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Ladakh (Tibetan script: ལ་དྭགས་;Wylie: la-dwags, Ladakhi IPA:[lad̪ɑks], Hindi: लद्दाख़ IPA:[ləd̪ɑkʰ], Urdu: لدّاخ; "land of high passes") Situated in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir between the Kunlun mountain range in the north and the main Great Himalayas to the south. Ladakh, which is inhabited by people of Indo-Aryan and Tibetan descent, is one of the most sparsely populated regions in the area.

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. Historically, Ladakh was a Buddhist kingdom which included Baltistan and Aksai Chin which are now administered by Pakistan and China respectively. It had a strategic location at the crossroads of major 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 Indian Government has successfully encouraged tourism in Ladakh. Ladakh has been a focal point of numerous wars between India and Pakistan and the Sino-Indian War of 1962. The Saltoro ridge in the Siachen glacier region is an active military zone even today.

Today Ladakh consists of two districts — Leh and Kargil. The largest town in Ladakh is Leh. 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 showing 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, Nearchus, Megasthenes, Pliny, Ptolemy, 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.

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 Ladakh 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.

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 even 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. Ladakh was, however defeated by the Mughals, who had already annexed Kashmir and Baltistan, but it retained its independence.

In the late 17th century, Ladakh sided with Bhutan in its dispute with Tibet, which resulted in an invasion by Tibet. Kashmiri help restored Ladakhi rule on the condition of that a mosque be built in Leh and that the Ladakhi king convert to Islam. The Treaty of Temisgam 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. Starting from the 1850s, European influence increased in Ladakh — geologists, sportsmen and tourists started 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 was undecided whether to accede to the Indian Union or Pakistan. Eventually, the ruler 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 and 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 to 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, 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 Siachen glacier area in the north-east corner of Ladakh is the venue of a continuing military standoff since 1984 between India and Pakistan and the highest battleground in the world. The dispute arose because on non-demarcation of the boundary in the 1972 Simla Agreement beyond a point NJ 9842. Oropolitics by Pakistan and cartographic aggression by the United States Defense Mapping Agency in 1957 was eventually followed by a race to occupy the heights of the Saltoro Ridge which borders the Siachen 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 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 1993.

Ladakh is the highest plateau of the Indian state of Kashmir with much of it being over 3,000m (9,800ft). It spans the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges and the upper Indus River valley.

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 Khardung 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 territory of East Turkistan in Central Asia 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 which converges at Pulu. The geographical divide between Ladakh in the highlands of Kashmir and the Tibetan Plateau commences in the vicinity of Pulu and 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.

Before partition, Baltistan (now under Pakistani administration) was a district in 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 more stationary Eurasian Plate. The drift continues, causing frequent earthquakes in the Himalayan region. The peaks in the Ladakh range are at a medium altitude close to the Zoji-la (5,000–5,500m or 16,000–18,050ft), and increase towards south-east, reaching a climax in the twin summits of Nun-Kun (7000m or 23,000ft).

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 4,400m (14,436ft) 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, which still flows through India.

The Siachen 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 70km 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 (pass) 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 having 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 6,000m (19,700ft), and few of its passes are less than 5,000m (16,400ft). The Pangong range runs parallel to the Ladakh range about 100km northwest from Chushul, along the southern shore of the Pangong Lake. Its highest range is 6,700m (22,000ft), 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 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 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 Leh Nutrition Project, headed by Chewang Norphel, also known as the 'Glacier Man', currently creates artificial glaciers as one solution for this problem.

The regions on the north flank of the Himalayas — Dras, the Suru valley and Zangskar — experience heavy snowfall and remain virtually cut off from the rest of the country for several months in the year. Summers are short, though they are long enough to grow crops in the lower reaches of the Suru valley. The summer weather is dry and pleasant. Temperature ranges are from -3 to 30 °C in summer and from -20 to 15°C in winter. There is little moisture to temper the effects of rarefied air. Ladakh lies in the Very High Damage Risk cyclone zone.

