The three storied Choskor House is built right behind the Jamia masjid mosque in the center of Leh town along the hillslope and will be conserved in 2021 to house a Conservation Laboratory for the region.
This project is being generously supported by the German Embassy's Cultural Preservation Program in 2021
Most traditional buildings in Ladakh are a testimony to the times when tradition and climate set the basic parameters guiding architecture. Severe climate and scarce resources demand for a durable and lasting building in the region. This has clearly been achieved by the native genius of Ladakhi craftsmen. Formed in unity with the landscape, these unique buildings contribute to the cultural diversity of the world. Similarly, the old Town of Leh also bears witness to the architectural heritage and socio-cultural history of Ladakh, which demonstrates an indigenous aesthetic as well as links to Central Asia, Tibet and Kashmir.
Situated behind Leh’s main market, the Old town covers an area of roughly 24.07 acres. The site of the old town reflects a social hierarchy, where the royal palace is atop the hill and exhibits a constant presence, dwarfing other buildings at its foot, then come the big houses of the king’s ministers and rich traders a little lower down, and finally the shops and workshops of townspeople below. The whole town was once contained within the surrounding fortified walls.
The three storied Choskor house is built right behind the Jamia masjid mosque in the center of Leh town along the hillslope. The preliminary study of the architecture allows us to construct a complex and an intercultural picture where the general construction methods mirror the traditions of aristocratic architecture – based on vernacular building technology such as large tapering walls of sun- dried mud bricks and flat roofs made of several layers of mud resting upon wooden ceilings. Traditionally the opening systems constitute of windows and doors, which are deliberately kept to minimum to avoid cold drafts and also structural weakening.
The ground floor can be accessed from inside and has several connecting chambers, these rooms were used as stables for the livestock. The first floor has a winter kitchen with the traditional clay stove and a large reception room where until very recently trade items were stored, the floor also has a local compost toilet and two other rooms.
The second floor houses the summer kitchen and another reception room with a projected balcony also known as a rabsal. Unlike other houses in the old town that have small doors and low ceilings, the Choskor house has high ceilings and the rooms are relatively big and spacious. This feature is unique for this house probably because the house was built later than many other houses in the old town that strictly followed traditional patterns. A ring beam also known as a crown or seismic band which helps tie the walls is present as a part of the construction in the house. It is considered to be one of the most essential components of earthquake resistance for load-bearing construction.
The Choskor house belonged to a renowned trader family of Leh town, who along with some other important families lead the famous Lopchak mission to Lhasa (a ritualized trade between Ladakh and Lhasa) making them a rich household.
Apart from the robust structure, the most visually remarkable feature of the house is the rabsal which is a cantilevered wooden structure on poplar beams projecting outside the wall (Cover Image).
It is built so that in some cases a small terraced strip of approximately 50 cm allowed its residents to step outside on the balcony. The feature is not common to every household, being a prerogative of the king or of wealthier families as a large amount of wood was used for the construction which was not something everyone could afford in the past. It appears that there were two rabsals out of which only one remains intact.
Another distinctive feature is where the reception room on floor the second is divided into two sections with the use of a wooden partition. The partition have panjari or latticework and some small openings replicate the multi foliated arch, these features reflect a visual language that emerged from an Islamic tradition, and was commonly produced by the artisans from Baltistan.
The architectural elements like door lintels are carved and decorated in the important spaces such as the two reception rooms. The wood frames have been carved elusively with either geometric or floral designs. The stacked wood construction known as shingtsag locally is also quite remarkable.
At present the building belongs to Haji Abdul Wahid who is willing to enable the restoration and revival of the structure for public good.
The project for 2021 has been envisaged as a twin initiative –
The Conservation and Revival of the Historic Choskor House, Leh, UT of Ladakh into a fully functional conservation laboratory for the region and;
Creating an educational exhibition on the Heritage and Indigenous Knowledge of Ladakh in collaboration with the Faculty of Exhibition, National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, Government of India.
The projects will ensure that a much - needed facility for the conservation of Ladakhi material and artistic heritage is created within a historic space and is accessible to a wide range to local communities and stakeholders, namely monasteries, private collections, archives, museums and government institutions that have collections. The Conservation facility will not only carry out actual preservation of collections, it will also hold awareness, training programmes and create conservation appraisal reports for interested parties who wish their collections to be looked after.
The Exhibition is an attempt to bring to the fore- both physically and digitally, the rich wisdom in Ladakhi heritage which can benefit the people of Ladakh towards cultural and environmental concerns in the long run. It will be developed along with local heritage stakeholders and University students who will receive assistance from one of the best design institutes in all of Asia, namely the National Institute of Design. The Exhibition will be shown in Leh and NID, Ahmedabad. All attempts will be made to bring it to New Delhi and Mumbai for wider dissemination. The Achi Association also has a partnership with the Google Arts and Culture which will allow for the exhibition to remain online and accessible at all times to the public.