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The land of high passes

Area: 86,904 km2 (33,554 sq mi)

Population: 270126 in 2011

Density: 3.1/km2 (8.1/sq mi)

Altitude: Altitude ranges from (3000 m) at Kargil to (7,672 m) at Saser Kangri in the Karakoram.

Temperature: In summers, up to 30 degree Celsius, and in winters it is -20 degree Celsius and below in the higher reaches.

Best Season: June to September.

Language: Ladakhi, Purik, Balti, Hindi, English and Tibetan.


Highest Indian plateau (much of it being over 3,000 m), spanning the Himalayan and Karakoram Mountain ranges and the upper Indus River valley. Historic Ladakh consists of a number of distinct areas, including the fairly populous main Indus valley, the more remote Zanskar (in the south) and Nubra valleys (to the north over Khardung La ), the almost deserted Aksai Chin (under Chinese rule) and Kargil and Suru Valley areas in the west (Kargil being the second most important town in Ladakh). Before partition, Baltistan (now under Pakistani rule) was one of the districts of Ladakh. Skardu was the winter capital of Ladakh while Leh was the summer capital.

The mountain ranges in this region were formed over a period of 45 million years by the folding of the Indian plate into the stationary landmass of Asia. The drift continues and causing frequent earthquakes in the Himalayan region.. The peaks in the Ladakh range are at a medium altitude close to the Zoji-la (5,000-5,500 metres, 16,000 - 18,050 ft), and increase towards south-east, reaching a climax in the twin summits of Nun-Kun (7000 m, 23,000 ft).


The region of Ladakh once formed part of the erstwhile Kingdom of Ladakh and for nearly 900 years from the middle of the 10th century existed as an independent kingdom. After 1531, it was periodically attacked by the Muslims from Kashmir, until it was finally annexed to Kashmir in the mid 19th century. The early colonizers of Ladakh included: - the Indo-Aryan Mons from across the Himalayan range, the Dards from the extreme western Himalayas, and the itinerant nomads from the Tibetan highlands. While Mons are believed to have carried north-Indian Buddhism to these highland valleys, the Darads and Baltis of the lower Indus Valley are credited with the introduction of farming and the Tibetans with the tradition of herding..

Its political fortunes ebbed and flowed over the centuries, and the kingdom, was at its best in the early 17th century under the famous king Sengge Namgyail, whose rule extended across Spiti and western Tibet up the sacred sites of Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar.


During this period Ladakh became recognized as the best trade route between the Punjab and Central Asia. The merchants and pilgrims who made up the majority of travellers during this period of time, travelled on foot or horseback , taking about 16 days to reach Srinagar; though a man in hurry, riding non-stop and with changes of horse arranged ahead of time all along the route, could do it in as little as three days. These merchants who dealt in textiles and spices, raw silk and carpets, dyestuffs and narcotics entrusted their goods to relays of pony transporters who took about two months to carry them from Amritsar to the Central Asian towns of Yarkand and Knotan. On this long route, Leh was the half-way house, and developed into a bustling entreport, it bazaars thronged with merchants from far countries. This was before the wheel as a means of transport was introduced into Ladakh, which happened only when the Srinagar- Leh motor-road was constructed as recently as the early 1960s.


The inhabitants of Ladakh are distinct from other parts of India. The faces and physique of Ladakhi, and the clothes they wear are more akin to those of Tibet and central Asia. In eastern and central Ladakh, today’s population seems to be mostly of Tibetan origin. Further west, in and around Kargil, there is much in the people’s appearance that suggests a mixed origin. The Ladakhi people are a hospitable, smiling, hardy lot, friendly and open.


Buddhism reached Tibet from India via Ladakh, and there are ancient Buddhist rock engravings all over the region, even in areas like Drass and the lower Suru Valley which today are inhabited by an exclusively Muslim population. Islam came from the west. A peaceful penetration, its success was guaranteed by the early conversion of the sub-rulers of Drass, Kargil and the Suru Valley.


Among the many social and cultural events of Ladakh, the annual festivals held in the Buddhist monasteries constitute the most important part of the regions living heritage. The architecture of Ladakh contains Tibetan and Indian influences, and reflects a deeply Buddhist approach. The Buddhist wheel, along with two deer’s, is a common feature on every Gompa. The Chortens have four-sided walls in Ladakh, as opposed to round walls in parts of Tibet. Many of the houses and monasteries are built on elevated, sunny sites facing the south, and are often made out a mixture of rocks, wood, cement and earth.


The Himalayan range bordering the south of Ladakh blocks the monsoon rains, resulting in a stark desert environment. Rainfall in Leh averages a scant 110 mm (4.3 in) per year. In central Ladakh, the lower elevations receive only a small amount of snowfall during the winter, but Zanskar and western Ladakh can receive heavy snows. The high passes are usually closed during the winter due to heavy snow, isolating the various valleys from each other and the rest of the world. Snow can fall in the higher elevations at any time during the year.


In the summer, the daytime temperature in Ladakh rises to a comfortable range in the mid 30’s degree Celsius, but the night-time temperatures can be cool, particularly at the higher altitudes. In the winter the temperature rarely rises above freezing.


Wildlife is abundant in the mountains. It is very common on our treks to see herds of blue sheep, some ibex, an occasional wolf, wild yaks, marmots, chukors, and birds of prey such as the golden eagle and the Lammergeier. Snow leopards also live in these mountains but are rarely seen due to their shyness. However, a group of trekkers with Namgyail saw one cross in front of them on their descent from Stok Kangri in 2003. Herds of Kyang (wild horses) can sometimes be seen on the Rupshu plains in eastern Ladakh.

Besides the highly visible golden eagles and Lammergeier, and the noisy chukars, other birds are abundant in Ladakh. The migratory bareheaded goose and rare black-necked crane are sometimes seen near the brackish lakes in eastern Ladakh.

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