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 have 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 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 Ladakh urial is another unique mountain sheep that inhabits the mountains of Ladakh. The population is however declining, and presently there are not more 3000 individuals left in Ladakh. Urial is endemic to Ladakh, where it is distributed only along two major river valleys: Indus and Shayok. The animal is often persecuted by farmers whose crops are allegedly damaged by the animal. The population of this animal 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 90-100cm. 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 the finest natural fiber and thus valued for its light weight and warmth status symbol. 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 held the Kiang responsible for pasture degradation . There are about 200 Snow Leopards in Ladakh. The Hemis High Altitude National Park in central Ladakh is especially a 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 .

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 August 28, 1995. The inaugural meeting of the council was held at Leh on September 3, 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, judicial system, communications and the higher education in the region.

Ladakh sends one member (MP) to the lower house of the Indian parliament the Lok Sabha. The current MP from Ladakh in the current Lok Sabha is Thupstan Chhewang of the Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF).

Although on the whole there has been religious harmony in Ladakh, religion has tended to get 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 into 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.

For centuries, Ladakh enjoyed a stable and self-reliant agricultural economy based on growing barley, wheat and peas, and keeping livestock, especially yak, cows, dzos (yak-cow cross breed), sheep and goats. At altitudes of 3,000 to 4,300m (10,000 to 14,000ft), 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 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 in 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 4,600m (15,100ft), which 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. 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, tourism industry, and new infrastructure have accelerated a mass migration from the farms into Leh town.

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 30,000 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 Manali to Ladakh, the Nubra valley, the Indus valley etc.

There are about 1,800km (1,100mi) of roads in Ladakh of which 800km (500mi) are surfaced. The majority of roads in Ladakh are looked after by the Border Roads Organisation.

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 has been sealed by the Chinese government. Other routes connected Ladakh to Hunza and Chitral but as with 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 (3,450m, 11,320ft) via Dras and Kargil (2,750m, 9,022ft) passing through Namika la (3,700m, 12,140ft) and Fatu la (4,100m, 13,450ft.) 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 (3,978m, 13,050ft), Baralacha la (4,892m, 16,050ft), Lungalacha la (5,059m, 16,600ft) and Taglang la (5,325m, 17,470ft), 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 multiple daily flights to Delhi on Jet Airways, Air Deccan, and Indian, 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 races, predominantly the Tibetans, Mons and the Dards. People of Dard descent predominate in Dras and Dha-Hanu areas. The residents of Dha-Hanu, known as Brokpa, are followers of Tibetan Buddhism and have preserved much of their original Dardic traditions and customs. The Dards around Dras, however, have converted to Islam and have been strongly influenced by their Kashmiri neighbours. The Mons are descendants of earlier Indian settlers in Ladakh. They work as musicians, blacksmiths and carpenters.

Unlike the rest of Jammu and Kashmir which is mainly Islamic, most Ladakhis in Leh District as well as Zangskar Valley of Kargil District are Tibetan Buddhist, while most of the people in the rest of Kargil District are Shia Muslims. There are sizeable minorities of Buddhists in Kargil District and of Shia Muslims in Leh District. There are some Sunni Muslims of Kashmiri descent in Leh and Kargil towns, and also Padum in Zangskar. There are a few families of Ladakhi Christians, who converted in the 19th century. Among descendants of immigrants, there are small numbers of followers of Hinduism, Sikhism, and the Bon religion. Most Buddhists follow the tantric form of Buddhism known as Vajrayana Buddhism. Shias are mostly found among the Balti and Burig people. Ladakhis are generally of Tibetan descent with some Dardic and Mon admixture. The Changpa nomads who live in the Rupshu plateau are more closely related to Tibetans. Since the early 1960s nomad numbers have increased as Chang Thang nomads from across the border flee Chinese-ruled Tibet. There are about 3,500 Tibetan refugees from all parts of Tibet in Leh District. However, since 2000 some nomads, notably most of the community of Kharnak, have abandoned the nomadic life and settled in Leh town. Muslim Arghons, descendants of Kashmiri or Central Asian merchants and Ladakhi women, mainly live in Leh and Kargil towns. 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 recent times.

