Ladakh — region —[α] Coordinates Coordinates: Country India State Jammu and Kashmir Largest city Leh Population
• 3 /km2 (8 /sq mi)
Time zone IST (UTC+05:30) Area 86,904 square kilometres (33,554 sq mi)[β] Infant mortality rate 19% (1981) Website leh.nic.in
Ladakh (Tibetan alphabet: ལ་དྭགས་, Wylie: la-dwags, Ladakhi [lad̪ɑks], Hindi: लद्दाख़, Urdu: لدّاخ [ləd̪ˈd̪aːx]; "land of high passes") is a region of Jammu and Kashmir, the northernmost state of the Republic of India. It lies between the Kunlun mountain range in the north and the main Great Himalayas to the south, inhabited by people of Indo-Aryan and Tibetan descent. It is one of the most sparsely populated regions in Jammu and Kashmir."Ladakh, the Persian transliteration of the Tibetan La-dvags, is warranted by the pronunciation of the word in several Tibetan districts."
Historically, the region included the Baltistan (Baltiyul) valleys, the Indus Valley, the remote Zangskar, Lahaul and Spiti to the south, Aksai Chin and Ngari, including the Rudok region and Guge, in the east, and the Nubra valleys to the north.
Contemporary Ladakh borders Tibet to the east, the Lahaul and Spiti to the south, the Vale of Kashmir, Jammu and Baltiyul regions to the west, and the trans–Kunlun territory of Xinjiang to the far north. Ladakh is renowned for its remote mountain beauty and culture. It is sometimes called "Little Tibet" as it has been strongly influenced by Tibetan culture.
In the past Ladakh gained importance from its strategic location at the crossroads of important trade routes, but since the Chinese authorities closed the borders with Tibet and Central Asia in the 1960s, international trade has dwindled except for tourism. Since 1974, the Government of India has successfully encouraged tourism in Ladakh. Since Ladakh is a part of the Kashmir dispute, the Indian military maintains a strong presence in the region.
The largest town in Ladakh is Leh. It is one of the few remaining abodes of Buddhism in South Asia, including the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bhutan and Sri Lanka; a majority of Ladakhis are Tibetan Buddhists and the rest are mostly Shia Muslims. Some Ladakhi activists have in recent times called for Ladakh to be constituted as a union territory because of its religious and cultural differences with predominantly Muslim Kashmir.
Rock carvings found in many parts of Ladakh show that the area has been inhabited from Neolithic times. Ladakh's earliest inhabitants consisted of a mixed Indo-Aryan population of Mons and Dards, who find mention in the works of Herodotus,[γ] Nearchus, Megasthenes, Pliny,[δ] Ptolemy,[ε] and the geographical lists of the Puranas. Around the 1st century, Ladakh was a part of the Kushana empire. Buddhism spread into western Ladakh from Kashmir in the 2nd century when much of eastern Ladakh and western Tibet was still practising the Bon religion. The 7th century Buddhist traveler Xuanzang also describes the region in his accounts.[στ]
In the 8th century, Ladakh was involved in the clash between Tibetan expansion pressing from the East and Chinese influence exerted from Central Asia through the passes. Suzerainty over Ladakh frequently changed hands between China and Tibet. In 842 Nyima-Gon, a Tibetan royal representative annexed Ladakh for himself after the break-up of the Tibetan empire, and founded a separate Ladakhi dynasty. During this period Ladakh acquired a predominantly Tibetan population. The dynasty spearheaded the second spreading of Buddhism, importing religious ideas from north-west India, particularly from Kashmir. The first spreading of Buddhism was the one in Tibet proper.
Faced with the Islamic conquest of South Asia in the 13th century, Ladakh chose to seek and accept guidance in religious matters from Tibet. For nearly two centuries till about 1600, Ladakh was subject to raids and invasions from neighbouring Muslim states, which led to the partial conversion of Ladakhis to Islam.
King Bhagan reunited and strengthened Ladakh and founded the Namgyal dynasty which survives to today. The Namgyals repelled most Central Asian raiders and temporarily extended the kingdom as far as Nepal, in the face of concerted attempts to convert the region to Islam and destroy Buddhist artifacts. In the early 17th century efforts were made to restore destroyed artifacts and gompas and the kingdom expanded into Zangskar and Spiti. However, despite a defeat of Ladakh by the Mughals, who had already annexed Kashmir and Baltistan, it retained its independence.
In the late 17th century, Ladakh sided with Bhutan in its dispute with Tibet which, among other reasons, resulted in its invasion by the Tibetan Central Government. This event is known as the Tibet-Ladakh-Mughal war of 1679-1684. Kashmir helped restore Ladakhi rule on the condition that a mosque be built in Leh and that the Ladakhi king convert to Islam. The Treaty of Tingmosgang in 1684 settled the dispute between Tibet and Ladakh, but severely restricted Ladakh's independence. In 1834, the Dogras under Zorawar Singh, a general of Ranjit Singh invaded and annexed Ladakh. A Ladakhi rebellion in 1842 was crushed and Ladakh was incorporated into the Dogra state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Namgyal family was given the jagir of Stok, which it nominally retains to this day. European influence began in Ladakh in the 1850s and increased. Geologists, sportsmen and tourists began exploring Ladakh. In 1885, Leh became the headquarters of a mission of the Moravian Church.
