97,000 sq kms out of which nearly 38,000 sq. kms are under Chinese
Occupation since 1962.
Population: Approx. 2.40 lakh in the 2 districts of Leh &
Languages: Ladakhi including Balti / Purgi, Shina or Dardic,
Urdu / Hindi.
Ethnic composition: Mongoloid/Tibetan, Dardic and assorted
Altitude: Leh 3505 m, Kargil 2750 m.
Ladakh is a land abounding in awesome physical features, set in an
enormous and spectacular environment. Bounded by two of the
world's mightiest mountain ranges, the Karakoram in the north and
the Great Himalaya in the south, it is traversed by two other
parallel chains, the Ladakh Range and the Zanskar Range.
geological terms, this is a young land, formed a few million years
ago. Its basic contours, uplifted by tectonic movements, have been
modified over the millennia by the process of erosion due to wind
and water, sculpted into the form that we see today.
Virtually Rainless Area
Today a high-altitude desert, sheltered from the
rain-bearing clouds of the Indian monsoon by the barrier of the
Great Himalaya, 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 the drainage basins or lakes of
Tso-moriri, Tso-kar and Pangong-tso. But the main source of water
is winter snowfall.
For the rest of the region, the snow on the peaks is virtually the
only source of water. As the crops grow, the villagers pray not
for rain, but for sun to melt the glaciers and liberate their
water. Usually their prayers are answered, for the skies are clear
and the sun shines for over 300 days in the year.
Dras, Zanskar and the Suru Valley on the Himalaya's northern
flanks receive heavy snow in winter, this feeds the glaciers from
which melt water, carried down by streams, irrigates the fields in
summer. For the rest of the region, the snow on the peaks is
virtually the only source of water. As the crops grow, the
villagers pray not for rain, but for sun to melt the glaciers and
liberate their water.
the capital of Ladakh is situated at a height of 3505 meters. Leh
is a beautiful destination with so many attractions and is the
center of Tibeto-Buddhist Culture for ages. Its colorful gompas
have attracted the devout Buddhists from all over the globe.
Besides, it is also a favorite hiking locale and is known for some
of the best hikes in the country.
approaches Leh for the first time, via the sloping seep of dust
and pebbles that divide if from the floor of the Indus Valley, one
will have little difficulty imagining ho
w the old trans -Himalayan traders must have felt as they plodded
in on the caravan routes from Yarkhand and Tibet: a mixture of
relief at having crossed the mountains in one piece, and
anticipation of a relaxing spell in one of central Asia's most
scenic and atmospheric towns.
Spilling out of a side valley that tapers north towards eroded
snow-capped peaks, the Ladakhi capital sprawls from the foot of a
ruined Tibetan style palace - a maze of mud-mud brick and concrete
flanked on one side by cream-coloured desert, and on the other by
a swathe of lush irrigated farmland
has nonetheless retained a more tranquil side, and is a pleasant
place to unwind after a long bus journey. Attractions in and
around the town itself include the former Palace and Namgyal Tsemo
Gompa, perched amid strings of prayer flags above the narrow dusty
streets of the Old Quarter.
A short walk north across the fields, the small monastery of
Sankar harbours accomplished modern Tantric murals and a thousand
beaded Avalokitesvara (also spelt as Avalokiteshvara) deity.
Leh is also a good base for longer day trips out into the Indus
Valley. Among the string of picturesque villages and Gompas within
reach by bus are Shey, site of a derelict 17th century palace, and
the Spectacular Tikse Gompa. Until one has adjusted to the
altitude, however, the Only sightseeing one will probably feel up
to will be from a guesthouse roof terrace or garden, from where
the snowy summits of the majestic Stok-Kangri massif (6,120m),
magnified in the crystal clear Ladakhi sunshine, look close enough
This is small but more interesting place to visit than the Leh
Gompa and can easily be visited on foot. The Sankar Gompa is an
under Gompa of Spitok Gompa. At the most only 20 monks live here
and few are permanently in residence although the monastery itself
is fairly active. Thus the Gompa is only open to the public from
7.00 am to 10.00 am and from 5.00 to 7.00 pm. It is, however, well
lit, so an evening visit is worthwhile. At these times the monks
will welcome the visitors and may offer one yak butter tea, 'Tsampa'
and boiled and spiced mustard plant.