The principal language of Ladakh is Ladakhi, a Tibetan dialect. 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 racial composition as well as the language of Leh is enriched with foreign influences. 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 and has been decreasing since the 1980s.

The Total Birth Rate 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.

The sex ratio for Leh district has declined from 1011 females per 1000 males in 1951 to 805 in 2001, while for Kargil district, it has 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 culture is similar to Tibetan culture. 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. Eatable without cooking, tsampa 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 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 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 surplus barley 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.

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 Kagyu tradition of Buddhism, holds an annual masked dance festival, as do all major Ladakhi monasteries. 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 different looms. Typical costumes include gonchas of velvet, elaborately embroidered waistcoats and boots, and hats. The Ladakh Festival is held every year from 1st to September 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.

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 was 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, and taking only enough of the property for their own sustenance, yield the headship of the family to him.

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 on to preserve the intellectual property rights of 'amchi' medicine for the people of Ladakh.Government has also been trying to promote the Seabuckthorn in form of juice and jam, as it is believed to possess many medicinal properties. It is also seen as a means of providing employment to the various self help groups in rural Ladakh.

There are many [NGO s][10] which are actively working to improve the life in Ladakh like [LEDeG][11], [Leho][12], [Leh Nutrition project][13] , Women's alliance etc. [LEDeG][14] has been working actively since 1971 by installing 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 58% in Kargil District (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 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. The school is still in existance 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, the sch international organisations the school has grown to accommodate approximately two thousand pupils in several branches. The school prides itself in preserving Ladakhi tradition and culture. The Druk White Lotus School, located in Shey is another school which aims at helping to maintain the cultural traditions of Ladakh.

Schools are well distributed throughout Ladakh, but 75% of them provide only primary education. 65% of the children attend school, but absenteeism of both students and teachers remains high. In both districts the failure rate at school-leaving level (class X) had 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.

Information on Ladakh before the birth of the kingdom (10th century) is scarce. The earliest layer in the population of Ladakh was probably composed of the Dardis. Herodotus 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, which is also later mentioned in connection with the Dardi people by Nearchus, the admiral of Alexander, and Megasthenes. In the 1st century, Pliny the Elder repeats that the Dards are great producers of gold. Herrmann brings arguments to show that the tale ultimately goes back to a hazy knowledge of gold-washing in Ladakh and Baltistan. Ptolemy situates the Daradrai on the upper reaches of the Indus, and the names Darada is used in the geographical lists of the Puranas.

The first glimpse of political history is found in the Kharosthi inscription of Uvima Kavthisa discovered near the K'a-la-rtse bridge on the Indus, showing that in around the 1st century, Ladakh was a part of the Kushana empire. A few other short Brahmi and Kharosthi inscriptions have been found in Ladakh. Hsuan-tsang describes a journey from Ch'u-lu-to (Kuluta, Kulu) 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.

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. In 634/5 Zanzun acknowledge Tibetan suzernaity for the first time, and in 653 a Tibetan commissioner (mnan) was appointed there. Regular administration was introduced in 662, and a unsuccessful rebellion broke out in 677. In 719 a census was taken, and in 724 the administration was reorganized. In 737, the Tibetans launched an attack against the king of Bru-za (Gilgit), who asked for Chinese help, but was ultimately forced to pay homage to Tibet. In 747, the hold of Tibet was loosened by the campaign of general Kao Hsien-chih, who tried to re-open the direct communications between Central Asia and Kashmir. After Hsien-chih's defeat against the Qarluqs and Arabs on the Talas river (751), Chinese influence decrease rapidly and Tibetan influence resumed. the geographical treatise Hudud-al-Alam (982) mentions Bolorian (Bolor = Po-lu, Baltistan) Tibet, where people are chiefly merchants and live in huts. Nestorian crosses, apparently due to Sogdian Christian merchants found in Drangtse is an evidence of the importance of trade in this region. After the collapse of the Tibetan monarchy in 842, Tibetan suzerainty vanished quickly.

