We stayed in an interesting neighbourhood in Leh. It was a fifteen minutes’ walk to the main market, so not terribly crowded. But some shops straggled down to the road we were on. The road had several hotels, and a couple of cafes. But the rest of the houses belonged to residents. Interestingly, several of the houses were about to be demolished. When I asked about them, the owner of our hotel said that several people here want to rebuild and create a hotel on their property. Tourism is booming in Leh, and everyone wants a piece of the pie.
In spite of all this, the neighbourhood still retains quite a bit of its charm. The lanes around us had old houses, and several of them had traditional mud stupas on their grounds. I’d read somewhere that the punishment for crimes once was that the guilty had to build a stupa by their own hands (building something holy was enough to rehabilitate them). This didn’t feel like a criminal neighbourhood though. It seems that stupas were also built in the memory of family members who died. That made more sense!
I took some photos. The old houses were mostly built of sun-dried mud blocks. In this place the annual rainfall is so small that unfired clay is a good building material. It is cool in summer, warm in winter, cheap, and light. Start with a sturdy wooden framework, fill it with these blocks, add wooden doors and windows, and you are done. The woodwork was pretty. I liked this house with three memorial stupas facing the road from an upper floor.
The new houses are not all concrete monstrosities. The hotel we were in replaced the mud blocks by dressed stone, so that it could be built higher. The beautifully carved wooden frames for doors and windows were retained. The blocky shape of the old style buildings would have seemed very oppressive in a tall structure. Instead there were terraces at various levels. The net effect was quite pleasant, and it still retained a feel of the old neighbourhood. I thought that was clever. Perhaps the renewal will not be all bad. But in a decade I suppose the town center will be much more crowded than it is now.