The Gurudwara and the Hindu Dharamshala at Leh
I had previously done a Post on the almost impossible Trade Route which connected Leh to Yarkand.
This time I had gone to Ladakh on a specific reason to go looking for clues that still survived of the great Trading Route.Of course there were other agendas on my plate as well but I wanted to find out more about this Trade and the People and commodities involved in the Trade. Of course there is mention of the Great Trade Route in the Books but since most people have lost interest in this all the remnants lie kinda forgotten.
The Trade ended in around 1949 when China closed the trading Route to what they now called Xinjiang. And it was almost 70 years now since the show ended. No one had a clue and no one seemed interested. And most asked what I was doing roaming around seemingly aimlessly where as I could be at Penguin Lake getting photographed sitting on a Scooter. Or go and meet Alexander’s family members. Or try to get permission to go to Umingting Ta, where if I could get a selfie with my tough guy look I could own Social Media for 3 days I imagine. Jokes apart I was trying my best to find something at least connected to the legendary Trade.
As luck would have it I happened to meet Sajid bhai who runs a well known Hotel in Leh and at his Hotel lobby he has a great collection of antiques and memorabilia. Sajid bhai told me that his family was involved in the Central Asian Trade and the place where his Hotel exists today was the site of a great Sarai where the Merchants from Yarkand would come down and stay. His family enjoyed Royal Patronage and this land was right next to the Leh Palace. But the most interesting fact was when Sajid bhai told me that his Mother was from Kashgar, another fabled city in Eastern Turkestan making the troika of the great cities at the edge of Tarim Basin viz Yarkand, Khotan and Kashgar. Some connect was being made. He directed me to the Central Asian Museum newly set up in Leh.
Next I visited the Central Asian Museum in Leh. A great building and very well set up though I must mention that I was a tad bit disappointed by the Collection they had. I was even more disappointed by the fact that Photography wasn't allowed inside the Museum as they had some interesting stuff. But still it had an impressive amount of information and Photos on display and one interesting information was the Volume of Trade for a certain period measured by the number of Laden Mules/ Horses : Donkeys : Camels came into Leh and were registered with the authorities. The numbers of Caravan Animals in 1871 are as given under (I copied the information on a Paper) :
From Kullu : Laden Horses/ Mules : 388 ; Donkeys : 35
From Rampur : Laden Horses/ Mules : 15 ; Donkeys : 35
From Turkestan : Laden Horses/ Mules : 956 ; Donkeys : 13 ; Camels : 18
From Kashmir : Laden Horses/ Mules : 464
From Changthang / Tibet : Laden Horses/ Mules : 460
Imports to Ladakh from North India included dyes, cotton cloth, spices, pears, rice, sugar, tobacco as well as personal items such as Needles, Soap and Combs. From China and Turkestan came Silk, carpets, cloth, gold, silver, turquoise, corals, brocades and velvet. At that time the distance between Leh and Yarkand was 548 miles and the Journey took around a month. On the other hand the time from Leh to Lhasa was around 3 months.
As mentioned in another Post the trade from the plains of Punjab used to start from Hoshiarpur and it was mostly Hoshiarpuri trader who were involved in this Trade and a number of them used to come to Leh from the Plains and some would even go to Yarkand. As time went by many of them settled partially in Leh and down in the Plains many Hoshiarpuri traders moved to Kullu.
And then I decided to take a walk in the Leh Market which is now a cobblestone street off-limits to cars. The first clue lies in the fact that a number of Shops/ Trading Marts in Leh are operated by Punjabis. Lajpat Rai Trilok Chand and Het Ram Vinay Kumar were the shops that caught my eye. Typical Punjabi trader names. Of course there are many newer Punjabi traders but most of them go away in the harsh winter but return as the Sun warms the high Desert. On enquiry at Lajpat Rai Trilok Chand, who have a big store in the main Bazaar a gentleman confirmed their link to Hoshiarpur and that they were originally from there.
And then I came across this old building which stood out amongst the new buildings in the Bazaar. And then i noticed a Saffron Flag on top and on getting closer I noticed the “Khanda” on the Flag. So it was an old Gurudwara in the Main Bazaar. And looking at the building I suddenly noticed another old board which said “Hindu Dharamshala” and it had a date in Hindi which I assume said 1933 but Im not quite sure. It turns out that the second Floor was a Gurudwara, the first Floor was a Hindu Dharamshala and the Ground Floor was shops. Im sure this served as the resting place for the Punjabi traders coming from Hoshiarpur as that was the main point of Trade in the Punjab with the Hills and the Mountains beyond. And the Shops were used by them to probably display their merchandise.
And below is the pic of the said Building which probably no-one even gives a second look to. I wish I could rummage through the stuff they have probably stacked away somewhere in the Dharamshala.
That would make a great Story for another day I guess.