“Hum poochta haai, students haai idhaar aabhi?” The accent is unmistakable. It belongs to an umbrella-shielded Bengali lady enquiring about the ‘Rancho school’ (the Druk Pema Karpo School in Shey, Ladakh) made famous by the blockbuster 3 Idiots. “Lunch ka time, na,” replies a local Ladakhi in confident, though broken Hindi—a tell-tale indication of Ladakh’s fast-tracked familiarity with sundry intonations from the length and breadth of Incredible India, thanks to the swelling ranks of domestic tourists.
Till a few years ago, this cold mountain desert in Jammu & Kashmir was monopolised by adventure junkies and foreigners. Today, however, Ladakh appears to be just a Mall Road away from turning into the new Shimla of middle-class tourists.