From the middle of the 10th Century, Ladakh was an independent kingdom, its dynasties descending from the Kings of Old Tibet. Its Political fortunes ebbed and flowed over the centuries, and the kingdom, was at its greatest 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. It recognized as the best trade route between the Punjab and Central Asia, for centuries it was traversed by caravans carrying textiles and spices, raw silk and carpets, dyestuffs and narcotics. Heedless of the land's 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 half way house, and developed into a bustling entrepot, its bazaars thronged with marchants from far countries.
Laddakh together with the neighboring 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 , Baltistan becoming part of Pakistan, while ladakh remained in India as part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Ladakh is a land like no other. Bounded by two of the world's mightiest mountain ranges, the Great Himalaya and the karkoram, it lies athwart two others, the Ladakh range and the Zanskar range, Geologically this is a young land, formed only a few million years ago by the backling and folding of the earth's crust as the Indian sub -continent pushed with irresistible force against the immovable mass of Asia. 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 drainage basins with evocative names like Tso-Moriri, Tso-kar , and grandest of all, Pangong-tso.
The Ladakh range, an extension of the Trans Himalayan Chain, is relatively lower than the other ranges and has no major ridges and peaks. The river Indus, after cutting through from the north, keeps to the south of range throughout its course in Ladakh, till it makes its exit and enters Baltistan, now in Pakistan. Another range bounds the Indus valley on its South -Western range flank, the Zanskar range. Zanskar Range lie two of the loveliest valleys of the region, the Suru and the Zanskar.
Ladakh lies at altitudes ranging from about 9,000 feet at Kargil to 25,170 feet at Saser Kangri in the Karakoram. Thus summer temperatures rarely exceed about 27 degree in the shade, while in winter they may plummet to minus 20 degree even in Leh. Surprisingly though, the thin air makes the heat of the sun even more intense than at lower altitude, 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.
People Religion And Calture
The traveller from India will look in vain for similarities between the land and people he has left and those he encounters in Ladakh. 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 from down the Indus. But Immigration from Tibet, perhaps the millennium or so ago, largely overwhelmed the culture of the Dards and Obliterated their racial characteristics. In Eastern and central Ladakh, todays 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.
Buddhism reached Tibet from India via Ladakh, and there are ancient Buddist rock engravings all over the region, even in areas like Dras and the lower Suru Valley which today are inhabited by an exclusively Muslim population. Islam too came from the west. A peaceful penetration of the Shia sect spearheaded by missionaries, its success was guaranteed by the early conversion of the sub-rulers of Dras, Kargil and the Suru Valley.
The demeanor of the people is effected by their religion, especially among the women. Among the Buddhists, as also the Muslims of the Leh areas, women not only work in the house and field, but also do business and interact freely with men other than their own relations. The Natural joie -de-vivre of the Ladakhis is given free rein by the ancient traditions of the region. Monastic and other religious festivals, many of which fall in winter, provide the excuse for convivial gatherings. Summer pastimes all over the region are archery and polo. Among the Buddhists , these often develop into open air parties accompanied by dance and song, at which chang, the local brew made from fermented barley, flows freely.
Of the secular culture, the most important element is the rich oral literature of songs and poems for every occasion, as well as local versions of the Kesar Saga, the Tibetan national epic.
Leh offers a variety of accommodation to suit almost every pocket or preference. Most hotels are family -run establishments and , as such , the services are more personalized than professional. Hotels are classified into A,B,C and Economy categories while Guest Houses fall under Upper , Medium and Economy class. Tariff quoted in the A and A and B category hotels includes all meals , a system followed by most establishments. Tariff in the top of the line hotels ranges between Rs. 2000 to 2300 per double room. However this is subject to change.
The Guest houses is a less formal facility offering rooms with a par tof residential house or its annexe, where the guests can share the family kitchen for meals. Apart from the low tariff offered for accommodation ranging from very good to merely basic, the guest house system also provided an opportunity for the tourists to see and experience Ladakhi life from the inside.
In the newly opened areas of the region, Nubra , Changthang and Dah Hanu Tourist infrastructure is not yet adequately developed. The State Tourist Department has started the development of accommodation facilities like tourist Complexes and Hiker's Huts at Tangse and Spangmik on the Pangong Lake circuit. Tourist can also seek accommodation as paying guests in a few selected homes in these places, though they would be well advised to travel fully equipped with personal sleeping bags and some tinned provisions to be on the safe side especially when visiting pangong and Tso-moriri Lake areas.
There are also some Government run Tourist Bungalows located mainly along the Srinagar -Leh road. These offer the best value in the medium range, but room availability is uncertain unless you hold a confirmed reservation. This is possible only if a written requisition has been sent to the Tourist office at Leh or Kargil in advance.