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Brokpas, Baltis and more – The tribes of Ladakh

Ladakh is one of the last standing places in the country with a variety of different tribes that have their own eccentric ancestry, rituals and habits. Their way of life will pique your curiosity and if you love getting to know a place by way of getting to know its people, we must recommend a detour to one of the tribal villages of Ladakh. 

The land of high passes is home to a populace unlike any other in the world. Consisting mainly of Buddhists and some Muslims, these people have traditions and cultures that leave one spell-bound. Almost everyone is involved in agricultural work during the harvest season (with the exception of the nomads of Changthang) and the rest of the year is spent in hibernation, during which the Ladakhi festivals and rituals are out in full bloom. Dive into the rich cultural heritage of these communities by visiting the offbeat places in Ladakh for an experience you won’t regret.

Aryans

(A Brokpa woman dressed in traditional attire and their typical elaborate headgear)

With widespread conjecture over the origin of this community (some say their ancestors descended from Gilgit to the plains and some say they were lost men of Alexander’s army), the inhabitants of the Aryan community are unlike any in the region. Their sharp, distinguishing features and light eyes set them apart from the more Central-Asian looking Ladakhis. Further divided into Dards and Mons, this community has preserved their so-called ‘purity’ through the practice of endogamy. There was an instance when two German women came to this valley to be impregnated by the seed of pure Aryan blood. Whether you take these accounts with a pinch of salt or not, you will be in awe of the simple ways and warmth of this community. Dressed in traditional clothes with flowers and metal coins on their head, the women may take on more than one husband. 

The Aryan Valley comprises the villages of Dah, Hanu, Garkon and Dakchik. We recommend visiting one of these for the opportunity to peek into the lives of a remote tribe, their ecological ways of living and the beauty of the villages. One can visit the villages of Dah-Hanu from Kargil or Leh and stay overnight as the journey from Leh could take about 5 hours. Once you arrive at these villages, we can arrange a local lunch experience and a chance to interact with these tribes, who you will find warm and welcoming. Stay overnight at one of the homestays to make the experience even better.

Balti

Turtuk

© Ayash Basu. Young Balti girls blush at the sight of outsiders, quickly rushing to play in the fields. They are shy in front of the camera, yet make sure to sport a warm smile to visitors.

Originating from Baltistan (present-day Pakistan Occupied Kashmir ), the Baltis have settled in the Turtuk Village mainly and some other parts of Kargil and Sankoo. Turtuk was part of Pakistan until 1971 and many Baltis still have relatives on the other side of the border. Originally Buddhists, the wave of Islam encroaching from the left caused the people to convert to Muslims. Although the Baltis try to preserve their cultural identity, contact with both Dards and Tibetan Buddhists have caused geographical mixing. 

A trip to Turtuk is an invaluable experience in our opinion. It combines the very best of nature and culture. Easily incorporated as a day trip from Hunder in Nubra Valley, it takes about 3 hours to get here. Spend the day having an authentic Balti lunch, stroll around in the fields and visit the local museum. Spend a languid day here and head back to Hunder for the night.

Changpa

changpa

No other tribe in the region is as eccentric to travellers as the semi-nomadic Changpas. They move about the stunning landscapes of Changthang, rearing yak, sheep and other animals. The Changpas are Buddhists and follow the Dalai Lama. The Pashmina sheep are the main source of livelihood for this tribe. They use the milk from these sheep for self-consumption, making cheese and butter as well as for barter. However, the main use of these sheep is their wool which is used for weaving the much sought-after cashmere. The rising prices of cashmere have ensured better livelihood for the Changpas and as a result, many of them have chosen to settle down in one place. However, the majority continues to live a nomadic lifestyle.

One of the most eccentric tribes in the region, interacting with Changpas is not something that everyone does on their trip to Ladakh. However, it can easily be included in the itinerary as a day trip from Pangong Tso. One only needs to put up in one of the villages a little farther from Pangong, such as Mann. From here, after a good night’s sleep, we can organize a trip to Merak where you can have lunch with these nomads. If you’d like to make it a more immersive experience, spend a few more days in the Changthang region and go to Tso Kar or Hanle and see these tribes closely.

Testimonials

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Thank you very much to you and your team for arranging this fantastic tour. One of the best pick from this tour was your meticulous planning and promptness of service. All arrangements were fantastic, be it a delivery of vehicle at Chandigarh airport, hotels particularly at Chandigarh, Leh, Nubra, Pangong. However the best was at Jispa, Kargil and Srinagar for different reasons. Jispa was simple but authentic with very tasty food.