By the beginning of the 19th century, the Mughal empire had collapsed, and Sikh rule had been established in Punjab and Kashmir. However the Dogra region of Jammu remained under its Rajput rulers, the greatest of whom was Maharaja Gulab Singh whose General Zorawar Singh invaded Ladakh in 1834. King Tshespal Namgyal was dethroned and exiled to Stok. Ladakh came under Dogra rule and was incorporated into the state of Jammu and Kashmir in 1846. It still maintained considerable autonomy and relations with Tibet.

In 1947, partition left Ladakh a part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, to be administered from Srinagar. In 1948, Pakistani raiders invaded Ladakh and occupied Kargil and Zanskar, reaching within 30km of Leh. Reinforcement troops were sent in by air, and a battalion of Gurkhas made its way slowly to Leh on foot from south. Kargil was a scene of fighting again in 1965, 1971, and 1999.

In 1949, China closed the border between Nubra and Sinkiang, blocking the 1000-year old trade route from India to Central Asia. In 1950, China invaded Tibet, and thousands of Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama sought refuge in India. In 1962, China occupied Aksai Chin, and promptly built roads connecting Sinkiang and Tibet, and the Karakoram Highway, jointly with Pakistan. India built the Srinagar-Leh highway during this period, cutting the journey time between Srinagar to Leh from 16 days to two. Simultaneously, China closed the Ladakh-Tibet border, ending the 700-year old Ladakh-Tibet relationship.

Since the early 1960s the number of immigrants from Tibet (including Changpa nomads) have increased as they flee the occupation of their homeland by the Chinese. Today, Leh has some 3,500 refugees from Tibet. They hold no passports, only customs papers. Some Tibetan refugees in Ladakh claim dual Tibetan/Indian citizenship, although their Indian citizenship is unofficial. Since partition Ladakh has been governed by the State government based in Srinagar, never to the complete satisfaction of the Ladakhis, who demand that Ladakh be directly governed from New Delhi as a Union Territory. They allege continued apathy, Muslim bias, and corruption of the state government as reasons for their demands. In 1989, there were violent riots between Buddhists and Muslims, provoking the Ladakh Buddhist Council to call for a social and economic boycott of Muslims, which was lifted in 1992. In October 1993, the Indian government and the State government agreed to grant Ladakh the status of Autonomous Hill Council. In 1995, the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council was created.

Ladakh is the highest altitude plateau region in India (much of it being over 3,000 m), straddling the Himalayan and Karakorum mountain ranges and the upper Indus River valley.

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. While the Himalayas were formed from the base material of the Indian plate, the Zanskar Range consists of layers of sediment from the ocean floor, and the Ladakh Range of granite was born of the immense heat generated by the friction between the two plates. In Ladakh, the suture zone between the continental masses runs a little to the south of the Indus Valley. The drift continues and is the cause of the frequent earthquakes in the Himalayan region. Crossing the Himalayas by the dip of the Zoji-la, the crest-line of the range remains at a relatively modest level, the highest peaks near the pass being little more than 5000-5500 m above sea level. South-east of Zoji-la the scale increases, reaching a climax in the mighty massif of Nun-Kun, with two summits over 7000 m.

The Suru and Zanskar valleys form a great trough at the foot of the northern, heavily glaciated flank of the Himalayas, while opposite rise the mountains of the Zanskar range. The Suru River forms the western and northern boundary of the Zanskar range. The Suru, after receiving the combined waters of the Dras and Shingo Rivers a short distance north of Kargil, joins the Indus at Marol in Baltistan, which is now on the Pakistan side of the Line of Control. Rangdum Monastery and the attendant village of Julidok is the last inhabited region in the Suru valley; it is also the destination of the nomadic herdspeople called Bakarwals, who trek up every summer from the Jammu region. From Rangdum the valley rises to 4400 metres at the 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, Skardo, and Padum. Rangdum, though on the northern side of the Pensi-la, is regarded as socially and culturally part of Zangskar rather than of Suru.

