SPOTLIGHT: Central Asian museum in Leh attracts visitors from far and wide

SPOTLIGHT: Central Asian museum in Leh attracts visitors from far and wide

Following André Alexander’s demise, the local residents said, Yutaka Herako took over the project and it was completed by the Tibet Heritage Fund (Ladakh team).

A Central Asian museum in Leh has become an attraction for visitors to the mountainous town in Ladakh region over the years.

Established by a registered society that works for preservation of trans-Himalayan art and culture, the state-of-the-art museum displays artifacts of Central Asia, Tibet, Kashmir, Baltistan and Ladakh, especially of the historical times when trade and people-to-people contact between these regions were at their peak. 

Situated in the sprawling lawns of Tsas-Soma complex spread over 18,000 sq ft area in the heart of picturesque Leh town, the four-storey museum includes a reference books library titled ‘Trans-Himalayan Research Library’ which has a modest collection of books and documents on Ladakh and its neighbouring regions.

The museum is situated in the premises of one of the oldest mosques of 17th Century in Leh that has been restored by the Anjuman Society (proprietors of the grand mosque), and where daily prayers are still offered.

The museum, conceived in the year 2007 and inaugurated in 2016, has been designed in the shape of a Tibetan Ladakhi Fortress Tower with a contemporary edge. Its fourth-floor houses an open gallery that provides a panoramic view of Leh, particularly the old heritage of the town. 

A multipurpose Ladakhi kitchen set-up in front of the museum has a traditional Ladakhi chula and utensils, and serves Ladakhi cuisine, cooked by local Ladakhi women themselves, to the visitors.

An open air restaurant is also being added to the premises of Tsas-Soma mosque gardens, which will mainly serve the Central Asian cuisine.

The museum has been sponsored and financed largely by the tourism and cultural ministry of the J&K government.

According to local residents, the restoration work on the grand mosque was thought of in 2007 by the Anjuman, which roped in a prominent architect André Alexander—then co-founder of the Tibet Heritage Fund, an international non-profit organisation—for the task. It was around this time that the concept of developing a museum at the site was conceived, in collaboration with J&K chapter of INTACH.

Following André Alexander’s demise, the local residents said, Yutaka Herako took over the project and it was completed by the Tibet Heritage Fund (Ladakh team). 

According to information on the THF website, the idea to develop the museum was to “inform about the Central Asian trade, of which Ladakh, has been among important crossroads for a long time, and which has had a long and lasting influence on the development of Ladakh’s unique culture”.

“The ceiling of the ground floor, according to the concept of the museum, is built in early Ladakhi and Baltistani style. The capitals have been adapted from the Tsemo tower, and the center is a diamond ceiling, as found in many early Ladakhi temples,” the website reads.

According to writers and historians, Ladakh occupies an important geographic and strategic portion bordering Tibet, Kashmir, Baltistan and Himachal Pradesh—the regions which are believed to have left a lasting impact on cultures and mode of living in Ladakh region.

Ladakh is understood to have served as a conveyor to Buddhist art and religion from India to Central Asia and other countries on the Silk Route, they say.

The Baltis and Ladakhis share by and large an identical culture, food habits, language, mode of living, while even the dress styles are similar.