I woke up; still slightly dazed and looking for my phone to see what time it was. After about three frantic attempts I found it wrapped under layers of blankets, just like me. I braved the mountain chill and stepped out of the bed to peek through my window. It was almost 6pm and I, like any other traveller, expected for it to be darker. But instead of a cover of darkness, I could clearly see the willows and poplars against an arid landscape. My train of thought was broken by a soft knock at my door. It was Konchok Yangskit, whose house was going to be my home for the next two days in the Phayang village in Leh-Ladakh.
I had landed in Ladakh the same afternoon and spent most part of my day in the cosy Airbnb homestay owned by Konchok and her extremely hospitable family. On day one I was advised to mostly sleep and acclimatise, with my hosts constantly feeding me at short intervals as well as reminding me to hydrate. While the highlands of Ladakh are extremely cold, sometimes even hostile, it is the warm hearts of people here that keep one going.
With Airbnb and SEWA’s (Self Employed Women’s Association of India) partnership now being extended to Ladakh, this warmth and hospitality is now for all travellers to avail. Promising an experience of a lifetime, this initiative will let travellers live the way locals do, get an insight into their culture and most importantly let them cherish a familiar, homely comfort and the simple pleasures of the local cuisine. Also keeping sustainability in mind, these hosts will also be leading the way on energy efficiency and responsible resource use through accommodations with amenities such as newly installed solar lights.
After a cosy night’s sleep and a warm cup of gud gud chai, a local variant of tea made with butter and salt,I was ready to take on the day, beginning at the SEWA centre. For breakfast we had the SEWA team cook local delicacies for us. Keeping in mind the low temperatures and lack of oxygen I thought that I’d be hooked, apart from camphor of course, to coffee and several cups of chai through the course of the day. Instead, I found a newer addiction here in the hills — freshly prepared apricot and sea buckthorn juice. Bright orange and the right amount of sweet and tangy, I couldn’t help but always reach out for another glassful.
After a quick round of introductions and familiarisation we were headed to the SEWA centre to see the craft that these ladies spin. Right from woolen socks to small souvenirs, to apricot jam these women put their heart and soul into every product. Aimed at self sufficiency and financial independence for the Ladakhi women, the partnership between Airbnb and SEWA has brought about a sense of contentment amongst these women, which was now evident in the stories we were hearing.
The afternoon was filled with casual chatter and an uber cosy meal with a side of bone chilling Ladakhi winds at one of the Airbnb host’s home. Post the hearty meal we were headed to do all things touristy — the exasperation of not feeling the magnetism of the Magnetic Hill, visiting Sangam, the confluence of the Zanskar and Indus rivers, and cherishing a cup of hot, kadak chai alongside.
We ended our day with a cultural evening at one of the Airbnbs with the locals giving us an insight into their culture and graciously sharing the warmth of their hearts and the cosiness of their homes.