At the time of the partition of India in 1947, the Dogra ruler Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession to India. Pakistani raiders had reached Ladakh and military operations were initiated to evict them. The wartime conversion of the pony trail from Sonamarg to Zoji La by army engineers permitted tanks to move up and successfully capture the pass. The advance continued. Dras, Kargil and Leh were liberated and Ladakh cleared of the infiltrators.
In 1949, China closed the border between Nubra and Xinjiang, blocking old trade routes. In 1955 China began to build roads connecting Xinjiang and Tibet through this area. It also built the Karakoram highway jointly with Pakistan. India built the Srinagar-Leh Highway during this period, cutting the journey time between Srinagar and Leh from 16 days to two. The entire state of Jammu and Kashmir continues to be the subject of a territorial dispute between India on the one hand and Pakistan and China on the other. Kargil was an area of conflict in the wars of 1947, 1965 and 1971 and the focal point of a potential nuclear conflict during the Kargil War in 1999.
The Kargil War of 1999, codenamed "Operation Vijay" by the Indian Army, saw infiltration by Pakistani troops into parts of Western Ladakh, namely Kargil, Dras, Mushkoh, Batalik and Chorbatla, overlooking key locations on the Srinagar-Leh highway. Extensive operations were launched in high altitudes by the Indian Army with considerable artillery and air force support. Pakistani troops were evicted from the Indian side of the Line of Control which the Indian Government ordered was to be respected and which was not crossed by Indian troops. The Indian Government was criticized by the Indian public because India respected geographical co-ordinates more than India's opponents, (Pakistan and China).
Since 1984 the Siachan glacier area in the north-east corner of Ladakh has been the venue of a continuing military standoff between India and Pakistan and the highest battleground in the world. The boundary was not demarcated in the 1972 Simla Agreement beyond a point, NJ 9842. There is a competition to occupy the heights of the Saltoro Ridge which borders the Siachan glacier. Since then strategic points on the glacier are occupied by both sides, with the Indians having a clear strategic advantage.
The Ladakh region was bifurcated into the Kargil and Leh districts in 1979. In 1989, there were violent riots between Buddhists and Muslims. Following demands for autonomy from the Kashmiri dominated state government, the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council was created in the 1990s. Leh and Kargil Districts now each have their own locally elected Hill Councils with some control over local policy and development funds.
Historically, the region included the Baltistan (Baltiyul) valleys, the Indus Valley, the remote Zangskar, Lahaul and Spiti to the south, Ngari including the Rudok region and Guge in the east, Aksai Chin in the east, and Nubra valley to the north over Khardong La in the Ladakh mountain range. Contemporary Ladakh borders Tibet to the east, the Lahaul and Spiti to the south, the Vale of Kashmir, Jammu and Baltiyul regions to the west, and the trans–Kunlun region of Xinjiang on the other side of the Kunlun range across the Karakoram Pass in the far north. Running southwest to northeast, the Altyn Tagh converges with the Kunlun range in Kashmir, which runs southeast to northwest forming a "V" shape to converge at Pulu. The geographical divide between Ladakh in the highlands of Kashmir and the Tibetan Plateau commences in the vicinity of Pulu. It continues southwards along the intricate maze of ridges situated east of Rudok, wherein are situated Aling Kangri and Mavang Kangri and culminates in the vicinity of Mayum La.
The mountain ranges in this region were formed over a period of 45 million years by the folding of the Indian plate into the more stationary Eurasian Plate. The drift continues, causing frequent earthquakes in the Himalayan region.[θ] The peaks in the Ladakh range are at a medium altitude close to the Zoji-la (5,000–5,500 m or 16,000–18,050 ft), and increase towards south-east, culminating in the twin summits of Nun-Kun (7000 m or 23,000 ft).
The Suru and Zangskar valleys form a great trough enclosed by the Himalayas and the Zangskar range. Rangdum is the highest inhabited region in the Suru valley, after which the valley rises to 4,400 m (14,436 ft) at Pensi-la, the gateway to Zangskar. Kargil, the only town in the Suru valley, is the second most important town in Ladakh. It was an important staging post on the routes of the trade caravans before 1947, being more or less equidistant, at about 230 kilometres from Srinagar, Leh, Skardu and Padum. The Zangskar valley lies in the troughs of the Stod and the Lungnak rivers. The region experiences heavy snowfall; the Pensi-la is open only between June and mid-October. Dras and the Mushkoh Valley form the western extremity of Ladakh.
The Indus river is the backbone of Ladakh. Most major historical and current towns — Shey, Leh, Basgo and Tingmosgang (but not Kargil), are situated close to the Indus River. After the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947, the stretch of the Indus flowing through Ladakh is the only part of this river, which is greatly venerated in the Hindu religion and culture, that still flows through India.
