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Report 1932: Ladakh Takes Your Breath Away
By Eleanor from UK, Spring 2011
Page 11 of 25: Stok Village and Palace
The kitchen stove
Stok village is an oasis in a side valley of the river Indus. It is a very green and fertile area. The houses are surrounded by their own land with a high mud brick walls. Poplar and willow trees are planted around the edge of the fields to provided timber for building and heat. Roads are unmade and driving along them all that can be seen are the mud walls, trees and roof tops. Irrigation ditches bring water down from the hills and in places there are small metal pumps which, for many, is the only source of water. Few people have cars, Donkeys are still important for transport, and often woke us up early morning. Otherwise all crops have to be carried on the back.
Stok PalaceStok Palace dominates the village. It is a massive four story building on a crag above the village, with brightly painted red woodwork. It was built around 1820 by King Tsepal Namgyal who was the last ruler of an independent Ladakh. It became the permanent royal residence when the invading Dogra army attacked Leh and forced the King to abdicate in the mid 19thC.
The present King and Queen still live in one wing of the palace. They have no constitutional role but still perform some ceremonial functions. The King is an engineer and the Queen is an elected member of the Ladakhi government.
The palace is reached by a steep climbing road with a large parking area. It is a large rambling building around a central courtyard with a red door with gold decoration marking the entrance to the royal wing.
The Namgyal family heirlooms are on display in the small museum. No photography is allowed in the museum which has displays of armour, the original King’s throne, ceremonial dresses, King’s crown (cream silk with silver decorations), Queen’s peruks and jewellery (some from the 9thC).
Unfortunately there was little information about the exhibits.
Stok Village HouseWe spent two nights in Stok Village House. This is a splendid big building at the end of a lane. Animals are still kept in pens around house and the ground floor is used for animals and storage. The kitchen dining room is on the first floor with three bedrooms and the family shrine on the top floor around a courtyard with chairs for sitting. There is a small lounging area with canopy on the roof.
We were given a choice of bedroom and chose a west facing room with large windows overlooking the mountains. (The other rooms had smaller windows and seemed dark. They did have stoves in them, which might be appreciated on cold nights). It was a large airy room getting all the heat from the sun. We had a big and very comfortable bed with soft pillows and bedside tables with lamps and torch. There was a hanging stand and chest of drawers, but not much table space for belongings or working. There was a large bathroom off with toilet, basin, shower, good towels and an excellent range of locally made toiletries.
We ate dinner in the traditional kitchen. This was a big area which doubled up as living room in winter. It had a splendid decorated wood burning stove. The walls were lined with cupboards and shelves for pans, jugs, tea pots and ladles all made from metal. Iron lanterns had candles for light. There was a small modern kitchen used by staff off this.
Breakfast was served in the orchard which was very stylish.
One evening we went to watch the house owner milk the cows in a small enclosed yard with mud brick walls and hay stored on roof above. There were two small black Ladakhi cows, one with a calf who was still suckling, as well as a very friendly Jersey calf. The family had bought the mother who had died soon after giving birth. The cows were milked by hand into a small pail. The milk is used by the family to make curd, butter etc. They also keep Zho (male cross between cow and yak) used for plowing and two donkeys.
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