As a beauty editor, one of the reasons I’m fascinated by Ladakh is its local beauty secrets. The harsh climate means the air dries out your skin and the UV exposure is significant. I yearned to hear tales of the fabled apricot oils of Ladakh and sea buckthorn berries. I asked Amchi’s wife what her beauty regime was. To my surprise, and disappointment, she said, “Vaseline”. is was a common answer from nearly every woman I spoke to. Apricot oil used to be made at home back in the day, but even here, far from the madding crowd, there isn’t as much time to make it anymore. She must have noticed my crestfallen expression because when we returned, she had taken apricots from the tree in the courtyard and made us a fresh batch of apricot oil, to be used on the skin, lips, hair and even in cooking. Its memory is now synonymous in my mind with her generosity and kindness.
After two nights, Avani and I moved to Stakna River House, another Shakti Ladakh outpost, with four bedrooms for bigger groups. Since this property is closer to the Indus River, we often strolled along its banks whenever we could tear ourselves away from our room’s private terrace which overlooks the valley. With our every sense stimulated and satiated, we delved into the local cuisine. At Shakti, the private chefs are trained by the Tibetan chef Yeshi Lama as well as by internationally renowned guest chefs such as Christine Manfield. Our mornings began on our sunny patio, with freshly baked bread on the table and heaven in full view. On some days, lunch was a picnic outdoors while dinner was usually overlooking the mighty Indus. Everything we ate was tailored to our palates. The Khow Suey was a sublime bouquet of flavours, the dumplings were pillowy and the Safta Curry was unlike any other I have ever sampled. The Chutaki Stew, a Ladakhi speciality, was a revelation with its deep, warm spices, hearty noodles and perfectly cooked vegetables. Also on offer are dried sea buckthorn berries and preparations made with roasted barley flour. And don’t miss the locally made barley beer too.
Our days were perfectly curated by Shakti, with walks through the villages or visits to local markets, stopping periodically, of course, for some salted butter tea. Those inclined can also try their hand at archery, learn how to cook local dishes, ride a bicycle or go camping. Visitors can spend a day at the local NGO, where they can pick a cause to help with. At a nearby monastery I neither explored nor meditated, but still found peace. An hour flew by in silence, allowing me to disengage from all that I knew. I was incredibly privileged to have a one-on-one interaction with a monk who spoke to me about releasing expectations, starting small by helping just one individual, and dealing with anger by remembering the good in a person.