Ladakh can never satiate your soul when it comes to exploring the land. A destination which is so magical and mystical in nature that no matter how far you travel in Ladakh, there are always a few more miles to travel, a few more places to explore and a few more precious moments to live. I didn’t take much time to realize the magnitude of the place and what it can offer to the nomadic souls. I was wondering why I took so long to come here to explore “The Crown Jewel of India”.
Each time I am in Ladakh, I have stayed at the luxurious Grand Dragon Ladakh hotel in Leh and covered other places making Leh my base. But this year, I had decided to do things a bit differently. I decided to explore Ladakh beyond obvious and wanted to give the popular tourist circuit a miss. The idea was to live with the locals to observe and absorb their local lifestyle, culture and the way of life from a close proximity. One cannot promise to provide that in a formal arrangement like a hotel. You need to move beyond that, to live with the locals in their homes. So, I chose Himalayan Farmstays in Phyang village for my local authentic Ladakhi experience.
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About Himalayan Farmstays
I was not even aware of the great initiative named Himalayan Farmstays in Ladakh until I stumbled upon their Facebook page a few days prior to my trip. The Himalayan Farmstays is an inclusive tourism initiative run under the School of Tourism within the Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh (HIAL). Himalayan Farmstays was established in July 2016 as a platform to create tourism opportunities for the village homes of Ladakh. Under this initiative, they are currently running 40 farm-stays in 5 Ladakhi villages where women led homes are open for discerning travelers to experience the authentic Ladakhi lifestyle.
The initiative was introduced to empower the women of the villages by giving them an alternative means to earn money. It not only provides them an economic boost but also opens the door for the outside world to come and see the local lifestyle by staying in their homes. Under this initiative, the local women are getting trained, educated and also learning new skills.
Most of the homes have their farmland attached to it where villagers grow their own barley, corn, rapeseed flowers, wheat and local seasonal vegetables. Hence, the initiative is called Farm-stays experience. Ladakh has come under the spell of climate change and it has badly affected the region.
Due to the changing temperature, the farmers who were solely dependent on the agriculture for their personal and commercial needs started using subsidized chemical fertilizers. People in the villages who never had to use any kind of fertilizers are relying on it nowadays. The Himalayan Farmstays is doing an incredible work in mobilizing and encouraging communities to adapt to ecologically viable practices to deal with the situation, also motivating them to adopt sustainable organic farming.
Urban migration has become a prominent problem in Ladakh. Due to lack of higher educational institutes, colleges, and universities, mostly youth of the villages have been moving to Leh, Chandigarh, Delhi and other cities. Also, the lack of job opportunities, they prefer to settle in the cities, leaving behind their homes in the villages. The Amalays (women) in their homes were left alone to run the house from farms, to milking cows, to managing the household chores. While young generation is moving away from their home, it is not only making the grannies live a lonely life back home, but they are also missing the traditional ladakhi upbringing and the touch of a rich cultural heritage.
The Himalayan Farmstays is a brainchild initiative of Sonam Wangchuk, a mechanical engineer and social reformer. He has been very instrumental in introducing innovative yet rewarding initiatives in the region. Himalayan Farmstays is a great move to bring back the youth to their villages, encouraging the villagers for organic farming, providing an alternative income source by involving them in tourism in the best possible way.
Where is Phyang Village?
Located around 18 km away from Leh city, Phyang is a picturesque village, popularly known for Phyang monastery. With more than 300 houses with large farmlands, Phyang is one of the largest inhabited villages in Ladakh. With the majestic backdrop of Mount Stok Kangri, towering Phyang monastery and the barren rugged mountains, the village is a picture perfect postcard destination. Just half an hour drive from the Leh city, you can enjoy the serenity amidst the farmlands. Phyang village has the same altitude as Leh which makes it a great place for discerning travelers to acclimatize before they embark on to other parts of Ladakh.
Home-Stay option with the locals not just provides you the best personalized experiences, but also gets the locals to take care of you while acclimatizing. The distance between airport and Phyang village is just 15 km which makes it a preferred place for those who don’t want to be accommodated in the chaotic and crowed Leh city. Moreover, the friendly nature of the villagers make it a more likable place to stay for a longer period.
My Farm-Stay Experience in Phyang
Curving my way to the quaint Phyang village, I reached the Farm-stay by the noon. ‘Juley’, my host, greeted me at the gate with a smiling face and I reciprocated the gesture. As I settled in their kitchen cum dining room, tea and snacks were placed on chokste (low table) in their traditional set-up. The chirpy and adorable young kid was too inquisitive about me and soon we bonded. The very first impression of the farm-stay was overwhelming as the warmth in their behavior and welcoming nature were heartfelt.
Soon, I was taken to my room on the upper floor from where one can enjoy the towering view of the Phyang Monastery and the golden farmlands. Since, it was the harvesting time, the sight of the farmlands with full-grown crops looked like a well spread carpet across miles.
