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Leh blend

September 28, 2009
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We’ve been in Leh for a couple of weeks now and it’s starting to feel a bit like home. The Muslim bakers in the alleyways behind the mosque recognise me and know the flatbread I like best. Each has a slightly different technique. One is big and powdery with wheat flour (Rps 10), another is small and fat (Rps 5). But my favourites are the medium ones that are shiny with brushed milk before baking, and patterned with the finger-pulls of the baker.

Then I fill the empty water bottles at the Dzoma cooperative and head back to the sun-drenched balcony of our guesthouse for chai, bread and apricot jam (with kernels in the jar) – the perfect breakfast.

The days are punctuated by equally pleasant meals, at the Tibetan restaurant for thukpa or momos; the Indian cafe for began aloo (aubergine and potatoes fried in delicious tomato and herb sauce), curd, rice and lentils; the Kashmiri restaurant for a great view and rogan josh…

The streets are busy with cows and aubergine cloaked monks, dogs and chatter-laughing women in thick woolen coats encircled with brightly coloured silk sashes.

Alleys and paths wend their way through, and sometimes under, mudbricked houses with small windows to keep in the warmth. It feels more similar to Iran than Delhi here.

The fields have mostly been shorn now and everyone’s more relaxed now the harvest’s safely in. All around, the general’s fight over this peaceful little kingdom. Last month Chinese soldiers came over for a painting job, covering the rocks in communist red. The Indian’s responded in green. West of us fighting persists in Kashmir and Kargil.

Here in Leh, we witnessed Islam’s Eid, followed by the Tibetan half-moon festival (no meat, no alcohol), followed by the Hindu’s Durga puja, and Friday will be Ghandi’s birthday.

There is little friction here. What there is, is the sad consequence of water scarcity finding tensions where there were none before.

I saw a Muslim boy spin a Buddhist prayer wheel today and then the call to prayer sang out across the mountainous valley. If there has to be religion, let it be the harmonious, richly decorated, colourful, tasty sort.

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