The Siachan Glacier is located in the eastern Karakoram range in the Himalaya Mountains along the disputed India-Pakistan border. The Karakoram range forms a great watershed that separates China from the Indian subcontinent and is sometimes called the "Third Pole." The glacier lies between the Saltoro Ridge immediately to the west and the main Karakoram range to the east. At 70 km long, it is the longest glacier in the Karakoram and second-longest in the world's non-polar areas. It falls from an altitude of 5,753 m (18,875 ft) above sea level at its source at Indira Col on the China border down to 3,620 m (11,875 ft) at its snout. The passes and some dominating heights on the Saltoro ridge, which has a crestline with heights from 5,450 to 7,720 m (17,880 to 25,330 feet), are occupied by troops on both sides.
Saser Kangri is the highest peak in the Saser Muztagh, the easternmost subrange of the Karakoram range in India, Saser Kangri I having an altitude of 7,672 m (25,171 ft).
The Ladakh range has no major peaks; its average height is a little less than 6,000 m (19,700 ft), and few of its passes are less than 5,000 m (16,400 ft). The Pangong range runs parallel to the Ladakh range about 100 km northwest from Chushul, along the southern shore of the Pangong Lake. Its highest range is 6,700 m (22,000 ft) and the northern slopes are heavily glaciated. The region comprising the valley of the Shayok and Nubra rivers is known as Nubra. The Karakoram range in Ladakh is not as mighty as in Baltistan. The massifs to the north and east of the Nubra–Siachen line include the Apsarasas group (highest point 7,245 m, 23,770 ft), the Rimo group (highest point 7,385 m, 24,230 ft) and the Teram Kangri group (highest point 7,464 m, 24,488 ft), together with Mamostong Kangri (7,526 m, 24691 ft) and Singhi Kangri (7,751 m, 25,430 ft). North of the Karakoram lies the Kunlun. Thus, between Leh and eastern Central Asia there is a triple barrier — the Ladakh range, Karakoram range, and Kunlun. Nevertheless, a major trade route was established between Leh and Yarkand.
Ladakh is a high altitude desert as the Himalayas create a rain shadow, denying entry to monsoon clouds. The main source of water is the winter snowfall on the mountains. Recent flooding in the region has been attributed to abnormal rain patterns and retreating glaciers, both of which might be linked to global warming. The Leh Nutrition Project, headed by Chewang Norphel, also known as the 'Glacier Man', currently creates artificial glaciers as one solution for retreating glaciers.
The regions on the north flank of the Himalayas — Dras, the Suru valley and Zangskar — experience heavy snowfall and remain cut off from the rest of the region for several months in the year, as the whole region remains cut off by road from the rest of the country. Summers are short, though they are long enough to grow crops. The summer weather is dry and pleasant. Temperature ranges are from 3 to 35 °C in summer and minimums range from -20 to -35 °C in winter.
Flora and fauna
The wildlife of this region was first studied by Ferdinand Stoliczka, an Austrian-Czech palaeontologist, who carried out a massive expedition in the region in the 1870s. Vegetation is extremely sparse in Ladakh except along streambeds and wetlands, on high slopes, and in irrigated places.
The fauna of Ladakh has much in common with that of Central Asia in general and that of the Tibetan Plateau in particular. Exceptions to this are the birds, many of which migrate from the warmer parts of India to spend the summer in Ladakh. For such an arid area, Ladakh has a great diversity of birds — a total of 225 species have been recorded. Many species of finches, robins, redstarts (like the Black Redstart), and the Hoopoe are common in summer. The Brown-headed Gull is seen in summer on the river Indus and on some lakes of the Changthang. Resident water-birds include the Brahminy duck also known as the Ruddy Sheldrake and the Bar-headed Goose. The Black-necked Crane, a rare species found scattered in the Tibetan plateau, is also found in parts of Ladakh. Other birds include the Raven, Red-billed Chough, Tibetan Snowcock, and Chukar. The Lammergeier and the Golden Eagle are common raptors here.
The Bharal or "blue sheep" is the most abundant mountain ungulate in the Ladakh region. However it is not found in some parts of Zangskar and Sham areas. The Asiatic Ibex is a very elegant mountain goat that is distributed in the western part of Ladakh. It is the second most abundant mountain ungulate in the region with a population of about 6000 individuals. It is adapted to rugged areas where it easily climbs when threatened. The Ladakhi Urial is another unique mountain sheep that inhabits the mountains of Ladakh. The population is declining, however, and presently there are not more 3000 individuals left in Ladakh. The urial is endemic to Ladakh, where it is distributed only along two major river valleys: the Indus and Shayok. The animal is often persecuted by farmers whose crops are allegedly damaged by it. Its population declined precipitously in the last century due to indiscriminate shooting by hunters along the Leh-Srinagar highway. The Tibetan argali or Nyan is the largest wild sheep in the world, standing 3.5 to 4 feet at the shoulder with the horn measuring 90–100 cm. It is distributed on the Tibetan plateau and its marginal mountains encompassing a total area of 2.5 million km2. There is only a small population of about 400 animals in Ladakh. The animal prefers open and rolling terrain as it runs, unlike wild goats that climb into steep cliffs, to escape from predators. The endangered Tibetan Antelope, commonly known as chiru, or Ladakhi tsos, has traditionally been hunted for its wool (shahtoosh) which is a natural fiber of the finest quality and thus valued for its light weight and warmth and as a status symbol. The wool of chiru must be pulled out by hand, a process done after the animal is killed. The fiber is smuggled into Kashmir and woven into exquisite shawls by Kashmiri workers. Ladakh is also home to the Tibetan gazelle, which inhabits the vast rangelands in eastern Ladakh bordering Tibet.
