After seeing posters for the Ladakh festival over the few days we were in Leh, we rearranged our plan of monastery visits to clear our schedules this afternoon so we could head into town and see archery, polo, and traditional music across the city of Leh. But our new plan was immediately changed once again when the events were cancelled due to rain — instead, we all spread out to explore Leh and shop for our last few necessities before leaving for Tar the following day.
Caroline, Isabel, and I decided to set out on a mission to buy some warm Ladakhi scarves. We had heard from MJ that there was a good shop nearby an army surplus store in the old local market, and armed with that information alone we set out. Despite having spent hours in Leh the previous day, we had mostly stuck to the main drag. Today, we continued past the wide boulevard and into the twisting streets of the old market. As soon as we crossed that line, the number of people we could identify as visitors to Ladakh dropped to almost zero. We wound through small passages, each one leaving us less oriented and clearly out of place (one woman laughed out loud when she saw us!). The rain was relentless, running in streams down the streets and flowing off the tarps which hung low overhead from one shop to another. We quickly were soaked to the bone. Down some side alleys we explored, the puddles which filled the streets made walking nearly impossible, forcing us to hop from loose rocks or small raised steps.
Finally, we found the spot we were looking for. Two women sat in a tiny store, overflowing with soft cotton and wool. We chose huge blanket scarves we liked, bartered down the price, and one woman rubbed my hands in hers to warm them up so I could use my fingers again to grab rupees from my wallet. They laughed at us shivering and soaking wet. And after our purchases were made, we spent another half hour wandering again to try to find our way back.
It has been a long time since I was as turned around as I was that day. But I enjoyed losing track of where I was. Without a route to follow, we ended up seeing residential areas, market side streets, and prayer wheels we had missed the day before. And at the end of it all, we made it home to Angmo’s cozy kitchen and a warm glass of milk tea.