A Crown for the Queens
Location - Takmachik
It is apricot season in Takmachik, a little town in Ladakh. But two old friends; Tsewang Dolma and Tsering Palmo are busy at work, bringing to life the stunning Turquoise studded headgear that has for centuries, graced the Ladakhi woman.

Standing afar, you would see a picturesque little town. Green as a glistening marble; shining bright in the golden light of the brilliant sun. The roar of the ashen toned Indus will fill your ears as it rumbles past the verdant fields lining this little town of 70 households.

Resplendent as she might appear from the distance, Takmachik reserves her wonders for the curious ones who venture closer. Under the green canopies hang apricots coloured bright orange and beyond them stand brown-walled homes decorated by flowers of every hue. The roar of the Indus is drowned by the laughter of enthused children who run the streets. And for the odd stranger who comes visiting, a steaming pot of tea is always waiting in every home. Today, we find ourselves in the Tongspon home, invited by Tsering Palmo and her good friend Tsewang Dolma. There is more than just tea that is being made in the kitchen this evening, the duo are about to bring to life, the glorious Perak.

‘‘‘There is not a home in the village that does not possess the ‘Hyu'. No ceremony, gathering or wedding is complete without the presence of this stone.'’’– Tsewang Dolma.

The Perak has long been the symbol of wealth and status of women in the Himalayan Kingdom of Ladakh. Defined by the Turquoise stones and semi precious jewels sewn onto a leathery base cut in the shape of a serpent’s hood, the headgear was adorned by Ladakhi women to display their rank in the society. Though adorned by queens and commoners alike, the number of rows of turquoise stones indicated the status of the wearer.

‘Dolma! What is your Perak without my Tsaru?’ jokes Tsering Palmo, following a hearty chuckle that extends into a song. ‘You see, a Perak is incomplete without the Tsaru. A woman will never wear the Perak without first fastening the Tsaru around her head,’ she explains.

The Tsaru is a set of flaps shaped like a pair of stiff, furry elephant ears fanning out from beneath the Perak. A base is cut out from stiff cardboard-like material first. Then, the furry fabric used to stitch the ‘Goncha’ or the common Ladakhi robe is used to wrap around the base. Once done, the ‘Lanbu’ or long, flowing braids of artificial hair are stitched onto both the flaps.

Tsewang Dolma is 69 years old. When she was in her 20s, she came across a woman from a neighbouring village who she saw stitching a single row of Turquoise stones onto a Perak. Having seen this, Dolma applied her imagination to figure out the making of the rest of the Perak, including the intricacies that an untrained eye would easily miss.

Tsering Palmo is a year older than Dolma. She was taught the creation of the Tsaru by her aunt in her village, Skurbuchan, close to Takmachik. Following an early marriage, she moved to Takmachik 45 years ago. She met Dolma that very year.

Today, Dolma is the only Perak maker in the village and the Palmo is the only maker of Tsaru. Together, they having been making and restoring Peraks for all the women who have desired to wear their wealth over their heads.

The anatomy of the Perak is such that the largest Turquoise stone or the ‘Dhunhyu’ is stitched onto the tip first, followed by the ‘Takhyu’ - the second largest stone. Next comes the amulet centrepiece - the ga’u, which is usually made up of golden borders holding a stunning semi-precious stone in place.

The contrasting indulgence in craft between the two friends is amusing. Dolma seems to have slipped into a flowing trance as she quietly picks one stone after another to stitch over the red cloth (Zurlen) covering the leathery base (Nanglen). Slowly, the dominating red of the Zurlen is overpowered by the dazzle of the Turquoise stones that are set close to each other. Every once in a while, she looks up to see who is watching.

Palmo on the other hand, is a lover of light hearted banter and laughter. She breaks into a song while braiding the ‘Lanbu.’ Then, she cracks a joke about how the ‘Tsaru’ may flap wildly against a strong wind. She pokes fun at Dolma who doesn’t seem to notice her. As the Tsaru comes to life slowly in her crafty hands, one sees how wonderfully the seemingly plain adornment may elevate the beauty of the Perak.

One by one, six rows of turquoise stones are set beside each other, along the length of the Perak. Precious stones are cast in the middle to add to the display. The gem in the centre of the ga’u glistens in the faint beam of light pouring through the window. The braiding of the Lanbu is complete and the extensions are stitched onto the sides of the Tsaru.

As the last turquoise stone is set in place, the room begins to fill with young women from the village. They have come to see Dolma and Palmo’s latest creation. They bring their own heirlooms on the occasion. One new Perak in the village means one more proud head in their midst.

They dress up in their grand robes and strap on their silver ornaments which complement the Tsaru and the Perak magically. ‘To the apricot fields by the edge of the river!’ says one of them. ‘It is harvest season. A happy time for us!’ says another.

Tsewang Dolma leaves to collect apples from her trees while Tsering Palmo leads the band of gorgeous women to the apricot fields. A celebration is underway.

shades from the tale

shades from the tale

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