Zanskar consists of troughs of two rivers, the Stod (Doda) and the Lungnak (Tsarap Lingti). One of the Lungnak's main tributaries rises as the Tsarap far away to the east in Rupshu. A little away north of Bara-lacha-la it is joined by the Lingti and another tributary; it then flows north-west before turning abruptly south through a gorge and past Phugtal Gompa to join the Kargyak river descending from Shingo-la, that goes into Himachal Pradesh. The Stod carries meltwater of the Drang-drung glacier below the Pensi-la, and flows down a broad open valley, approaching the Lungnak. As the Zangskar river, their united waters flow northwards through a gorge in the Zanskar range, to join the Indus at Nyemo in Central Ladakh. Zanskar suffers heavy snowfall, and the Pensi-la opens only in June and is blocked again in mid-October. The entire valley is virtually treeless.

The Indus river is the backbone of Ladakh -- all the major places 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 6000 metres, and few of its passes are less than 5000 m. Within Ladakh it forms the northern boundary wall of the Indus valley, though when the river enters Ladakh at Demchok, some 250 km south-east of Leh, it is actually flowing along the foot of the northern flank of these granite mountains, which it crosses by a great gorge close to its confluence with the Hanle river. The Pang-gong range runs parallel to the Ladakh range some 100 km northwest from Chushul, along the southern shore of the Pang-gong Lake. It is divided from the main range by the Tangtse river. Its highest range is 6700 m, and the northern slopes are heavily glaciated.

The Shyok River rises just below the Karakoram Pass. The region comprising the valley of Shyok 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-Siachan line include the Apsarasas group (highest point 7245 m), the Rimo group (highest point 7385 m) and the Teram Kangri group (highest point 7464 m), together with Mamostong Kangri (7526m) and Singhi Kangri (7751 m.) North of the Karakoram lie the Kun-lun mountains. Thus, between Leh and eastern Central Asia, there is a triple barrier -- Ladakh range, Karakoram range, and Kun-lun. Nevertheless, a major trade route was established between Leh and Yarkand.

The enormous mass of the Himalayas creates a rain shadow, denying entry to the moisture-laden clouds of the Indian monsoon. Ladakh is thus, a high altitude desert. The main source of water is the winter snowfall on the mountains. 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. 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 rarefied air.

Naked barley (Urdu: grim), normal barley and wheat are the staple crops all over Ladakh, along with mustard (for oil), lentils and other pulses, and vegetables. The extreme limit of cultivation is at Korzok near Tso-Moriri Lake, at 4600 m, said to be the highest fields in the world.

Historic Ladakh consists of a number of distinct areas (mainly under Indian rule), including the fairly populous main Indus valley, the more remote Zanskar (in the south) and Nubra valleys (to the north over Khardung La in the Ladakh mountain range, a high motorable pass at 5359metres (17580ft)), the almost deserted Aksai Chin (under Chinese rule) and the predominantly Shi'ite Muslim Kargil and Suru valley areas in the west (Kargil being the second most important town in Ladakh).

The Baltistan and Skardu / Skardo area, under Pakistani rule and entirely Muslim, used to be included in what is geographically referred to as Ladakh. Before partition, Baltistan was one of the districts of Ladakh. Skardo was the winter capital of Ladakh while Leh was the summer capital. People of Baltistan and Ladakh speak very similar languages closely related to Tibetan.

The flora and fauna of Ladakh was first studied by Ferdinand Stoliczka, an Austrian/Czech palaeontologist, who carried out a massive expedition in the region in the 1870s. 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 of these birds reside or breed at high-altitude wetlands such as Tso Moriri.

