Just beyond the Tibetan refugee camp at Choglamsar, a side
road turns left off the highway to cross the Indus on an iron bridge
plastered with prayer flags, and then continues up towards a huge TV mast.
At the top of a huge moraine of pebbles swept down from the mountains, the elegant four-storey Stok Palace stands under the shadow of the intrusive tower, above barley terraces studded with threshing circles and white washed farmhouses. Built early in the 19th century by the last ruler of independent Ladakh , it has been the official residence of the Ladakhi royal family since they were ousted from Leh and Shey two hundred years ago.
The present Gyalmo or "queen", Deskit Angmo, a former member of parliament, still lives here during the summer, but has converted one wing of her 77-roomed palace into a small museum. The fascinating collection comprises some of the royal family's most precious heirlooms, including antique ritual objects, ceremonial tea paraphernalia, and exquisite 16th century 'Thangkas' illuminated with paint made from crushed rubies, emeralds and sapphires.
The pieces de resistance, however, are the Gyalmo's Peraks. Still worn on important occasions, the ancient headdresses, thought to have originated in Tibet, are encrusted with slabs of flawless turquoise, polished coral, lapis lazuli and nuggets of pure gold. Also of interest are a couple of swords whose blades were allegedly tied in knows as a demonstration of strength by king Tashi Namgyal, and several sacred Dzi Stones - "pearls of pure happiness", said to have fallen from heaven, and worn to ward off evil spirits.
Stok Gompa, five minutes walk up the valley, boats a collection of dance drama masks, and some lurid modern murals painted by lamas from Lingshet Gompa in Zanskar - the artists responsible for the Maitreya statue in Tikse.
Oracles Of Stok
Another attraction of Stok is the July Archery Contest. As in Matho one can see the small water mills in which the roasted grain is ground into meal. There are two lay oracles in Stok and they give their 'performance' at the Lchagrang festival on the 9th and 10th days of the third month of the Tibetan calendar.
Road: Buses leave Leh for Stok at 7.30 am, 2.00 pm and 4.30pm. A day in Stok is more than enough to do the museum and the Gompa justice, and to explore the beautiful side valley bedding the village - trailhead for the Markha valley trek.