The kiang, or Tibetan wild ass, is common in the grasslands of Changthang, numbering about 2,500 individuals. These animals are in conflict with the nomadic people of Changthang who hold the Kiang responsible for pasture degradation. There are about 200 snow leopards in Ladakh of an estimated 7,000 worldwide. The Hemis High Altitude National Park in central Ladakh is an especially good habitat for this predator as it has abundant prey populations. The Eurasian lynx, is another rare cat that preys on smaller herbivores in Ladakh. It is mostly found in Nubra, Changthang and Zangskar. The Pallas's cat, which looks somewhat like a house cat, is very rare in Ladakh and not much is known about the species. The Tibetan Wolf, which sometimes preys on the livestock of the Ladakhis, is the most persecuted amongst the predators. There are also a few brown bears in the Suru valley and the area around Dras. The Tibetan Sand Fox has recently been discovered in this region. Among smaller animals, marmots, hares, and several types of pika and vole are common.
Scant precipitation makes Ladakh a high-altitude desert with extremely scarce vegetation over most of its area. Natural vegetation mainly occurs along water courses and on high altitude areas that receive more snow and cooler summer temperatures. Human settlements, however, are richly vegetated due to irrigation.
Natural vegetation commonly seen along water courses includes seabuckthorn (Hippophae spp.), wild roses of pink or yellow varieties, tamarisk (Myricaria spp.), caraway, stinging nettles, mint, Physochlaina praealta, and various grasses.
Natural vegetation in unirrigated desert around Leh includes capers (Capparis spinosa), Nepeta floccosa, globe thistle (Echinops cornigerus), Ephedra gerardiana, rhubarb, Tanacetum spp., several artemisias, Peganum harmala, and several other succulents. Juniper trees grow wild in some locations and are usually considered sacred by Buddhists.
Human settlements are marked by lush fields and trees, all irrigated with water from glacial streams, springs, and rivers. Higher altitude villages grow barley, peas, and vegetables, and have one species of willow (called Drokchang in Ladakhi). Lower villages also grow wheat, alfalfa, mustard for oil, grapes, and a greater variety of vegetables. Cultivated trees in lower villages include apricots, apples, mulberries, walnuts, Simon poplars, Afghan poplars, oleaster (Elaeagnus_angustifolia), and several species of willow (difficult to identify, and local names vary). Elms and white poplars are found in the Nubra Valley, and one legendary specimen of white poplar grows in Alchi in the Indus Valley. Black Locust (Robinia Pseudoacacia), Himalayan Cypress and horse chestnut have been introduced since the 1990s.
Government and politics
Ladakh district was a district of the Jammu and Kashmir state of India until 1 July 1979 when it was divided into Leh district and Kargil district. Each of these districts is governed by a Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, which is based on the pattern of the Darjeeling Gorkha Autonomous Hill Council. These councils were created as a compromise solution to the demands of Ladakhi people to make Leh a union territory.
In October 1993, the Indian government and the State government agreed to grant each district of Ladakh the status of Autonomous Hill Council. This agreement was given effect by the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Act, 1995. The council came into being with the holding of elections in Leh District on 28 August 1995. The inaugural meeting of the council was held at Leh on 3 September 1995. Kargil followed Leh's footsteps in July 2003, when the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council — Kargil was established. The council works with village panchayats to take decisions on economic development, healthcare, education, land use, taxation, and local governance which are further reviewed at the block headquarters in the presence of the chief executive councilor and executive councilors. The government of Jammu and Kashmir looks after law and order, the judicial system, communications and the higher education in the region.
Although on the whole there has been religious harmony in Ladakh, religion has tended to be politicized in the last few decades. As early as 1931, Kashmiri neo-Buddhists founded the Kashmir Raj Bodhi Mahasabha that led to some sense of separateness from the Muslims. The bifurcation of the region into Muslim majority Kargil district and Buddhist majority Leh district in 1979 again brought the communal question to the fore. The Buddhists in Ladakh accused the overwhelmingly Muslim state government of continued apathy, corruption and a bias in favour of Muslims. On these grounds, they demanded union territory status for Ladakh. In 1989, there were violent riots between Buddhists and Muslims, provoking the Ladakh Buddhist Association to call for a social and economic boycott of Muslims which went on for three years before being lifted in 1992. The Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF), which controls the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council — Leh demands union territory status for Ladakh. A consortium of political parties formed in 2002 decided that a regional party should be formed under a single flag and carry on with the struggle for this status. Things changed when a few of the nominated candidates shifted sides and joined national and Kashmiri parties. Since then the political scene in Ladakh has been uncertain. While the LUTF demands union territory status for just the Leh district, the general consensus among the people in Kargil and Ladakh is that these districts be included in the demand. This Party lost prestige after it indulged in narrow-minded politics that led to the suspension of prestigious educational movements like the Operation New Hope, implemented jointly by the Students' Educational & Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL).
The economy of Ladakh rests on three pillars: the Indian Army, tourism, and civilian government in the form of jobs and extensive subsidies. Agriculture, the mainstay only one generation ago, is no longer a major portion of the economy, although most families still own and work their land.
