Until a few years ago, questions about a trip to Ladakh used to be more of the adventure side; as what else can be explored, what new to conquer or what new lake to visit. The scenario has changed a lot now. “Evolved” is the word I use for Ladakh in terms of tourism. It is now a place that is considered for family holidays and honeymooners. So yes, the idea of shopping in Ladakh or some famous things to buy in Ladakh has also taken shape. And it’s definitely not in vain that’s why I used the word evolved. Ladakh markets have also changed and grown along with the kind of people visiting here. There are several things you can buy here, information that I will provide in this article.
When I first visited Ladakh over a decade ago, the only items on display were from the Indian army. They had these little shops set up at the most visited tourist sites like Khardung La and Pangong Tso. Coffee mugs, hats and t-shirts were some of the common items sold as souvenirs. In fact, I still have the t-shirt I first bought at the Pangong Tso store. It reads “Pangong Lake – I’ve Been There” on the back, with a photo of the lake printed. And that was it. Apart from army shops, there was not much available to buy in Ladakh. Fortunately, this is no longer the landscape.
Ladakh ranks high on the wish list of diehard travelers, and rightly so! This timeless land is famous for its unearthly landscapes, picturesque natural beauty, vast open spaces, serene Buddhist monasteries, iconic Tibetan-Nepalese-Kashmir cultural heritage and endless opportunities for adventure. Is it any wonder tourists are attracted like moths to a flame thousands every year? When you visit Ladakh, you cannot miss the powerful Himalayan peaks, cold deserts, trekking routes and saltwater lakes. However, the essential of your trip is to stroll through the unique markets and shops of Leh, Kargil, Zanskar Valley and Nubra Valley. Don’t even think about returning home without exotic gifts and cultural treasures, or your loved ones can never forgive you! These memories will be a tangible reminder of your travels and will tempt you to visit Ladakh over and over again!
Shopping in Ladakh
Leh’s bazaars fascinate him with the superior art and the huge variety of artifacts on display. Markets are stocked with fine products all year round and you lose track of time as you move from store to store, lost in wonder. Even the most tired buyer will be tempted to spend at least part, if not all, of their money!
What to buy in Ladakh
What to buy in Ladakh can be broadly classified into three categories.
- Small everyday items
- Personal memories to remember your time in Ladakh
I will cover all three of these categories in detail.
Best time to shop in Ladakh
Ladakh’s high tourist season occurs between June and September. During this period, artists and traders from around the region are filling markets with newly created merchandise – crafts, ornaments, home furnishings and clothing and food. It’s a good idea to fit in the time dedicated to browsing and shopping on your itinerary. Otherwise you will regret it until you return to Ladakh!
Famous things to buy in Ladakh – Artifacts
What artifacts should you keep your eyes open to? The most famous, of course, are Pashmina clothes – shawls, stoles and dresses. Hardly a tourist can resist the temptation to buy one of these! In addition, some of the items are local Tibetan and Ladakh artisans who create hats, blouses, gloves, socks and handmade rugs. The traditional motifs and designs of these items make them much appreciated as souvenirs. Handmade turquoise and silver jewelry are also elegant and charming. Also of amazing beauty are the magnificent Tibetan Buddhist items of religious importance – Thangka paintings, prayer wheels and Buddhist masks, to name a few. Another innovative item produced only in Ladakh is apricot jam.
Let me provide some more information on all the items listed above. Also, later in this article, I’ll add information on where you can buy all of these items in Ladakh.
Ladakh has a huge Tibetan population that settled here in ancient times. Some migrated here after the Chinese occupation of Tibet in the 1950s. These fascinating, friendly, warm and kind people contribute to the richness of the local culture. They open their homes and hearts readily to travelers. They share their cultural heritage by selling handmade treasures. Just a warning – these are so beautiful that it’s hard to control, not to buy the whole market!
These are the best selling crafts:
- Thangka Paintings: They are attractive, complexly painted and perfect for hanging on the wall. Contemplate your mind in a peaceful state, useful for meditation. These sacred objects are made of silk or cotton and depict the Gurus or a scene from Buddhist legends.
- Buddha Statues: Of different sizes, each significant in its own way, these statues of Buddha and Guru Padmasambhava are carved with refinement.