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 (Ladakhi: ngangpa). The Black-necked Crane (trhung-trhung) is a rare species found scattered in the Tibetan plateau, and is also found nesting in summer in parts of Ladakh. Other birds include the Raven, Red-billed Chough (chungka), Tibetan Snowcock and Chukar (a partridge, srakpa) . The Lammergeier and the Golden Eagle are common raptors here.

A list of the bird species recorded is as follows:

The ibex (Ladakhi: skin) is found in high craggy terrain of Europe, North Africa and Asia, and numbers several thousand in Ladakh: trekkers often spot them. The Bharal or "blue sheep" (napo) is even more common, ranging in the Himalayas from Ladakh east as far as Sikkim. The Tibetan Urial sheep (shapo) is a rare goat found at lower elevations, mostly in river valleys, and therefore is often directly in competition with domesticated animals. They are now rare, numbering about one thousand. The Tibetan Argali sheep (nyan) is a relative of the Marco Polo sheep of the Pamirs. Impressive animals with huge horizontal curving horns, they are extremely rare in Ladakh, numbering only a couple hundred, but they do have a wide range throughout mountainous areas of the Chinese Provinces of Xinjiang, Qinghai, and Gansu. The habitat of the extremely rare Tibetan Gazelle (gowa) is near the Tibetan border in southeastern Ladakh. The musk deer (lhawa) has not been seen in Ladakh for decades if not generations.

The Tibetan Antelope, (Ladakhi: tsos, Indian English chiru) is also endangered. Early in the 20th century the chiru was seen in herds of thousands, surviving on remarkably sparse vegetation, but they are vanishingly rare now. It has been hunted for its fine under-wool (Urdu: shahtoosh, Ladakhi: tsoskul), which must be pulled out by hand, a process done after the animal is killed. This shahtoosh is valued in South Asia for its light weight and warmth, but more than anything else, as a status symbol. Owning or trading in shahtoosh is now illegal in most countries.

The Tibetan Wild Ass (Ladakhi: kyang) is one animal that visitors can expect to see from the comfort of a vehicle, if they take a jeep tour on the Changthang. Favouring the rolling grasslands of this area, their natural curiosity makes them fairly easy to spot, despite the relatively low numbers, about 1500 individuals.

The Snow Leopard (Ladakhi: shan) once ranged throughout the Himalaya, Tibet, and as far as the Sayan mountains on the Mongolian-Russian border; and in elevation from 1800m to 5400m. They are extremely shy and hard to spot, and as such not well known. It is believed there are about 200 in Ladakh. While tourists are unlikely to see leopards themselves, during winter the footprints and other marks are not uncommon. Other cats in Ladakh are even rarer than the snow leopard: the Lynx (ee), numbering only a few individuals, and the Pallas's cat, which looks somewhat like a house cat. The Tibetan Wolf (shangku) is the greatest threat to the livestock of the Ladakhis and as such is the most persecuted. There are only about 300 wolves left in Ladakh. There are also a very few brown bears (drenmo / tret) in the Suru valley and the area around Dras. The red fox is common, and Tibetan Sand Fox has recently been discovered in this region (both: watse).

Among smaller animals, marmots (Ladakhi: pheya) are common; you can even sometimes see them from the road, although they do not look very different from the marmots common to other mountainous areas of the world. There are also plenty of hares (ribong), and several types of voles and pika (both: rdzabra / zabra).

A full list of mammals based on Pfister is as follows:

Ladakh (Tibetan script: ལ་དྭགས་, Ladakhi IPA:[lad̪ɑks], Hindi: लद्दाख़, Urdu: لدّاخ; Hindi IPA:[ləd̪.d̪ɑːx]) , 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. The Indian portion of Ladakh is composed of the Leh and Kargil districts. The Leh district is the largest district of India, covering more than half the area of Jammu and Kashmir, of which it is the eastern part.

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. A large retinue of porters would carry huge canvas tents and collapsible string beds. 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.