For centuries, Ladakh enjoyed a stable and self-reliant agricultural economy based on growing barley, wheat and peas and keeping livestock, especially yaks, cows, dzos (a yak-cow cross breed), sheep and goats. At altitudes of 3,000 to 4,300 m (10,000 to 14,000 ft), the growing season is only a few months long every year, similar to the northern countries of the world. Animals are scarce and water is in short supply. The Ladakhis developed a small-scale farming system adapted to this unique environment. The land is irrigated by a system of channels which funnel water from the ice and snow of the mountains. The principal crops are barley and wheat. Rice was previously a luxury in the Ladakhi diet, but, subsidised by the government, has now become a cheap staple.
At lower elevations fruit is grown, while the high altitude Rupshu region is the preserve of nomadic herders. In the past, surplus produce was traded for tea, sugar, salt and other items. Two items grown for export are apricots and pashmina. Currently, the largest commercially sold agricultural product is vegetables, sold in large amounts to the Indian army as well as on the local market. Production remains mainly in the hands of small-landowners who work their own land, often with the help of migrant labourers from Nepal. Naked barley (Ladakhi: nas, Urdu: grim) was traditionally a staple crop all over Ladakh. Growing times vary considerably with altitude. The extreme limit of cultivation is at Korzok, on the Tso-moriri lake, at 4,600 m (15,100 ft), which has what are widely considered to be the highest fields in the world.
In the past Ladakh's geographical position at the crossroads of some of the most important trade routes in Asia was exploited to the full. Ladakhis collected tax on goods that crossed their kingdom from Turkestan, Tibet, Punjab, Kashmir and Baltistan. A minority of Ladakhi people were also employed as merchants and caravan traders, facilitating trade in textiles, carpets, dyestuffs and narcotics between Punjab and Xinjiang. However, since the Chinese Government closed the borders with Tibet and Central Asia, this international trade has completely dried up.
Since 1974, the Indian Government has encouraged a shift in trekking and other tourist activities from the troubled Kashmir region to the relatively unaffected areas of Ladakh. Although tourism employs only 4% of Ladakh's working population, it now accounts for 50% of the region's GNP.
Adventure tourism in Ladakh started in the 19th century. By the turn of the 20th century, it was not uncommon for British officials to undertake the 14-day trek from Srinagar to Leh as part of their annual leave. Agencies were set up in Srinagar and Shimla specialising in sports-related activities — hunting, fishing and trekking. This era is recorded in Arthur Neves The Tourist's Guide to Kashmir, Ladakh and Skardo, first published in 1911. Today, about 100,000 tourists visit Ladakh every year. Among the popular places of tourist interest include Leh, Drass valley, Suru valley, Kargil, Zangskar, Zangla, Rangdum, Padum, Phugthal, Sani, Stongdey, Shyok Valley, Sankoo, Salt Valley and several popular trek routes like Lamayuru - Padum - Darcha, the Nubra valley and the Indus valley.
Extensive government employment and large-scale infrastructure projects — including, crucially, road links — have helped consolidate the new economy and create an urban alternative to farming. Subsidised food, government jobs, the tourism industry and new infrastructure have accelerated a mass migration from the farms into Leh town. The Indian army is a major part of the economy by employing tens of thousands of Ladakhis as soldiers as well as purchasing goods and services locally.
Ladakh was the connection point between Central Asia and South Asia when the Silk Road was in use. The sixty-day journey on the Ladakh route connecting Amritsar and Yarkand through eleven passes was frequently undertaken by traders till the third quarter of the 19th century. Another common route in regular use was the Kalimpong route between Leh and Lhasa via Gartok, the administrative centre of western Tibet. Gartok could be reached either straight up the Indus in winter or through either the Taglang la or the Chang la. Beyond Gartok, the Cherko la brought travelers to the Manasarovar and Rakshastal lakes, and then to Barka, which is connected to the main Lhasa road. These traditional routes have been closed since the Ladakh-Tibet border was sealed by the Chinese government. Other routes connected Ladakh to Hunza and Chitral but, as in the previous case, there is currently no border crossing between Ladakh and Pakistan.
In present times, the only two land routes to Ladakh in use are from Srinagar and Manali. Travelers from Srinagar start their journey from Sonamarg, over the Zoji La pass (3,450 m, 11,320 ft) via Dras and Kargil (2,750 m, 9,022 ft) passing through Namika la (3,700 m, 12,140 ft) and Fatu la (4,100 m, 13,450 ft). This has been the main traditional gateway to Ladakh since historical times and is now open to traffic from April or May until November or December every year. However, with the rise of militancy in Kashmir, the main corridor to the area has shifted from the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh route via Zoji la to the high altitude Manali-Leh Highway from Himachal Pradesh. The highway crosses four passes, Rohtang la (3,978 m, 13,050 ft), Baralacha la (4,892 m, 16,050 ft), Lungalacha la (5,059 m, 16,600 ft) and Taglang la (5,325 m, 17,470 ft) and the More plains and is open only between May and November when snow is cleared from the road.
