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Ladakh

Ladakh ( Hindi: लद्दाख़, Urdu: لدّاخ; )


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a word which means "land of high passes", is a region in the state of Jammu and Kashmir of Northern India sandwiched between the Karakoram mountain range to the north and the Himalayas to the south.

 Ladakh has always been "Crossroads of High Asia" and has server as a conveyor channel of diverse cultural ideologies between the major cultural areas lying beyond its barrier.

Leh was an important trade centre of Central Asia from time immemorial and was a meeting place of the people of different nationalities. The region witnessed the ups and downs of "Great Game" in the 19th Century

Ladakh Information:
Largest city : Leh 34.14° N 77.55° E
Main languages Ladakhi, Urdu
Area : 45,110 km² [2]
Population : (2001 Sensus) 200,000
Density 3/km² [3]

 

It is one of the most sparsely populated regions in India. Historically, the region included the Indus Valley, the remote Zanskar to the south, and Nubra valleys to the north over Khardung La in the Ladakh mountain range. Ladakh borders Tibet to the east, the Lahul and Spiti to the south, Kashmir to the west, and Central Asia to the north.

Ladakh is renowned for its remote mountain beauty and Buddhist culture which was established as early as the 2nd century. This has given rise to the appellation "Little Tibet", as it has strongly been influenced by the culture of Tibet.

 

Geography: Geography of Ladakh


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Ladakh is India’s highest 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 Suru and Zanskar valleys form a great trough enclosed by the Himalayas and the Zanskar range. Rangdum is the last inhabited region in the Suru valley. From Rangdum the valley rises to 4,400 metres (14,436 ft) at Pensi-la, the gateway into Zanskar. Kargil, the only town in the Suru valley, 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 Khardung-la pass, believed to be the highest motorable pass in the world at 5,602 m or 18,380 ft)

The Zanskar valley lies in the troughs of the Stod and the Lungnak rivers. The region suffers heavy snowfall, and the Pensi-la opens only in June, and is blocked again in mid-October. The Indus River is the backbone of Ladakh — all major towns historically and currently, Shey, Leh, Basgo, and Tingmosgang, are situated close to the river.

The Ladakh range has no major peaks; its average height is a little less than 6,000 metres (19,700 ft), and few of its passes are less than 5,000 metres (16,400 ft). The Pang-gong range runs parallel to the Ladakh range about 100 km northwest from Chushul, along the southern shore of the Pang-gong Lake Its highest range is 6,700 metres (22,000 ft), and the northern slopes are heavily glaciated.

The region comprising the valley of Shayok and Nubra rivers is known as Nubra. The Karakoram range in Ladakh is not as mighty as in Baltistan. North of the Karakoram lies the Kunlun. Thus, between Leh and eastern Central Asia, there is a triple barrier — Ladakh range, Karakoram range, and Kunlun. Nevertheless, a major trade route was established between Leh and Yarkand.

Ladakh is a high altitude desert, because 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 of the Indus river in the region has been attributed either to abnormal rain patterns, or the retreating of glaciers, both of which might be linked to global warming. The regions on the north flank of the Himalayas — Dras, the Suru valley and Zanskar — experience heavy snowfall and remain virtually cut off from the rest of the country for several months in the year. Summers are short, although long enough to grow crops in the lower reaches of the Suru valley. The summer weather is dry and pleasant, with average temperatures between 10–20 °C (50–70 °F), while in winter, the temperature may dip to around −15 °C (5 °F). The proportion of oxygen is less than in many other places at a comparable altitude because of lack of vegetation. There is little moisture to temper the effects of rarified air.
 

Flora and fauna


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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. There are hardly any trees and vegetation in sight in much of Ladakh, except for the few narrow valleys, where wild roses, willow groves and some herbs could be seen. However, above that, due to the rapid decrease in temperature, vegetation becomes stunted and sparse. The fauna of Ladakh have much in common with that of Central Asia generally, and especially those of the Tibetan Plateau. An exception 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 (Ladakhi: Thung Thung) is 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 endangered Ibex found in high craggy terrain, numbers several thousand in Ladakh often spotted by trekkers. The Bharal, or blue sheep, is even more common, ranging in the Himalayas from Ladakh east as far as Sikkim. The Shapu is a rare goat that numbers about a thousand. Found at lower elevations, mostly in river valleys, they compete with domesticated animals. The Argali, or Nayan, is a relative of the Marco Polo sheep of the Pamirs. They are impressive animals with huge horizontal curving horns, numbering only a couple hundred in Ladakh, but found in a wide range through out mountainous areas of the Chinese Provinces of Xinjiang, Qinghai, and Gansu.

The Chiru, or Tibetan antelope, (known in Ladakhi as Stos) is also endangered. It has traditionally been hunted for its wool. The wool obtained from the Chiru is called Shahtoosh, which is valued in South Asia for its light weight and warmth and as a status symbol. Owning or trading in Shahtoosh is now illegal in most countries. The Kyang, or Tibetan Wild Ass, is common in the grasslands of Changthang, numbering about 1,500 individuals.

