WHERE IS LADAKH?
Before the flood
This is a short extract from The Magic Mountain, made by renowned film makers Pat and Baiba Morrow about Health Inc's work. For more information about
The Magic Mountain, visit Pat Morrow's website.
Rock engravings and archaeological finds indicate that the early inhabitants of Ladakh lived here for thousands of years. Nomadic tribes from Tibet were later joined by Buddhists from northern India called the Mons, and in the 4th and 5th centuries AD by the Indo-Aryan Dards.
Migrating along the course of the Indus, the Dards introduced irrigation and settled cultivation into this region. The Muslim Baltis came in from Central Asia to settle around Kargil. In Roman times, Ladakh was a major trading centre on the Silk Route between China and the Mediterranean. Buddhism was introduced in the region in the 9th century.
Towards the end of the 10th century, Ladakh came under the rule of the Thi dynasty, which established its capital at Shey. The Thi rulers built great forts and palaces, and also shifted their religious order more towards Tibetan Buddhism with its strong tantric aspects. In 1533, Soyang Namgyal established the Namgyal dynasty, which extended its empire up to the outskirts of Lhasa. The capital was shifted to the more strategically located Leh, where the descendants of the Namgyal dynasty still live. In the late 16th and 17th century, Ladakh was invaded by the Muslim Baltis. The spate of expansion of the Ladakhi empire halted for some time, and the rulers spent more time in building monasteries including the famous Hemis gompa, and spreading Buddhism across their kingdom. Relations with Tibet soured when the 5th Dalai Lama enlisted the Mongols to invade Ladakh. Threatened by the terrible Mongol army, the Namgyal ruler asked the Mughal governor of Kashmir to help.
Ladakh lost its independent status and became an extension of the Mughal empire. Trade links were resumed with Tibet in the 18th century. The Dogra rulers of Jammu captured Ladakh in 1834; the royal family was dethroned and removed from their palace in Leh, moving to the Stok Palace, where they continue to live today.
In the years after India’s independence, Chinese troops occupied Aksai Chin, which they claimed to be part of China. Though contested by India, the territorial dispute has never been settled. In 1962, China launched a full-scale war on India, with Ladakh as one of the fronts. In the aftermath of this war, Ladakh grew in importance as a military base. Due to its sensitive location, Ladakh was opened up for tourists in 1974.
Ladakh translates to Land of the High Passes, and it certainly merits this name with its multitude of towering mountain ranges, river valleys and high plateaus. The Karakoram Range isolates the northern border and contains the highest peak in Ladakh, Saser Kangri at 7,672m. The Himalayan Range along the southern and eastern border contains two 7,000m peaks, Nun and Kun. Popular trekking peaks are Stok Kangri (6,121m) in the Stok Range and Kang Yatse (6,401m) in the Zanskar Range.
Routes over the high passes of Ladakh were established centuries ago by the caravan traders and by the local people. Some of these routes have been developed into motorable roads. The road from Srinagar to Leh via Kargil crosses the Himalayas over the Zoji La (pass) at 3,530m, and then over the Namika La at 3,719m and the Fotu La at 4,094m before descending by the Lamayuru Monastery and down into the Indus Valley. The road from Manali must cross the Lachlung la at 5,060m and the Taglang La at 5,328m. The world’s highest motorable road from Leh to the Nubra Valley crosses the Kardung La at 5,602m. The road from Kargil to Padum in the Zanskar Valley passes over the Fentse La at 4,450m.
Several major river systems flow through Ladakh. The Indus River enters Ladakh in the east, from its origin near Mount Kailash in Tibet, and flows to the western side into northern Pakistan, where it then flows south to Arabian Sea near Karachi. The Indus forms a broad valley about 10km wide between the Ladakh and Stok Ranges near Leh. In Zanskar, located between the Zanskar and Himalayan Ranges, the Stod and Tsarap Rivers join to form the Zanskar River, which eventually cuts through deep gorges in the Zanskar Range and flows into the Indus River at Nimoo. The Shyok River flows south from its origin in the disputed area of Aksai Chin and then turns northwest, flowing between the Ladakh and Karakoram Ranges. Its tributary, the Nubra River, originates in the Saichen glacier and gives its name to the valley. The Suru River flows in western Ladakh before joining with the Drass River at Kargil and flowing into Kashmir.
The high plains of eastern Ladakh contain several large brackish lakes. The largest is Pangong Tso, which extends into Tibet. The Rupshu plains to the south contain the lakes of Tso Moriri and Tso Kar.
Most common animals found here are - Yak, the largest animal found in Ladakh, Nyan, the largest sheep in the world, Bharal, the blue sheep and Urial, the smallest sheep in the world.
The wild yak is to be found only here. The snow leopard is Ladakh's most rare animal. Another one that is unique is the “Kyang” or the wild horse. Visitors are likely to spot many marmots, mouse hares, stone martens, red foxes, wolves, ibex, bharal and shapu during the course of their journey but the habitat of the nyan (big horned sheep), chim (Tibetan antelope famed for its Shahtoosh fleece), goat (Tibetan gazelle), lynx, pallas cat, kyamg (wild horse) and brong dong (wild yak) are still outside the tourists' sphere. The Kyang, or Tibetan wild ass, is common in the grasslands of Changthang, numbering about 1,500.
There are about 200 Snow Leopards in Ladakh, especially in Hemis High Altitude National Park. The Tibetan Wolf sometimes preys on the livestock of the Ladakhis. 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.