Meet the talent that transcends the boundaries of Ladakh’s creative scene

Faiza Khan and Suril Patel, co-founders of Field Architects

After working with firms like Serie Architects and Studio Mumbai, the search for an “inspiring base” brought the duo to Ladakh in 2016. A meeting with Magsaysay Award winner Sonam Wangchuk led to them spending two years teaching at SECMOL (The Students)’ educational and cultural movement in Ladakh), where they learned the basic elements of vernacular construction, such as the science behind passive solar design. Further learning came from preserving heritage structures, and working with materials and techniques used centuries ago. “How can you incorporate colloquialism into speech and what can that combined language develop into? “That’s what matters to us,” Khan says. What is their dream project? “We are designing our own house,” Khan responds with a laugh. “It will be like taking a selfie, recognizing and responding to our aspirations,” Patel adds.

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Abir Gupta, Director, Ashi Society of India

“We have been working in Ladakh for more than 25 years in heritage conservation,” says the National Institute of Design (NID) graduate. But recently they’ve been wondering how they can use all the knowledge they’ve gained to influence the future of the region. Gupta’s “third space idea” is to combine heritage conservation and tourism in a way that “embeds itself in the village”, in order to restore and adapt heritage structures in Vai village, which is 13 kilometers from Leh. It will involve creating centers for practices such as weaving and printing, which in turn may attract tourists who may then contribute to the local economy. It is also a “mini-test site” for finding solutions to urbanization issues in Ladakh. “Tradition and heritage exist because of human agency,” says Gupta. “Instead of just complaining, we should find answers to our problems.”

Read also: The heritage restoration of Sawantwadi Palace is inspired by the game Janjiva, a Persian card game

Stanzin Chozang, founder and creative director of Chozang Design Associates

“At first, I worked for free,” Zhuzang says with a laugh. It was 2014. He had returned to Leh after a stint at New Delhi-based Pradeep Sachdeva Design Associates. At that time, Ladakhis did not employ an architect, explains Chuzang. Instead, they built homes using genetic knowledge. This has changed over time, and what has also changed is Zhuzhang’s own view on materialism. “I realized that cement did not support thermal comfort. I would be cold, and my father’s room, made of mud brick, would be warm. This prompted him to turn to natural materials, which he uses in contemporary ways. “Instead of a paint finish, I use a mixture of multan “Mitte and waterproofing.” A little bit of old and a little bit of new. “It’s sustainable and can be retrofitted inexpensively.”

Catherine Alley and Tsering Angtak, Cal

“Our medium is textile, but our interest is culture, which has deep roots,” says Alieh, who met her husband and business partner Angtak in 2014, while on a research trip to Changthang. Allié went to buy wool from Angtak’s brothers who were Changpa’s nomadic herders. Now they run KAL from their home in Choglamsar. They get the wool of sheep, mutton and yak directly from Kharnak, the home of Angtak. They are dyed using natural materials and woven into scarves, rugs and throws by women from the local Bedouin community. Allie says their next big plan is to work with men, explaining that men and women fit in differently according to social codes. “Our goal is also to revive the textiles that were associated with the nomadic lifestyle and use them in furnishings so that we can keep them alive.”

Noor Jahan, Art Conservator and Co-Founder, Shisraj Ladakh

She describes herself as an artistic conservative “by accident,” something that has certainly proven to be a blessing in disguise. In the past decade, she has worked on mural conservation projects for entities such as the Tibet Heritage Trust, Heritage Conservation Atelier, and Art Conservation Solutions. Her locations included accessible sites such as the Golden Temple as well as shrines within valleys which required her to camp there for a month. Today, much of her work involves preserving and restoring centuries-old thangka paintings brought to her by monasteries and private owners. “I always say, in Ladakh, we will never stop working,” she jokes. “We are invited to survey the frescoes, and while we are there, we always see the tangka in poor condition and convince them to preserve them as well.”

Stanzin Minglak and Sonam Angmo, Co-Founders, Lena Ladakh

“The finest pashmina fibers come from areas like Kurzuk and Samad, but we were not known for producing textiles,” Minglak says. Aiming to rectify this situation, the self-trained textile designer started her own women’s label in 2016. “We only use local techniques in our processing, such as (using) drop spindles to spin the yarn and only natural dyes are made from feed-sourced materials,” says Angmo. “A tour of their store in Leh suggests that while the techniques may be ancient, their aesthetic sense is decidedly modern. They have recently shifted focus to include sheep and yak wool. “Spuruk is a type of pile weaving that was indigenous to Zanskar,” he explained. Our craftsmen show us how to use sheep wool to make carpets.” Next on the list: “We want to popularize yak wool.”

Read also: The restored haveli in Old Delhi aims to revive the courtyard Baithak culture

Sandeep Pugade, Founder, Earthling Ladakh

Driven by his desire to practice in a rural setting, the Nubra-based architect moved to Ladakh in 2013. Since then, he has built passive solar-powered homes and hotels using techniques such as rammed earth and compressed brick construction. “It is the materials that define the project,” says Bojadi. “Each village has unique building resources that are free to use. So the key learning for me was to spend time in the pre-construction phase to see what is available and possible. His current interest is in CSR projects, such as Green Bathrooms for Royal Enfield,” says Bujadi. He explains his thought process: “I’m trying to create a model that local people can look at, see where the soil came from, how it was processed, and do it themselves.”

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