Generally the Ladakhis make handicrafts for themselves, and not to sell in the marketplace. So, many of the handicrafts mentioned below may not be easily found in shops. Leh town is different, though. It has got used to tourists. Therefore, you will find Handicrafts of Ladakh in many shops in the local market.
On the other hand, some crafts, such as dragon carpets and thankas, are made specially to sell in the market.
Handicrafts of Ladakh
Baskets made from the chipkiang reed are used by the local people. This reed is grown along the Indus.
Dragon Rug (Carpets)
The Ladakhis, like most South Asians, sit on the floor while dinning or simply relaxing in the living room. In much of North India these floors are carpeted. In Ladakh, as in Tibet, the carpets are small (around 3’ x 6’), made of pure wool and have brightly coloured pictures of dragons woven on them. Several such carpets are placed on the floor along the walls of the room, i.e. in a rectangle, for people to sit on.
The Tibetan refugees of Choglamsar make the best dragon carpets in Ladakh.
Copper and Brass
Copper and brass are the metals most commonly used in Handicrafts of Ladakh. Zanskar possibly derives its name from these metals. The word probably means ‘white copper’ or brass. Therefore, fittingly, Ladakh’s best metalwork is done in Zanskar, in Chiling village in particular.
Objects used in worship, as well as fancy kettles and pots, are made of these two metals. Often medallions made of silver are affixed on them. Pots in which chhang (beer) is served, as well as the cups in which chhang is drunk, bowl, ladles and teapots are among the metal utensils made in Ladakh.
All Ladakhis and Tibetans, young or old, male or female, wear a double-breasted, calf-length gown throughout the year. A wide cloth belt ensures that the gown is tightly wrapped around the body. Traditionally, the Buddhists used to wear a burnt red gown made of strips of local home-made tweed. Nowadays, the thick and rough local tweed has given way to ‘finer’ cloth made by mills. Women’s gowns in fashion conscious Leh have since come in all possible colors and fabrics. Summer gowns have become lighter than the gonchas worn in winter.
The perak is of course, Ladakh’s best known ornament. This is the elaborate, gem-studded hat-cum-cape worn by Ladakhi women. Not only are crude, uncut, precious stones affixed to the leather base, often sp are beautifully designed little silver boxes. That apart Leh and Zanskar have little jewellery of their own. The little that there is made and sold in the side-lanes that branch off the main market of Leh town.
Local shoes are woven from a fiber and are not made of leather. They wear hard and offer protection from Ladakh’s extreme cold and the snows of Zanskar. These are made out of hessian cloth, used wool felt, coarse hair of the yak and goat, woolen tweed and leather for the soal. Normally these shoes are made by members of the family for their own use and that of other members.
Thanka is also spelt as thankha, tangkhas, tankha and tanka. These are mostly cloth-normally silk or brocade-scrolls with Buddhist religious paintings on them. The household thanka is usually a long rectangle the size of a large rock-star poster or small window. There could be woven or brass rollers at the top and bottom, especially if the thanka is made of cloth.
photo credit: Arian Zwegers Jakar tshechu, Guru Rinpoche thongdrel with the Guru, his two wives and eight manifestations via photopin (license)