Buses run from Leh to the surrounding villages. The Manali-Leh-Srinagar road makes up about half of the road network, the remainder being spurs off it. Ladakh is criss-crossed by a complex network of mountain trails which even today provides the only link to most of the valleys, villages and high pastures. For the traveler with a number of months it is possible to trek from one end of Ladakh to the other, or even from places in Himachal Pradesh. The large number of trails and the limited number of roads allows one to string together routes that have road access often enough to restock supplies but avoid walking on motor roads almost entirely.
There is one airport in Leh, from which there are daily flights to Delhi on Jet Airways, Air Deccan, and Air India and weekly flights to Srinagar and Jammu. There are two airstrips at Daulat Beg Oldie and Fukche for military transport.
Ladakh has a population of about 260,000 which is a blend of many different ethnic groups, predominantly the Tibetans, Mons and the Dards. Like other Ladakhis, the Baltis of Kargil, Nubra, Suru Valley and Baltistan show strong Tibetan links in their appearance and language, and were Buddhists until the last few hundred years.
Most Ladakhis in Leh District and Zangskar are Tibetan Buddhist, while most of the rest of Kargil District is Shia Muslims. There are sizeable minorities of Buddhists in Kargil District and of Muslims in Leh District. There are some Sunni Muslims of Kashmiri descent in Leh and Kargil towns and also Padum in Zangskar. The Balti villages in Leh District have several thousand Nurbakhshia Muslims. There are a less than 40 families of Ladakhi Christians, who converted in the 19th century.
The Changpa nomads who live in the Rupshu plateau are more closely related to Tibetans. Since the early 1960s nomad numbers have increased as Changthang nomads from across the border flee Chinese-ruled Tibet. However, since 2000 some nomads, notably most of the community of Kharnak, have abandoned the nomadic life and settled in Leh town. There are about 3,500 Tibetan refugees from all parts of Tibet in Leh District.
People of Dard descent predominate in Dras and Dha-Hanu areas. The residents of the Dha-Hanu area, known as Brokpa, are followers of Tibetan Buddhism and have preserved much of their original Dardic traditions and customs. The Dards of Dras, however, have converted to Islam and have been strongly influenced by their Kashmiri neighbours. The Mons are believed to be descendants of earlier Indian settlers in Ladakh, and traditionally worked as musicians, blacksmiths and carpenters.
According to the 2001 population census of India, 47.4% of the population is Buddhist, 45.9% Muslim, 6.2% Hindu and 0.5% others. The region's population is split roughly in half between the districts of Leh and Kargil. Leh is 77% Buddhist and Kargil is 80% Muslim.
The principal language of Ladakh is Ladakhi, a Tibetan language. Educated Ladakhis usually know Hindi, Urdu and often English. Within Ladakh, there is a range of dialects, so that the language of the Chang-pa people may differ markedly from that of the Purig-pa in Kargil, or the Zangskaris, but they are all mutually comprehensible. Due to its position on important trade routes, the language of Leh is enriched with foreign words. Traditionally, Ladakhi had no written form distinct from classical Tibetan, but recently a number of Ladakhi writers have started using the Tibetan script to write the colloquial tongue. Administrative work and education are carried out in English; although Urdu was used to a great extent in the past, now only land records and some police records are kept in Urdu.
The total birth rate (TBR) in 2001 was 22.44, while it was 21.44 for Muslims and 24.46 for Buddhists. Brokpas had the highest TBR at 27.17 and Arghuns had the lowest at 14.25. TFR was 2.69 with 1.3 in Leh and 3.4 in Kargil. For Buddhists it was 2.79 and for Muslims it was 2.66. Baltis had a TFR of 3.12 and Arghuns had a TFR of 1.66. The total death rate was 15.69, with Muslims having 16.37 and Buddhists having 14.32. Highest was for Brokpas at 21.74 and lowest was for Bodhs at 14.32.
Population of Leh and Kargil districts Year[ιζ] Leh District Kargil District population percent of change females per 1000 males population percent of change females per 1000 males 1951 40,484 — 1011 41,856 — 970 1961 43,587 0.74 1010 45,064 0.74 935 1971 51,891 1.76 1002 53,400 1.71 949 1981 68,380 2.80 886 65,992 2.14 853 2001 117,637 2.75 805 115,287 2.83 901
The sex ratio for Leh district declined from 1011 females per 1000 males in 1951 to 805 in 2001, while for Kargil district it declined from 970 to 901. The urban sex ratio in both the districts is about 640. The adult sex ratio reflects large numbers of mostly male seasonal and migrant labourers and merchants. About 84% of Ladakh's population lives in villages. The average annual population growth rate from 1981–2001 was 2.75% in Leh District and 2.83% in Kargil district.
Ladakhi food has much in common with Tibetan food, the most prominent foods being thukpa (noodle soup) and tsampa, known in Ladakhi as ngampe (roasted barley flour). Edible without cooking, tsampa makes useful trekking food. A dish that is strictly Ladakhi is skyu, a heavy pasta dish with root vegetables. As Ladakh moves toward a cash-based economy, foods from the plains of India are becoming more common. As in other parts of Central Asia, tea in Ladakh is traditionally made with strong green tea, butter, and salt. It is mixed in a large churn and known as gurgur cha, after the sound it makes when mixed. Sweet tea (cha ngarmo) is common now, made in the Indian style with milk and sugar. Most of the surplus barley that is produced is fermented into chang, an alcoholic beverage drunk especially on festive occasions.