The brown rugged mountains, flat roofed houses, fields and apricot trees in the garden, I had the best view from the terrace. It was the first time when I was staying with a local Ladakhi family and I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
What I loved the most about my farm-stay experience was the rare opportunity to live with the locals and be a part of their daily lifestyle. Whether seeing them harvesting in the fields, cooking traditional cuisine, working in their homes, food habits, or hearing folklore, I got to see their way of life up close. The best part of being with a Ladakhi family is to share the same space under one roof to live a local life. In no time, I mingled well with the family. The daughter-In-Law of my host was the one with whom I became friends at first. Her liking towards city life, especially Delhi became the connecting point between us.
Later, in the evening, we went out for a village walk with her new born baby. She showed me the surrounding, explaining the life in a village, and introduced me to the other villagers. Walking in those beautiful alleys, lined with the traditional Ladakhi houses, seeing elderly people chatting together, children playing carefree, and the setting sun in the valley, I enjoyed simple joys of life and adored the warmth that it offered me.
When it comes to food in Ladakh, it has a distinctive flavor. Ladakh was an important stopping point on the Silk Road for traders from Tibet, China, and Middle East. The Ladakhi cuisine has a profound food influences from these countries, especially Tibet. A high altitude land like Ladakh with harsh weather condition produces a handful of crops and Ladakhis have survived with it from centuries. I am glad that I got to taste some of the authentic local delicacies during my Farmstays experience in Phyang. I started with the traditional pan-shaped bread named Khambir and Gur-Gur chai (Butter Tea), followed by Chu-Tagir, a noodle soup with a lots of vegetables, Mutton Momos which were unlike the ones you get in the restaurants.
The palatable delicacies are one of the highlights of the stay there. The fresh ingredients and home-grown vegetables used in the food added an extra punch to the distinctive flavor. I appreciate the fact that they had not served the standard package food like Maggie which is considered the comfort mountain food for travelers.
I spent most of my time in their kitchen with Amalay, indulging in candid conversations. Traditional kitchen of any Ladakhi house is the most decorated and attractive corner. Traditionally, people used to spend most of their time in the kitchen as it is the most heated room in the entire house. It used to be the place for large gatherings, neighbors, relatives, friends, etc. The focal point of the kitchen is the hearth (Thap), the metal craft stove. People used wood and cow dung in Thap to cook in earlier days. The beauty of the kitchen is the way they keep their utensils on the selves around the Thap, the Choktse (low wooden tables) which are used as a dining table and the large well ventilated space with wooden pillars.
Nowadays, they don’t use their traditional kitchen for daily use, as the Thap is replaced by gas stove and other modern amenities, even in the villages. But, they still keep their traditional kitchen and its original set-up intact in their house. Given a choice, I would have loved to spend all my time in the traditional kitchen only. It is undoubtedly the most comforting place in entire house.
What I loved most about my Farm-stay experience in Phyang
“Living like a local” is the most fascinating aspect about the Farmstays experience in Phyang village. From welcoming you with open arms, introducing you to their world, and making you a part of their daily life, coupled with a high sense of hospitality and simplicity of the family, these moments had touched the core of my heart. The joy of observing the simple life in the village, unadulterated love of the kids, peaceful aura and the golden farmland is unmatched. Phyang village is nothing but an ideal abode for people like me. I regretted for not staying longer there.
Why You Should Experience Himalayan Farmstays in Phyang
- If you are looking for an authentic Ladakhi Home-stay experience, opting for Himalayan Farmstays is the best decision. They have more than 40 houses in 5 Ladakhi villages where you can experience local Ladakhi lifestyle with the locals in the most rustic set up. It can’t be more real than this. This is an experience truly meant for the discerning travelers, who want to explore un-ventured terrains, learn about cultural heritage and share his/her leanings.
- Proximity to airport is another factor why you should opt for a Farmstays in Phyang. The distance between Phyang village and airport is just 15 km. So, instead of staying in a hotel in the crowded Leh city, you can enjoy serenity in the most peaceful location like Phyang, without compromising on safety and comfort.
- Altitude of Phyang can be another reason of choosing it for your initial days in Ladakh. Phyang and Leh share the same altitude which makes this quaint village a perfect base for our acclimatization. Moreover, the personalized experiences in a homely environment are always better than a formal arrangement in a hotel.
- By observing their way of life, you will learn a lot how they live their daily life in the high altitude land and also get introduced to their rich cultural heritage.
- By opting for a Farmstay experience, you are also contributing to their economic growth which will help the Amalays (women) of the house to earn some extra income. Moreover, the tariff of the home stay is affordable
- You can also contribute to the rural tourism by choosing to stay in a home stay.
- You don’t just share space with the locals in the farm-stay. The engaging conversation between you and the host family is quite enriching. When you get to know their rich cultural heritage, they also get to meet people across the globe, learn new languages, and skills at the same time. The cultural exchange is the most beautiful thing that happens during meaningful conversations.
- If you are a food explorer and love sampling local cuisine, home stay is the perfect place to sample them. You will be overwhelmed by the local delicacies they serve you which you won’t find in any restaurant.
- If nothing else, only for an offbeat experience, you have to ditch the city hotels in Leh, and live like a local in Phyang.
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