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Ladakh Guide & Maps

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Area: 97,000 sq kms out of which nearly 38,000 sq. kms are under Chinese Occupation since 1962. Population: Approx. 2.40 lakh in the 2 districts of Leh & Kargil. Languages: Ladakhi including Balti / Purgi, Shina or Dardic, Urdu / Hindi. Ethnic composition: Mongoloid/Tibetan, Dardic and assorted Indo-Aryan elements.

Altitude: Leh 3505 m, Kargil 2750 m

Temperature: Summer Winter

Maximum 25 C (-) 5 Co o

Minimum 8C (-) 20 Co o

Rainfall:15cm(annual average) Clothing :Cotton & light woollens in summer and heavy woollens including downfilled wind proof upper garments in winter.

Ladakh is a land abounding in awesome physical features, set in an enormous and spectacular environment. Bounded by two of the world's mightiest mountain ranges, the Karakoram in the north and the Great Himalaya in the south, it is traversed by two other parallel chains, the Ladakh Range and the Zanskar Range. In geological terms, this is a young land, formed a few million years ago. Its basic contours, uplifted by tectonic movements, have been modified over the millennia by the process of erosion due to wind and water, sculpted into the form that we see today. Today a high-altitude desert, sheltered from the rain-bearing clouds of the Indian monsoon by the barrier of the Great Himalaya, Ladakh was once covered by an extensive lake system, the vestiges of which still exist on its south-east plateaux of Rupshu and Chushul, in the drainage basins or lakes of Tso-moriri, Tso-kar and Pangong-tso. But the main source of water is winter snowfall. Dras, Zanskar and the Suru Valley on the Himalaya's northern flanks receive heavy snow in winter, this feeds the glaciers from which melt water, carried down by

Geographical Introduction

streams, irrigates the fields in summer. For the rest of the region, the snow on the peaks is virtually the only source of water. As the crops grow, the villagers pray not for rain, but for sun to melt the glaciers and liberate their water. Ladakh lies at altitudes ranging from about 9,000 ft (2,750 m) at Kargil to 25,170 ft (7,672m) at Saser Kangri, in the Karakoram Range. Summer temperatures rarely exceed 27C in the shade, while in winter they may at times plummet to minus 20C even in Leh. Surprisingly though, the thin air makes the heat of the sun even more intense than at lower altitudes. It is said that only in Ladakh can a man sitting in the sun with his feet in the shade suffer from sunstroke and frostbite at the same time!

Historical BackgroundFor nearly 900 years, from the middle of the 10th century, Ladakh was an independent kingdom, its ruling dynasties descending from the kings of old Tibet. The kingdom attained its greatest geographical extent and glory in the early 17th century under the famous king Singge Namgyal, whose domain extended across Spiti and western Tibet right up to the Mayum-la, beyond the sacred sites of Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar.

Gradually, perhaps partly due to the fact that it was politically stable, Ladakh became recognized as the best trade route between the Punjab and Central Asia. For centuries it was traversed by caravans carrying textiles, spices, raw silk, carpets, dyestuffs, narcotics, etc. Heedless of the lands rugged terrain and apparent remoteness, merchants 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 Khotan. On this long route, Leh was the midway stop, and developed into a bustling entrepot, its bazars thronged with merchants from distant countries. The famous pashmina (better known as cashmere) also came down from the highaltitude plateaux of eastern Ladakh and western Tibet, through Leh, to Srinagar, where skilled artisans transformed it into shawls known the world over for their softness and warmth. Ironically, it was this lucrative trade that finally spelt the doom of the independent kingdom. It attracted the covetous attention of Gulab Singh,

the ruler of Jammu in the early 19th century, who sent his general Zorawar Singh to invade Ladakh in 1834 AD.

There followed a decade of war and turmoil, which ended with the emergence of the British as the paramount power in north India. Ladakh, together with the neighbouring province of Baltistan, was incorporated into the newly created state of Jammu & Kashmir. Just over a century later, this union was disturbed by the partition of India, as a result of which Baltistan became part of Pakistan, while Ladakh remained in India as part of the State of Jammu & Kashmir. Like the land itself, the people of Ladakh are generally quite different from those of the rest of India. The faces and physique of the Ladakhis, and the clothes they wear, are more akin to those of Tibet and Central Asia than of India. The original population may have been Dards, an Indo-Aryan race down from the Indus and the Gilgit area. But immigration from Tibet, perhaps a millennium or so ago, largely overwhelmed the culture of the Dards and obliterated their racial characteristics. In eastern and central Ladakh, today' population seems to be mostly of Tibetan origin. Further s west, in and around Kargil, the people' s appearance suggests a mixed origin.

