This morning I heard drums outside the guest house. Tsering said because it is the first day of Ladakhi Losar (the New Year celebration which ends on the 10th), the traditional drummers are making the rounds.
Ladakh has its own sort of Buddhist caste system, and musicians are a distinct group known as the Mon. Dancers, singers and musicians used to be a separate caste in most parts of India. Tsering said they go around playing the daman (drum) and surna (a kind of clarinet or shenai) in every neighborhood asking for money.
"In the old days," he said, "we used to give only tsampa (barley) powder, chappati, food, like that. Now we are expected to give some cash," he smiled. How much? "Oh, ten, twenty rupees, like that." So it's a bit like Ladakhi trick-or-treating.
-a single file line of fuzzy grey donkeys, their colour identical to that of the surrounding mountains, trudging slowly up the street in search of some prime scavenging. They always remind me of the manger scene in the Christmas Story.
-Old men and women selling baskets of dried apricots -- with faces that look also like dried apricots. Also, classic-looking elder men sitting in the afternoon sun in front of the mosque, with faces, hats, beards, and robes that bring to mind romanticized images of Silk Road traders.
-Glancing upward from almost anywhere around town and seeing the 400 year old Leh Palace originally built by (or rather, for) King Singge Namgyal. It's like a little mini-Potala just minutes away (in fact it is said to have been modeled on the Potala. Another version I heard said the Potala was modeled on Leh Palace!) (the Palace photo above is from Wikipedia).
Higher still is the Tsemo Gompa, looking like a kid's bucket sandcastle after a wave hit it. A lone monk still climbs up once every morning and evening to look after the shrines and light lamps in the crumbling former monastery.
-Hitchhiking (still acceptable, common and safe here) . Distances are vast, and it's rare that a driver does not stop. Sometimes on a deserted road, drivers even stop voluntarily to ask if you are "okay." (No, it is not just because I am a foreign female - almost everyone thumbs a ride here in Ladakh.)
-Cheerful, confident women of all ages striding down the street, unaccompanied by men, with none of the "please don't hit me" body language shared by so many Indian women.
-Single women running businesses, including restaurants, all on their own. No men in sight. No one says anything, no one hassles them, and nobody blinks an eye.
-The wicker baskets (actually woven willow) used by the women to carry vegetables on their backs, to and from the Bazaar market.
-only washing my hair once a week. It's so cold, no one is looking and I just throw a hat on it every day, anyway!