- Choktse: Beautifully carved wooden tables painted in striking colors or perfectly varnished.
- Objet d’art: Prayer wheels, flags, beads, masks, brass or copper carved Chhang pots, baby bamboo cradles, Tibetan Ladakh keychain and work baskets.
- Singing Bowls: Crafted of copper and brass and intricately carved, it is rumored that these bowls have healing powers when touched.
Leh Ladakh Jewelery
When traveling to Ladakh, you will notice local women wearing mountains of turquoise and silver jewelry. His sumptuous designs will call him a siren song! You can buy these jewelry in all Ladakh markets – earrings and bracelets, neck pieces and even anklets. These are a beautiful addition to your jewelry collection and are great gifts for the women of your life! Just make sure you check the authenticity of the silver. Always check the mark.
In the not too distant past, only wealthy aristocrats and merchants could afford to own a Pashmina product. It was a mark of the owner’s status. Pashmina wool provides tremendous warmth and yet is super light and delicate. You can imagine why it was so appreciated in the chilling temperatures of Ladakh!
Today, Ladakh markets offer various products made of Pashmina wool – shawls, stoles, gloves, blouses, socks, blankets and even caps. Before purchase, make sure it is really Pashmina in your hand. The real Pashmina is so fluid that an entire product can pass through the width of a finger ring!
Tibetan Buddhism is the predominant religion in Ladakh, and you will find it well represented in all walks of life here, even in shopping! Perfect as gifts, you can choose from many interesting curiosities. The most attractive are the classic masks. Ranging from portable to gigantic, they portray the history of Buddhism.
Ladakh Prayer Wheel
Another interesting item is the Buddhist prayer wheel. You may have noticed those cylindrical spheres you need to rotate while walking to a monastery. Well, these are simply the ones you can hold in your hand. Made of wood or metal, they are printed with sacred chants.
Ladakh Prayer Flags
No picture of Ladakh is complete without colorful prayer flags fluttering in the wind against a bright blue sky. They are everywhere, outside monasteries, in stores and even in vehicles. Locals believe you should not buy them for yourself. So they make an excellent gift option. Available in all sizes, these can be of vertical or horizontal varieties.
Ladakh Rugs & Rugs
To add a touch of splendor to your home, consider buying one of Kashmir rugs here! Intricate and hand-woven, with designs passed on from generation to generation, these are made of wool and silk. Its vibrant colors can really brighten a room, and its exquisite quality will put everything else to your shame!
You can also browse the markets to find your perfect Ladakh rug. These thick and sturdy rugs are handmade by artisans and hung on the walls of the house to provide extra insulation from the cold. They are painted in natural colors and printed with striking and detailed patterns of flowers, dragons and geometric shapes. Regardless of your budget and size, you will surely find a rug that you will love forever.
Small everyday items
The problem with artifacts is that sometimes it can cost you a little money, which not everyone would accept. Artifacts are not a cup of tea for everyone either. For example, a group of motorcyclists would never want to buy Pashmina Shawls in Ladakh. They prefer to bring back some small items that they can carry easily and are not expensive.
This will be the first common item you can buy here. Apricots are the only fruit that grows in Ladakh’s harsh climate and rugged terrain. This delicious and delicious fruit is packed with antioxidants and nutrients. Ladakh is abundantly produced and locals use it to make organic jam, oil and juice. Enjoy freshly cut apricots from the bushes and sold in the markets. For loved ones at home, be sure to bring jelly and dried apricots.
Small Dishware / Kitchen Utensils
These will mainly be cups, plates and mugs that you can use in everyday life; as the set of the figure below. These items have something or some part of Ladakh printed on them; to remind you where they were bought from.
Kurtis, Shawls and Saris
This will be another not so expensive item that women can buy in Ladakh. You will find hand embroidered and machine embroidered clothing that you can buy at Leh Market.
T-Shirts / Hats / Accessories
These will appeal more to the guys, group of friends or the lot of bikers. You can use the same t-shirt pattern for the whole group, hats or small accessories like key chains. Like the image below, this t-shirt has a picture of Pangong Tso printed on the front and ‘I Was There’ on the back. You can buy it for the whole group and ride it together; or click on the images.
Chhang is Ladakh’s home-brewed local beer. It’s quite famous and a great item to try while you were there and even bring some bottles home.