The architecture of Ladakh contains Tibetan and Indian influences and monastic architecture reflects a deeply Buddhist approach. The Buddhist wheel, along with two dragons, is a common feature on every gompa, including the likes of Lamayuru, Likir, Thikse, Hemis, Alchi and Ridzong Gompas. Many houses and monasteries are built on elevated, sunny sites facing south, and in the past were made of rocks, earth and wood but are now more often concrete frames filled in with stones or adobes.
Music and dance
Traditional music includes the instruments surna and daman (shenai and drum). The music of Ladakhi Buddhist monastic festivals, like Tibetan music, often involves religious chanting in Tibetan or Sanskrit as an integral part of the religion. These chants are complex, often recitations of sacred texts or in celebration of various festivals. Yang chanting, performed without metrical timing, is accompanied by resonant drums and low, sustained syllables. Religious mask dances are an important part of Ladakh's cultural life. Hemis monastery, a leading centre of the Drukpa tradition of Buddhism, holds an annual masked dance festival, as do all major Ladakhi monasteries. The dances typically narrate a story of the fight between good and evil, ending with the eventual victory of the former. Weaving is an important part of traditional life in eastern Ladakh. Both women and men weave, on different looms. Typical costumes include gonchas of velvet, elaborately embroidered waistcoats and boots and hats. The Ladakh Festival is held every year from September 1 to 15. Performers adorned with gold and silver ornaments and turquoise headgear throng the streets. Monks wear colourful masks and dance to the rhythm of cymbals, flutes and trumpets. The yak, lion and Tashispa dances depict the many legends and fables of Ladakh. Buddhist monasteries sporting prayer flags, display of thankas, archery competitions, a mock marriage and horse-polo are the some highlights of this festival.
The most popular sport in Ladakh now is ice hockey, which is played only on natural ice in January. Cricket is also very popular. Archery is a traditional sport in Ladakh, and many villages still hold archery festivals, which are as much about traditional dancing, drinking and gambling as about the sport. The sport is conducted with strict etiquette, to the accompaniment of the music of surna and daman (shenai and drum). Polo, the other traditional sport of Ladakh is indigenous to Baltistan and Gilgit, and was probably introduced into Ladakh in the mid-17th century by King Singge Namgyal, whose mother was a Balti princess.
Social status of women
A feature of Ladakhi society that distinguishes it from the rest of the state is the high status and relative emancipation enjoyed by women compared to other rural parts of India. Fraternal polyandry and inheritance by primogeniture were common in Ladakh until the early 1940s when these were made illegal by the government of Jammu and Kashmir, although they still exist in some areas. Another custom is known as khang-bu, or 'little house', in which the elders of a family, as soon as the eldest son has sufficiently matured, retire from participation in affairs, yielding the headship of the family to him and taking only enough of the property for their own sustenance.
Tibetan medicine has been the traditional health system of Ladakh for over a thousand years. This school of traditional healing contains elements of Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, combined with the philosophy and cosmology of Tibetan Buddhism. For centuries, the only medical system which was accessible to the people have been the amchi who are traditional doctors following the Tibetan medical tradition. Amchi medicine is still an important component of public health to this day, especially in remote areas.
A number of programmes by the government, local and international organisations are underway to develop and rejuvenate this traditional system of healing. Efforts are underway to preserve the intellectual property rights of amchi medicine for the people of Ladakh. The government has also been trying to promote the seabuckthorn in the form of juice and jam, as it is believed to possess many medicinal properties. This is also seen as a means of providing employment to the various self help groups in rural Ladakh.
There are many NGOs which are actively working to improve the life in Ladakh like LEDeG, LEHO, the Leh Nutrition project, Students' Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) and Women's alliance. LEDeG has been working actively since 1971 to install hydraulic rams to improve the water supply in the region. It has also been successful in setting up hydro-power projects in the otherwise energy-starved region.
According to the 2001 census, the overall literacy rate in Leh District is 62% (72% for males and 50% for females), and in Kargil District 58% (74% for males and 41% for females). Traditionally there was little or nothing by way of formal education except in the monasteries. Usually, one son from every family was obliged to master the Tibetan script in order to read the holy books.
The Moravian Mission opened a school in Leh in October 1889, and the Wazir-i Wazarat[ιε] (ex officio Joint Commissioner with a British officer) of Baltistan and Ladakh ordered that every family with more than one child should send one of them to school. This order met with great resistance from the local people who feared that the children would be forced to convert to Christianity. The school taught Tibetan, Urdu, English, Geography, Sciences, Nature study, Arithmetic, Geometry and Bible study. It is still in existence today. The first local school to provide western education was opened by a local Society called "Lamdon Social Welfare Society" in 1973. Later, with support from HH Dalai Lama and some international organisations, the school has grown to accommodate approximately two thousand pupils in several branches. It prides itself on preserving Ladakhi tradition and culture. The Druk White Lotus School under the guidance of His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa, spiritual head of the Drukpa Order (the dominant Buddhist sect in Ladakh and traditionally, the state religion of Ladakh) located in Shey is another school which aims at helping to maintain the cultural traditions of Ladakh with its missionary approach to teaching.
