Nestled amid towering mountains, in the barren and lonely landscape of Ladakh, houses were built to keep the community together. The shared walls, sometimes, even a ceiling and a roof, nurtured a sense of kinship among the local populace. It was the same with the Munshi and Gyaoo Houses in the old town of Leh, which sat at the foothills of the 17th century Lechen Pelkhar (Leh Palace), once home to King Sengge Namgyal. When the Ladakh Arts and Media Organisation (LAMO) set up their centre in these restored houses, they also became custodians of the ancient traditions that sustained the hill town.
Built to Wow
The centre’s restoration took nearly five years to complete. Harrison records in his book that “earth bricks used for restoration in Munshi House were made on site to match the old bricks, using earth from the site, with river sand, chopped straw and yak dung.” While slate for the roof and flooring was brought from Chilling, a two-hour drive away, wood from Kashmir was used for beams, pillars in the roof and floor joists. Harrison also introduced techniques that were both climatically efficient and structurally sound. From bituminous roofing and recycled glass and plastic bottles as base to improve thermal insulation in the roof to using wood shavings in the central cavity for new brick walls, the spaces had become conservatories of sorts for the seasons. Mumbai-based artist Baptist Coelho says, “A maze of leaning mud walls, organically entwined into each other, the building leaves me gobsmacked. Given the ruin it was, such intricate and rigorous restoration can only surface when there is a sincere affinity towards the arts and culture.”