The Snow Leopard (Ladakhi: Shan) once ranged throughout the Himalayas, Tibet, and as far as the Sayan mountains on the Mongolian-Russian border; and in elevation from 1800 m to 5400 m. It is believed there are about 200 in Ladakh, especially in the Hemis High Altitude National Park. Other cats in Ladakh are even rarer than the snow leopard, the Lynx, numbering only a few individuals, and the Pallas's cat, which looks like a house cat. The Tibetan Wolf preys on the livestock of the Ladakhis and as such is the most persecuted, reduced to just about 300 animals. 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, voles, hares, and several types of Pika are common.

Culture


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Ladakhi culture is similar to Tibetan culture. Ladakhi food has much in common with Tibetan food, the most prominent foods being Thukpa, noodle soup; and Tsumpa, known in Ladakhi as Ngampe, roasted barley flour, eatable without cooking it makes useful, if dull trekking food. A dish that is strictly Ladakhi is skyu, a heavy pasta dish with root vegetables. As Ladakh moves toward a less sustainable, cash based economy, foods from the plains of India are becoming more common.

Like in other parts of Central Asia, tea in Ladakh is traditionally made with strong black tea, butter, and salt, it is mixed in a large churn and known as gurgur cha, due to the sound of mixing it. Sweet tea (cha ngarmo) is common now, made Indian style with milk and sugar. Chang, an alcoholic beverage, is made from barley, and has a yeasty taste slightly similar to sake.

The language of Ladakh is Ladakhi, a Tibetan dialect that is different enough from Tibetan that Ladakhis and Tibetans often speak Hindi or English when they need to communicate. Urban Ladakhis usually know Hindi/Urdu and often English.

The architecture of Ladakh contains Tibetan and Indian influences, and reflects a deeply Buddhist approach. The Buddhist wheel, along with two dragons, is a common feature on every Gompa. The Chörten 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.

Traditional Ladakhi music, 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. The Hemis monastery, a leading centre of Drugpa Buddhism, is a centre for an annual masked dance festival. The dances typically narrate a story of 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 a different loom. Typical costumes include Gonchas of velvet, elaborately embroidered waistcoats and boots, and gonads or hats.

Archery is a popular sport in Ladakh. Archery festivals are held during the summer months in villages. These are competitive events, to which all the surrounding villages send their teams. The sport is conducted with strict etiquette, to the accompaniment of the music of surna and daman (oboe 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.

The Ladakh festival is held every year in September. The people, adorned with gold and silver ornaments and turquoise headgears throng the streets. Monks wear colourful masks and dance to the rhythm of cymbals, flutes and trumpets. The Yak, Lion and Tashishpa dances depict the many legends and fables of Ladakh. Buddhist monasteries sporting prayer flags, display of 'tankhas', archery competitions, a mock marriage, and horse-polo are the some highlights of this festival.

A feature of Ladakhi society that distinguishes it from the rest of the state is the high status and complete emancipation enjoyed by women. A related feature is the absence of a caste system, although class distinctions do exist. Fraternal polyandry and inheritance by primogeniture were actively practiced in Ladakh until the early 1940s, when these were made illegal by the then government of Jammu and Kashmir, although they still exist in remote areas. Another custom was known as khang-bu, or 'little house', in which the elders of a family, as soon as the eldest son has reached years of discretion, retire from participation in affairs, and taking only enough of the property for their own sustenance, yielding the headship of the family to him.


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 stage trek from Srinagar to Leh as part of their annual leave. Agencies were set up in Srinagar and Shimla to specialise sport 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 18,000 tourists visit Ladakh every year. Bounded by two mighty mountain ranges, it is a popular place for adventure tourism. The well-preserved Tibetan-Buddhist culture makes it even more attractive.

Among the popular places of tourist interest include Leh, Drass valley, Suru valley, Kargil, Zanskar, Zangla, Rangdum, Padum, Phugthal, Sani, Stongdey, Shyok Valley, Sankoo, Salt Valley and several popular trek routes like Manali to Ladakh, the Nubra valley, the Indus valley etc.


Ladakh was the connection point of 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 has been sealed by the Chinese government. Other less used routes connected Ladakh to Hunza and Chitral.

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, through 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. However, with the rise of militancy in Kashmir, the main corridor for accessing the area has shifted from the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh route through 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), Tangtang la (5,325 m, 17,470 ft) and is open only between July and September, when snow is cleared from the road. There is one airport, situated at Leh, from which there are multiple daily flights to Delhi on Jet Airways and Indian, and weekly flights to Srinagar.

Buses run from Leh to the surrounding villages. There is about 1800 km of roads in Ladakh, of which 800 km is surfaced. The Manali-Leh-Srinagar road makes up about half of that, the remainder being spurs off it. Ladakh is criss-crossed by a complex network of mountain trails which, even today provide the only link between the majority of 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.

 

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