Schools are well distributed throughout Ladakh but 75% of them provide only primary education. 65% of children attend school, but absenteeism of both students and teachers remains high. In both districts the failure rate at school-leaving level (class X) has for many years been around 85–95%, while of those managing to scrape through, barely half succeeded in qualifying for college entrance (class XII.) Before 1993, students were taught in Urdu until they were 14, after which the medium of instruction shifted to English.
In 1994 the Students' Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) launched Operation New Hope (ONH), a campaign to provide "culturally appropriate and locally relevant education" and make government schools more functional and effective. The ONH works with the government, the NGOs, the teachers and the village communities. By 2001, ONH principles were being implemented in all the government schools of Leh District and the matriculation exam pass rate had risen to 50%. A government degree college has been opened in Leh, enabling students to pursue higher education without having to leave Ladakh.
The government radio broadcaster "All India Radio" (AIR) and government television station "Doordarshan" both have stations in Leh that broadcast local content for a few hours a day. Beyond that, Ladakhis themselves produce feature films that are screened in auditoriums and community halls. They are often made on fairly modest budgets.
There are also a handful of private news outlets.
- Rangyul or Kargil Number is a newspaper published from Kashmir serving Ladakh in English and Urdu.
reachladakh.com has Ladakhi reporters posting news regularly.
- Daily updated news of Ladakh can be accessed on
Some publications that cover Jammu and Kashmir as a whole, also provide some coverage of Ladakh.
- The Daily Excelsior, claims to be "The largest circulated daily of Jammu and Kashmir".
- Epilogue, a monthly magazine covering Jammu and Kashmir.
- Kashmir Times, a daily newspaper covering Jammu and Kashmir.
- Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh (book)
- Balti language
- Geography of Ladakh
- Ladakhi language
- Polyandry in Tibet
- Tourism in Ladakh
- Wildlife of Ladakh
β^ This excludes Aksai Chin (37,555 km²), under Chinese administration.
γ^ He mentions twice a people called Dadikai, first along with the Gandarioi, and again in the catalogue of king Xerxes's army invading Greece. Herodotus also mentions the gold-digging ants of Central Asia.
δ^ In the 1st century, Pliny repeats that the Dards were great producers of gold.
ε^ Ptolemy situates the Daradrai on the upper reaches of the Indus
στ^ See Petech, Luciano. The Kingdom of Ladakh c. 950–1842 A.D., Istituto Italiano per il media ed Estremo Oriente, 1977. Hsuan-tsang describes a journey from Ch'u-lu-to (Kuluta, Kullu) to Lo-hu-lo (Lahul), then goes on saying that "from there to the north, for over 2000 li, the road is very difficult, with cold wind and flying snow"; thus one arrives in the kingdom of Mo-lo-so, or Mar-sa, synonymous with Mar-yul, a common name for Ladakh. Elsewhere, the text remarks that Mo-lo-so, also called San-po-ho borders with Suvarnagotra or Suvarnabhumi (Land of Gold), identical with the Kingdom of Women (Strirajya). According to Tucci, the Zan-zun kingdom, or at least its southern districts were known by this name by the 7th century Indians.
θ^ The Leh district is placed in Zone V[clarification needed], while the Kargil district is placed in Zone IV[clarification needed] on the earthquake hazard scale
ια^ Early in the 20th century the chiru was seen in herds numbering in the thousands, surviving on remarkably sparse vegetation, they are very rare now.
ιζ^ Census was not carried out in Jammu and Kashmir in 1991 due to militancy
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- ^ Namgyal means "victorious' in several Tibetan languages
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Ladakh Passes Valleys Cities and Towns Rivers, glaciers and lakes MonasteriesAlchi · Bardan · Basgo · Chemrey · Diskit · Hanle · Hemis · Hundur · Korzok · Karsha · Lamayuru · Likir · Lingshed · Mashro · Matho · Mulbekh · Namgyal Tsemo · Phugtal · Phyang · Rangdum · Rizong · Sani · Sankar · Saspul · Shey Monastery · Spituk · Stakna · Stok · Stongdey · Takthok · Thikse · Tonde · Wanla · Zangla · Zongkul See also Aspirant states of IndiaBodoland (Assam) · Bundelkhand (Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh) · Delhi · Gondwana (northern Deccan Plateau) · Gorkhaland (West Bengal) · Harit Pradesh (Uttar Pradesh) · Kamtapur / Greater Cooch Behar (West Bengal) · Karbi Anglong (Assam) · Kodagu (Karnataka) · Kongu Nadu (Tamil Nadu) · Kosal/Koshal (Orissa) · Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir) · Mahakoshal (Madhya Pradesh) · Mithila (Bihar) · Panun Kashmir (Jammu and Kashmir) · Purvanchal (Uttar Pradesh) · Rayalaseema (Andhra Pradesh) · Telangana (Andhra Pradesh) · Tulu Nadu (Karnataka and Kerala) · Vidarbha (Maharashtra) · Maru Pradesh (Rajasthan) · Vindhya Pradesh (Madhya Pradesh)
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