When one had enough of the bazaar, head past the new green and
white painted Jami Masjid at the top of the street, and follow one
of the lanes that lead into the old town. Apart from the odd
electric cable, nothing much has changed here since the warren of
flat roofed houses, crumbling 'Chortens', 'Mani' Walls and narrow
sandy streets was laid down late in the 16th century - least of
all the plumbing.
definitely worth walking through the putrid smelling puddles to
visit, however, is the Chamba temple. It's not easy to find on
your own; ask at the second row of shops on the left after the big
arch for the key keeper (gonyer), who will show you the way.
Hemmed in by dilapidated medieval mansions, the one roomed shrine
houses a colossal image of Maitreya, the Buddha to come, and some
wonderful old wall paintings.
old palace of the kings of Ladakh overlooks the town from the
southwest slope of the Tsemo hill. It has eight storeys and was
built by King Sengge Namgyal in the 16th century, at much the same
time as the famed Potala of Lhasa - which it resembles. The damage
to the palace, one side is gaping open, stems from the Kashmiri
invasions of the last century. Like the Shey palace the Leh palace
still belongs to the Ladakhi royal family, who now live in their
palace in Stok.
The Leh Gompa stands high above the palace and also overlooks the
ruins of the older palace of the King of Tagpebums. The Red Gompa
also known as Namgyal Tsemo Gompa was built in 1430 by King
Gvags-Pa-Bum-Ide and has a fine three-storey high seated Buddha
figure flanked by Avalokitesvara on the right and Manjushri on the
left. In all there are three Gompas at the top of the hill, the
topmost one is in a very ruined condition but offers extremely
fine views over Leh and the surrounding countryside. To the right
of the palace one can see a Buddha painted on the rocks, a remnant
of an earlier monastery.
Other Leh Gompas
There are a number of lesser Gompas in the old town of Leh - such
as the Guru Lakhang to the left of the palace, beneath the large
Chorten. The Chamba Lakhang, south of the palace, and the
Chenrezig Lakhang, to the southeast, are similarly less famous
since they contain little of interest compared to other more
splendid Gompas around Leh. In the centre of Leh the Buddhist
association of Ladakh in 1957 built the new monastery or Gompa
Soma or Jokhang. It contains an image of the Buddha Sakyamuni that
was brought form Tibet. Meetings of the Buddhist association are
held in this monastery.
The Leh fort, built by Zorawar Singh, contains three temples but
cannot be visited because it is within the military camp area.
relatively new addition to the rocky skyline around Leh is the
toothpaste white Shanti Stupa above Changspa village, 3-km west of
the bazaar. Inaugurated in 1983 by the Dalai Lama, the "Peace
Pagoda", whose sides are decorated with gilt panels depicting
episodes from the life of the Buddha, is one of several such
monuments erected around India by a "Peace Sect" of
The Ecology Centre
Five minutes' walk north of the main bazaar, the Ecology centre
(Monday-Saturday 10.00 am - 5.00 pm) is the headquarters of LEDeG
(the Ladakh Ecological Development Group) - a local non
governmental organization that aims to counter the negative impact
of western style "development" by fostering economic
independence and respect for traditional culture. This involves
promoting "appropriate" technologies such as solar
energy, encouraging organic farming and cottage industries, and
providing education on environmental and social issues through
village drama, workshops and seminars.
The garden hosts an open-air exhibition of solar gadgets,
hydraulic pumps, water mills and other ingenious energy saving
devices that have proved successful throughout Ladakh. There's
also a small library, and a handicraft shop, selling locally made
clothes, 'Thangkas', T-shirts, books and postcards.
Secmol (The Student's Educational And Cultural Movement Of
Ladakh) was founded in 1988 by Ladakhi university students through
a problematic educational system. At present the curriculum,
devised in Srinagar and taught in Urdu and English, does not cover
subjects of local relevance. In the hope of maintaining pride in
Ladakh's traditions, SECMOL teaches local history and runs
workshops on handicrafts, agriculture and technology. Volunteer
help from TEFL qualified visitors is appreciated at the summer
schools run just outside Leh. If one likes to help, or want to
meet members of SECMOL, write in advance (To - SECMOL, Chubi Katpa,
Leh), or drop into their office on the northern outskirts of town
(Monday-Saturday 2.00-6.00 pm), ten minutes' walk up the hill from
Ali Shah's Postcard Shop.
Weather of The Cold Desert
lies at altitudes ranging from about 9,000 feet (2,750m) at Kargil
to 25,170 feet (7,672m) at Saser Kangri in the Karakoram. Thus
summer temperatures rarely exceed about 270 C in the shade, while
in winter they may plummet to -200 C even in Leh. Surprisingly,
though, the thin air makes the heat of the sun even more intense
than at lower altitudes; 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!