The resilient waters of the Indus strain through daunting gorges, striving to earn their place in this unforgiving landscape. Approximately 160km from Leh District, one of the two districts in Ladakh in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India, are the picturesque Drokpa (or Brokpa) villages of Dah (or Dha) and Hanu. Ancient rocks bore their way through centuries-old dust collecting into rugged tents. The dusty terrain eventually lets into fertile land watered by ancient aqueducts; apricots, apples, peaches, grapes and walnuts grow freely in well-tended gardens.
This is Drokpa territory. A majestic people whose origins remain riddled by great myths. The Drokpa are flamboyant, famous for parading whimsical assortments of flowers on their heads that let a fragrant cheer of spring into the air.
Organic forms of modest white and blushing pink monthu tho and shocklo flowers merge with green leaves, to create spectacular tepi headdresses.
The headdresses are all very similar only differing slightly, substituting personal expression of creativity for a sense of uniformity and oneness. The donning of the headdresses is not a fashion statement but a form of communication – the articulation of identity.
There are several theories about the ancestry of the Drokpas, perhaps the most popular is that they are a ‘pure Aryan race,’ the direct descendants of Alexander the Great after his journey to India. This notion was popularised by 19th-century ethnographers who spread illustrious stories of their journey to the ‘end of the world’ where they encountered the living descendants of Alexander the Great.
Having experienced rejection from both the Buddhist and Muslim communities of Leh for their worship of animistic deities, the Drokpas have openly embraced this theory over the years, as it has inspired a sense of ethnic pride. As a result, the Drokpas take pride in their ‘ethnic purity’ and do not marry outside of their tribe.
Articulating that pride is at the heart of what they wear. Much like the Indus River, the Drokpas are resilient, and their entire dress is a feat of craftsmanship.
Drokpa women sport decorated capes made from goatskin and adorn themselves with ornaments of silver, shells, and beads that sound a clunky chorus into the open air as they sway with the movements of the people. The men don woollen trousers with long maroon gowns, a kamberband around the waist and a long, folded cloth tossed over their shoulders.
Unmarried women weave their hair into long braids of six, while matrons sport eight. Colourful ribbons fall from their botanic crowns and intertwine with the chains and beads that lay heavy on their chests. The women’s tepi consists of an embellished silver base draped with both fresh and dry flowers. The men’s headdresses differ from the women’s in that they use metal coins along with the flowers. Both men and women sport woollen shoes.
With flowers in their hair, they march to the beat of their own drum. Every special occasion is marked by singing and dancing, accompanied by pipes and drums known as the dingjang, allowing a sound that’s as unique as the terrain they inhabit.
As they go about their daily routines, the flowery bouquets in their hair let a harmony of spring into the crisp cold air. The floral halos allow for a unique haven in the Himalayas unlike anywhere else.
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