Ladakh: A Poet’s Inspiration
Koi noor hai tu, Kyun door hai tu
Jab paas hai tu Ehsaas hai tu
Koi khwaab hai ya parchhayi hai, satrangi re…
You’re a glow, why are you so distant?
When you are near, you are a feeling itself
Are you a dream, or some shadow?
O rainbow coloured one!
— Gulzar, Dil Se
Raku House, Ladakh
A group of students, mostly from Leh and Ladakh, studying at Delhi University came together to preserve the cultural heritage of Leh. Flowering Dharma, an NGO was launched in 2009, as a result of their efforts. The first agenda was to restore and convert a 150-year-old Ladakhi house – Raku House – into a Youth Cultural Centre.
I read about this house in the Mid-Day newspaper. The beautiful story made me want to travel to Leh Ladakh, and volunteer at Raku house. It has been on my bucket list ever since, and I hope I get to tick it off soon.
About Raku House
A short walk from central Leh market, this house is located in Tukcha. The house was first built by the current owner Rigzin Dolma’s parents.
Their family name ‘Raku’ literally means ‘the one who drank the soup of the goat.’ The story took place when Ladakh was an independent kingdom ruled by Kings. As the name suggests, an ancestor slaughtered a Goat and drank up all the soup that was prepared from the bones. And, that’s how the family name was coined.
This house was initially built to house livestock. Raku family members would stay here during the summer to take care of their farms and animals. It also enabled them to fulfill the law that mandated all citizens to spend a certain amount of time living near the Palace.
A delicate ‘chotkang’ (prayer room) on the top floor is the pride of the house.
Modernization of Raku House,
If you visit Raku House, someone, maybe a volunteer or an intern, will take you through a tour of the house. On the first floor is a chanse (hall) which was originally a living room cum kitchen. Today, it’s been converted into a multipurpose hall where different activities such as movie screenings, talks, and workshops are organized. There’s a well-stocked library where you can find some nice books on Ladakh.
On the top floor, the plan was to have two guest bedrooms for tourists. Now that the hostel is open, this accommodation offers a unique experience for the discerning traveler.
One of the rooms has been turned into a museum, showcasing traditional utensils, ‘Ba-nga’ a traditional granary, and other Ladakhi heritage artifacts. There’s an open cafe on the terrace with a rustic wooden table and chairs. You can get some snacks and Kashmiri Kahwa here. For the shopaholics, there’s a boutique as well, to pick up trinkets and souvenirs. There are small commercial ventures to fund the upkeep of the house.
If you liked this story, read How I Survived A Cold Snowy Night At Key Monastery, And Other Adventures.
Vernacular Architecture in Leh and Ladakh
The soul of traditional Ladakhi lifestyle is ‘Atmanirbhar’ (Self-sufficient). People work hard, hold several jobs, and even own small farms to sustain themselves. Their traditional houses reflect the way people lived and the climate of the place, before globalization. The lifestyle was very similar to that of Tibet. German architect Andre Alexander, who has been restoring traditional Tibetan and Ladaki houses for the past 15 years, says:
Like in Tibet, traditional houses in Ladakh are built using stones, timbers and mud in various forms, such as sun-dried mud bricks and rammed earth for plastering floors and roofs. The buildings reflect people’s lifestyle, with pens for their cows on the ground floor and Buddhist altar rooms on the top floor.
To make the buildings suited to the local climate, they are well-insulated with mud and straw, and the most important room always faces south for sunshine. The modern architecture recognizes this technique of passive solar energy. People here also have a sense of aesthetics and beauty—every house has its own character. The façades usually have an impressive layout and the roof parapet, the doors and the windows have detailed wood-carved decorations.
Day 21 (U) ~ #BlogchatterA2Z
All artwork is done by Seema Misra, Copyright Lonely Canopy.