monastery festival with dances is easy enough in Ladakh, catching paesant dances is nearly impossible. As for the royal dances, forget about them...
Fun Alternatives: You can try to ask around for local original dances, but they tend to take place informally, and regular visitors would never find out about them - so I guess the show is your only option.
There are fake thanka paintings sold by Kashmiri shops in Ladakh. They will tell you that the paintings are antique and old.
Buy thanka paintings from local Insititutes and art centers only.
With its souvenir shops, internet cafes and international food eateries... the capital of Leh I would imagine... but there are worse tourist traps than these in the world!