About Ladakh

Ladakh, La Dwags, means "The Land of High Passes" is a high altitude desert situated on the western end of the Himalayas in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and is among the highest of the world's inhabited plateaus. 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. Lapped in the snow-covered fringes of the Himalayas, Leh has been the center of Tibetan-Buddhist Culture since ages. Its colorful monasteries have attracted travelers and devout Buddhists from all over the globe
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 Dards and Baltis of the lower Indus Valley are credited with the introduction of farming and the Tibetans with the tradition of herding. Its valleys, by virtue of their contiguity with Kashmir, Kishtwar and Kullu in Himachal Pradesh, served as the initial receptacles of successive ethnic and cultural waves emanating from across the Great Himalayan range.
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 Namgyal, whose rule extended across Spiti and western Tibet up to the Mayumla beyond the sacred sites of Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar.
Leh once served as an important stop on the famous ancient “Silk route” when travelers and traders used to travel all the way from China to Central Asia and further to Turkey. 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 travelers 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 Khotan. On this long route, Leh was the half-way house, and developed into a bustling Centerport, 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.
Ladakh has four mountain ranges, the Great Himalayas, Zanskar, Ladakh and the Karakoram Ranges. Indus river, a water-body highly revered by both Buddhists and Hindus is the major river of this region. Pangong-Tso, the largest natural lake is the most beautiful lake with clear blue colour water and is 134 km long and 4 km wide of which 60% lies in China. Khardong-La at the height of 18,380 feet is the highest motorable road in the world and lies on the way to Nubra

People and Culture

Ladakh is ethnically and culturally distinct from the rest of the India – the facial characteristics and physiques of most Ladakhis, together with their garb, being more akin to those of Tibetans and Central Asians.
The earliest inhabitants of the region were a mix of “Changpas“nomads from the Tibetan plateau and small groups of early Buddhist refugees from northern India, called the Mons. In the 5th and 6th centuries, these groups incorporated an Indo-Aryan race – the Dards – and introduced permanent farms and irrigation to Ladakh. Over time, Mons, Dards, Tibetans and other ethnic groups have inter-mingled to form a unique culture.
Tibetan Buddhism and Islam are Ladakh’s major religions, with small numbers of Christians and Hindus. The principal language is Ladakhi, which derives from Tibetan, and includes a range of mutually comprehensible dialects.
The earliest Ladakhis practiced a form of the Bon religion, based on shamanism and animism. The ibex was an important religious symbol, and can be found on many ancient rock carvings. As Buddhism developed in Tibet, Bon evolved a similar system of higher doctrines, ritual texts, and monastic practices, and the Dalai Lama now recognizes it as the fifth Tibetan Buddhist religious school.
The Leh and Zanskar regions are now predominantly Buddhist. Their centuries-old monasteries and stupas house a treasure trove of frescoes and statues of Tantric deities.
In reflection of their Bon heritage, Ladakhi Buddhists believe that earth, water, air, rocks and trees all have spirits. Lamas or monks act as intermediaries for lay people, helping them to avoid offending these spirits.They also use their astrological knowledge to assist with business, farming and travel. Some monks and lamas act as oracles, becoming vehicles for particular spirits.
Ladakhi and Tibetan culture share many similarities, and this is reflected in Ladakhi cuisine, which includes thukpa (noodles), momos (stuffed dumplings) and Ngampe (roasted barley flour, known as tsampa by Tibetans). Ngampe is mixed with yak butter and rolled into balls, and mixed with tea and salt and to make chang – the local beer. Fresh or dried yak cheese is also widely consumed. Dishes unique to Ladakh include skyu and chhutagi (heavy pasta with vegetables and mutton).
The ladakhis also have a very strong sense of community. Sowing and reaping for instance are community activities in which all members of a village will participate irrespective of whose field is being ploughed.