Halima Parveen Khatun was born in Hunder, Nubra Valley, a village in the Leh district of Jammu and Kashmir, India. It is located in the Nubra tehsil, on the bank of the Shyok River. She was born and brought up in Hunder and later got married to a policeman and settled in Leh. She completed her high school from Hunder. Her family includes her husband and three kids, a daughter and two sons.
There are also two caretakers, Khalid and Ali in her homestay whom she treats like her own children. They are basically from Kargil but stay in Leh with Halima aunty, as we lovingly call her. She is very caring whether it be with travellers or with the TLOW team. She takes care of them and talks to them just like a mother. Her egg curry and Kahwa are the most important and tasty elements whenever you spend time with her, it’s a must-try. She’s the one who will give you good home food on a cold night, sit with you and talk about anything. We feel she is the main reason for the homely feel in the Leh homestay.
How and when did you start?
“Earlier in 2006, I had just a house in Skara area in Leh. Then I did the construction of my homestay. In 2007, it got done with the finishing complete. I built two rooms on the ground floor. Later in 2008, I added two more rooms to the house. In 2010, I got water supply and electricity connection to the place. Then in 2011-12, I reconstructed it again,” she said.
always wanted to start a homestay which would give a traveller, a homely place to stay with good homemade food. In 2013, she started a homestay with the name ‘Mikza guest house‘ which means ‘Togetherness’. “I observed people especially tourists were looking for a good, pocket-friendly place to stay. I always try my best to maintain the homely feel over here.
Once a driver named Nissar had told me to start the homestay with two rooms. He assured me that he will get the travellers to my homestay. He is one of the major reason why my homestay started. Nissar drives a cab between Srinagar and Leh. He is basically from Kargil. I knew him since 2009,” she explained.
The good part about this guest house is the landmark which is Zen Ladakh, a five-star hotel with expensive and exclusive interiors. Halima aunty said of her guest house, “I wanted to start this guest house with the intention that I will not sell the place to stay just to make a profit. The place is local, I always wanted to provide the local feel to the people who come to see the local life of Ladakhis.
I also felt that it should be pocket friendly to people so that they won’t feel cheated. With time, I got many travellers which has given me confidence that the place could run better and over the time my homestay has become a popular homestay in the Skara area.”
How long have you been associated with TLOW?
“Nissar got Sherwin and his group to my guest house. They were looking for a place to stay on a cold night. This was in 2013 when my homestay was newly started. I got them rooms, they were all comfortably staying. Later, I got them Kahwa so that they won’t feel cold anymore. After that, I made dinner for them, egg curry and chapatis. Everyone loved the egg curry which was served hot to them. It made them sleep peacefully.
That time I just had two rooms in my homestay so they adjusted in those two rooms only. The group was so nice that they didn’t complain about anything. In the morning, they were leaving for Nubra Valley. Sherwin came to me and promised me that he will come again next year with another group. Since 2014, he kept that promise till today.
Sherwin wasn’t my client or any tour provider, he was like my child. The bond between me and him is like a mother and child. The groups he brings make me happy all the time because whenever they come, they sit in the dining area and talk about various things which has given me an idea of how the outside world looks,” she said.
Talking to the travellers was something unique with respect to their religion, their region, their thinking and their language for Halima Aunty. “I really hope whatever he and his team are doing, they will get success in that. I never saw someone working with this much passion for something, my good wishes will always be with them,” she said.
How has tourism changed your life?
“I get to see a lot of changes in the tourist community. First, there were only foreigners who used to come to this place and later from 2015, I saw major changes. Indian travellers started to come to this area. This has created a lot of need for a place to stay which is affordable and hygienic. At first, I only had two rooms, but then as more travellers started visiting my place, there was a need for more rooms.
So in 2014, I made two more rooms and the total was four. Later in 2016, I added one more room because even four rooms were not sufficient and I was getting good business from the homestay. In 2017, I added three more rooms in my homestay. So now, totally I have eight rooms in my homestay,” she said with pride.
Many times Halima aunty has got compliments from visitors that homestays like this are very few in Leh, so to build more rooms in this. “Tourism has helped me a lot in different ways, getting my business to be more stable and getting to know people’s cultures and their traditions. It has also helped me in realising how cleanliness is important for any place.
This also creates a major difference when people select a place to stay. In my area, there are two or three guest house in a similar price that I offer but mostly people end up at my place because of the clean environment and homely feel. I was always curious to know more from the travellers about how the outside world looks, and mostly I got the reply as ‘Aunty, Leh is much more peaceful than the outside world, so don’t be bother about the outer world when you stay in heaven,'” she said with a smile.
How has the place changed over the years in terms of global warming?
“Yes, I have seen many changes in the last decades. First of all, this place is becoming more commercial year by year. The local feel is losing its identity. Secondly, the snowfall is reducing year by year. This has changed the biodiversity of this region. When the snow isn’t there, there won’t be enough water in the streams and this results in water shortage in the area.
The heat is becoming more in the summers. Earlier summers were the best time to visit Ladakh because that time the snow gets melted. Now the summer time has become unbearable. The sunlight is becoming harsh on a regular basis. We never used to be bothered about summer, but now we think twice before going out in the afternoon sun. The level of changes in the environment is scaring me a lot. I don’t know how this place will be in the future,” she said.
In this vast world, we are not even bothered about the person next to us because we have different priorities. Over here in the mountains, Halima aunty’s lessons on the importance of togetherness and being caring to strangers is something to take back.
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