The exception to this generalisation is the Arghons, a community of Muslims in Leh, originated as a result of marriages between local women and Kashmiri or Central Asian merchants. They exhibit a marked dominance of the Indo-Aryan trait in their physique and appearance, though culturally they are not different from the rest of the Ladakhis.

Ancient RoutesThe Caravan Route To Leh Ladakh' position at the centre of a network of trade routes traditionally kept it in s constant touch with the outside world. From Chinese Central Asia, the mightily Karakoram Range was breached at the Karakoram pass, a giddy 18,350 Feet (5,600m). The trail from Yarkand crossed five other passes, of which the most feared was the glacier-encumbered Saser-la, north of Nubra. Travellers from Tibet could take one of two main routes from the Central part of the country, the Tsang-po valley, they could pass the holy sites of Kailash Mansarovar and reach Gartok, on a tributary of the upper Indus, from where they followed the river down to Leh. Trade with the ' Pashm' -producing areas of western Tibet flowed by a more northerly route, taking the village of Rudok, a few miles into Tibet, and from there across to Chushul on the Pangong-tso, up the length of the lake to Tangse, then a cross the 18,300feet (5,578m) Chang-la to the Indus, and so to Leh. Baltistan, joined administratively with Ladakh for 100 years, was linked to it either via the Indus up to its confluence with the Suru-Shingo river, and on up to Kargil: or by the Chorbat-la pass over the Ladakh range, the trail dropping down to the Indus 40 km below Khalatse, and following the river up to Leh. Still Following The Old Path! The two main approaches to Ladakh from south of the Himalayas are roughly the same as today' motor roads from the Srinagar and Manali. The merchants and s pilgrims who made up the majority of travellers in the pre modern era, traveled on foot or horseback, taking about 16 days to reach Srinagar; though a man in a hurry, ridding non-stop and with changes of horse arranged ahead of time all along the route, could do it in as little as three days. The mails, carried in relays by runners stationed every four miles or so, took four or five days. That 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.

RELIGIONLadakh was the conduit through which Buddhism reached Tibet from India and in the process it got deeply entrenched in the region from the very beginning. There are ancient Buddhist rock engravings all over the region, even in the areas like Dras and the lower Suru Valley which today are inhabited by an exclusively Muslim population. The divide between Muslim and Buddhist Ladakh passes through Mulbekh (on the Kargil-Leh road) and between the villages of Parkachik and Rangdum in the Suru Valley, though there are pockets of Muslim population further east, in Padum (Zanskar), in Nubra Valley and in and around Leh. The approach to a Buddhist village is invariably marked by mani walls which are long, chest-high structures faced with engraved stones bearing Buddhist mantra, and by chorten (commemorative cairns) Many villages are crowned with a Gompa or monastery, which may be anything from an imposing complex of temples, prayer halls and monks' dwellings, to a tiny heritage housing a single image and home to a solitary lama.

Fresco of Buddhist Deity

slam too came from the west. A peaceful penetration of mainly the Shia sect spearheaded by Islamic missionaries, its success can be attributed to the early conversion of the chieftains of Dras, Kargil and the Suru Valley. In these areas, mani walls and chorten are replaced by mosques, small unpretentious buildings, or Imambaras, which are imposing structures with a quaint blend of Islamic and Tibetan styles, surmounted by domes of metal sheet that gleam cheerfully in the sun. There are also pockets of Sunni Muslims among which the Dards of Drass and the Arghons of Leh are the largest groups. A visitor to Ladakh rarely has a chance to see a Buddhist wedding performance according to the old customs and ceremonies. Today too much foreign influence is likely to have crept in; European clothing is slowly replacing the traditional dress. The celebration begins in the morning at the house of the bride. The all male party celebrated with Chang, which, according to custom, one must take in three consecutive draughts. As a special sign the host improved the ' Chang' adding by butter. A celebration meal is served in the afternoon, but again only men partook. Th

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