Where to Buy in Ladakh
Ladakh is a shopper’s paradise. Walking around the markets here will literally take you back in time. Ladakh remained virtually untouched and remained true to its roots. In fact, it is a good bet that most of the items found are handcrafted exactly as they would be five hundred years ago!
Ladakh markets have enough variety to satisfy even the most demanding shopaholics. Take the time to fully explore them. You will have a fascinating shopping experience unlike anywhere else in India!
Army Run Stores
This is the best place to buy cheap souvenirs. The stores are run by the Indian Army to sell everyday items and accessories. You will also find Army trucks standing in various locations selling these small items (as in the first photo of this post)
Leh Main Bazaar
This is Leh’s main street, bustling with locals and tourists. Large family-owned shops huddle in small independent stalls. Once you enter, it will be hard to leave! Main Bazaar is a great place to shop for Ladakh and Tibetan handicrafts, antiques and objects, precious jewelry, Buddhist religious and Pashmina products. If you have very little time to buy souvenirs and gifts, this market is the right place. You will find everything you want in one place.
Must explore stores:
Tibetan Handicraft Community Showroom and Tibetan Handicraft Emporium
These two stores guarantee authenticity. All of their products are lovingly and carefully handcrafted by local artisans. These are the best shops to buy Ladakhi and Tibetan handicrafts, jewelry and artifacts. You’ll find prices here a little higher than in other stores, but the sheer quality of the quality makes it worth the extra!
Ladakh Palace of Art
Do you have good eyes for jewelry? Are you looking to add the next exciting piece to your collection? So a visit to this store is a must see! The variety of antiques, jewelry, articles and artifacts are impressive!
Dalai Lama Charity Trust Craft Emporium
Support the local Tibetan community by making at least one purchase here. The products here are all handmade by Tibetan artisans – wool, paintings, shawls and more. It’s hard not to appreciate the talent and hard work of these artisans reflected in every product. Many of these traditions are on the brink of extinction, so encourage these artisans by definitely buying from here. Hardly difficult, because every product is so tempting!
Ladakh Apricot Store
Have you fallen in love with apricots and want to take them home? Go to this store! Jelly, oil, fresh apricots, dried apricots, their name, they have them! Special mention goes to lip-jelly.
Leh Moti Market
This is one of the oldest markets in the region, still active. During the Silk Road era, gems, pearls, gems and jewelry were sold here. That’s how it got its name. For high quality traditional jewelry, this is the number one spot. No matter what your budget, you will definitely find an artifact or jewel that you will take home with love!
This market is open only during summer, during the high tourist season. Its shops, cafes and restaurants offer everything a traveler might need. The hotels here are also quite affordable. Not far away is a small outpost of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation. For trekking enthusiasts, this place is a one stop shop for information and organization.
Cottage Industries Exhibition
Sponsored by the Jammu and Kashmir government, all of the region’s handicrafts can be found under one roof.
Tibetan Market (Leh)
Created in the 1950s by Tibetan refugees who fled the Chinese occupation, today this market has grown in size to become one of Leh’s largest. Numerous stalls line the streets, selling everything from Buddha idols to prayer wheels, jewelry and wool. Prices are also friendly for your wallet! When you want to breathe, you can indulge in any of the cafes here for a plate of delicious moms with butter tea. Doesn’t it sound like heaven?
Shar Market (Leh)
This is where you should go if you want to buy traditional Ladakh clothing. You can be truly creative with the items sold here. Many of them can be incorporated into your normal winter wardrobe as long as you can carry them!
Here are the most purchased apparel items:
- Perak: Women’s headgear made from fine turquoise-studded lambskin
- Goucha: A thick men’s tunic, usually made of sheep’s wool or yak. Tie it at the waist with a complementary Skerag sash
- Kuntop: A shawl for women with a bag in the bag! Local women carry provisions or even their babies inside.
Padum Market (Zanskar Valley)
Walk around here for Pashmina silk rugs, crafts and shawls.
Diskit Market (Nubra Valley)
The only market for miles, you’ll find the essentials here: turquoise stones, prayer wheels and Seabuckthorn juice.
This is a great place to buy local ornaments, rugs, wool, crafts and the much-loved apricot jam. Be sure to visit the nearby Kargil War Memorial and pay respects.