Rajesh & Gauri Natu

Graphic Designer, Apple

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Sunil, after I ran 21k Marathon I bragged about it for years. The same is being repeated again, with my ambition to drive across the Himalayas, which was almost faded with Srinagar under curfew. You and Chetan were the spark to our fire that we could do this drive and without a single trouble. Driving is a passion but driving thru places where there are no roads is trouble, but your breakup of program and awesome car condition helped us actually sail thru. Three cheers and five stars.

Jignesh Shah

Absolute Networks, Mumbai

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Wow. wow, wow. What a experience! We took the route of Delhi - Jammu - Srinagar - Leh - Sarchu - Manali - Delhi.  Sunil Kapoor gave us excellent service which includes his next to new 4WD in immaculate condition and all hotels were top class. Coming from Australia, we were bit nervous in start but when we met Sunil, we had full trust and all went very positive. Sunil gave us perfect instructions and everything was according to plan. Thank you Sunil and your team for our one of the best experience in life you have provided us. 

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Jignesh Patel

Director, Webential, Australia

Sumudu Fernando Manali Leh Trip

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Eight of us from Sri Lanka got Sunil to arrange a self driven tour to Leh and we are very happy with our decision. He was punctual, trustworthy and met our expectations. The service provided was very professional. As foreigners it’s hard to arrange such a tour by ourselves and Unwind outdoor filled in the gap perfectly. All places we stayed were nice and decent. Should specifically mention about the two Scorpios which we instantly fell in love with. They were very well maintained ... 

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Sumudu Fernando

Friends from SriLanka

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After days of research, we finally came across a facebook page called ‘Unwind Outdoors’. It seemed like our dream was going to be finally true. Very reasonably priced and Sunil from Unwind was like a know-it-all person.

The itinerary was so crisp and so very well laid out that there was no reason for us to worry other than coping up with nature’s fury. 

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Priyadatta Prabhavalkar

Clifford Chance, Delhi

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We did a SUV self drive trip from Chandigarh to Ladakh and back organized by Unwind Outdoor.
Highly recommend Unwind Outdoor as Sunil and Manpreet took care of everything we needed (car, hotel bookings, sightseeing and food recommendations, permits) and everything was organized seamlessly. Sunil was very patient with all our queries, giving suggestions and options to suit our preferences.

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Ashish & Neha Thadani

KPMG, Bangalore

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Great to see the know-how of the Unwind Outdoor team regarding every aspect of the Srinagar - Leh - Chandigarh self drive trip. From weather conditions, to road conditions, to health/clothing requirements, and also driving instructions - Sunil and Manpreet are warm, meticulous and knowledgable. Villa Himalaya in Sonamarg surpassed all our expectations and ensured that our expected standards for the rest of the trip were extremely high. 

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Parth Deshmukh

Symbiosis Law School, Mumbai

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Thanks Sunil for arranging a wonderful trip. Everything went well and we were in good hands with friendly and competent drivers. Accommodation was good and tents were comfortable beyond our expectations. We didn't have problem with food choices. It was a totally rejuvenating vacation and experience for us. Thanks from us in Singapore!

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Lilian Chan

Singapore

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We had an amazing 9-day from Manali to Leh. Serene, breathless and picturesque. High altitude sickness was a big issue for us but we were in good hands.

Unwind Outdoor was superb in arranging and coordinating the trip. Taking care of all arrangements and checking-in on us. Kudos to Sunil and his team.

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Alvin Chia

Assistant Director, Jurong Town Corporation, Singapore

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We travelled as a couple & completed a self drive trip from Delhi-Jammu-Srinagar-Kargil-Leh-Nubra-Pangong-Tso Moriri-Sarchu-Manali-Delhi. Itinerary was meticulously designed to be a mix of adventure and comfort. Hotel choices were best. Support was available at all points in case of emergency.Vehicle provided was top notch. Thanks to Mr. Sunil Kapoor for personally putting in efforts to maintain such high standards. 

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Nikhil & Neha Mazumdar

Manager L&T, Mumbai

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Six of us (two families) travelled to Leh in Jul / Aug 2015 and we had an excellent experience with Unwind Outdoor. From the very beginning of our excited planning phase, Sunil has been willingly suggesting us options, number of days, places to visit etc. He has all the knowledge of the terrain, passionate about trekking and traveling himself, so he understands travel-crazy people such as me and my quirks.
We landed in Leh in time for cloudbursts and flashfloods and landslides (along with mud and rocks sliding too). Despite Nature's fury, Sunil and Skarma made sure we were utmost safe and comfortable. These guys are just not into travel business, they help people fulfil their travel dreams. Truly! Go guys!!

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Kamala Aithal

Barclays Bank, Bangalore

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