Covering an area of over 86,906km2, Ladakh is home to over 2lakh people. During the summers, the temperature ranges from 3 to 35°C while winter faces a scale of -20 to -35 °C. Apart from the official language Ladakhi, the population of Ladakh also speaks Urdu, Tibetan, Balti and Kashmiri. The ideal season for visiting Ladakh is between the months of Early June and October. History: Prior to 7th century, Ladakh remains historically unknown. Nomads who essentially were herders of yak were the first inhabitants of the areas. As time passed, the Buddhist pilgrims on their journeys to Mount Kailash began setting up settlements on the banks of Indus River which gradually became permanent residences. 7th and 8th century saw the ‘Tibetanization’ of Ladakh that concluded with the establishment of Buddhism as the most prominent religion. 9t century marked the expansion of Buddhist kingdoms of Ladakh till Kashmir. Ladakh reigned as an independent kingdom for over 900 years. The protection of the area was ensured through the forts and monasteries which were strategically placed. In the face of diverse competing sects, 14th century welcomes Tsongkhapa, a Tibetan pilgrim who set up the Gelukpa order and spread the order’s philosophy. Muslim armies from Kashmir intermittently attacked the region post-1531 laying ground from the rule of Ali Mir of Balistan in the 16th century. Buddhism continued to dominate the region once the Namgyal kingdom was set up with capital of Lef in the 17th century. Namgyal reign is celebrated for holding the best trade route between regions Central Asia and Punjab. The items of trade included carpets, textiles, dye materials, spices and narcotics. Since Leh was located approximately at half the journey distance between Amritsar and Yarkand, it became a resting-home to the travelers. In the 18th and 19th century, Ladakh became victim to the weak rule of feeble kings. In 1846, Ladakh became part of the Dogra kingdom of Jammu and subsequently, 1996 welcomed Ladakh as a ‘Union Territory’ of India with the creation of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council.
Around Ladakh: On one side, the Zanskar range and on the other, Suru and Zanskar valleys form the gateway to the gleaning whites of the Himalayas. The Zanskar range is surrounded by the Suru River on the west and north. Waiting a short distance from Kargil to the noth, the Suru river opens its arms to the waters of Dras and Shingo River making its way to join the Indus at Marol (Baltistan). Today, Baltistan is located in Pakistan. Suru Valley is home to only two habitable places: Rangdum Monastery and Julidok village. Bakarwals, the nomadic herds-population also move across the destination on their summer treks beginning from Jammu. The entrance to Zanskar is formed in the lap of Pensi-la at the height of 4400 meters above Rangdum. Being almost of equal distance (approximately 230km) to Srinagar, Skardo, Leh and Padum, Kargil had been the economic trade hub in the Suru Valley playing the role of staging post to various trade-caravans prior to 1947. The Zangskar valley has seen Rangdum majorly as a social and cultural site.
Zanskar: Consisting of river channels of Lungnak (Tsarap Lingti) and Stod (Doda), Tsarap awakens in Far East of Rupshy as Lungnak’s prime tributary. After traveling north of Bara-lacha-la for a little while, it is accompanied by Lingti and another stream. They continue to flow in the north west direction before taking a sharp turn south through a canyon waving across PhugalGompa to unite with the Kargyak river. The latter reaches the point from Shingo-la which travels into Himachal Pradesh. Lungnak also meets with Stod which gushes down the melt-water of Drang-drung glacier with it to the lower region of Pensi-la. United as the Zangskar River, they surge towards the north and through a ravine in the range of Zanskar to ultimately meet Indus at Nyemo (Central Ladakh). Devoid of trees, the region of Zanskar faces heavy snowfall and Pensi-la remains open to the public only between June and mid-October. The Indus River plays the role of supporting spine for Ladakh- being abode to the significant regions of the past and present. The major places of the present include Basgo, Shey, Tingmosgang and Leh. Without any prime peaks, Ladakh range stands at the height of approximately 6000 meters. Some of the passes range less than 5000m in their heights. Thought the Ladakh range stands as the frontier of Indus valley to the north of Ladakh, Demchok (located about 250km south-east of Leh) forms the entrance of Indus river into Ladakh such that it streams through the belly of the northern border of these rocky mountains. The river passes through these mountains by a vast canyon nearing its convergence with the Hanle River. A glimpse at the southern coast of the Pang-gong Lake lays bare the parallel walk of Pang-gong range with Ladakh range (situated about 100km north west from Chushul). The Pang-gong range is separated from its parent ranges by the Tangtseriver. With deeply glaciated slopes on the north, its highest range approximates 6700m. The Nubra-region consists of the valleys of Shyok and Nubra rivers. The Shyok river originates in the lower region of the Karakoram Pass. The Baltistan Range of Ladakh stands more magnificent than the Karakoram Range. In the north-eastern region of the Nubra-Siachan line, we can find a line of giant mountain groups, namely: Apsarasas (highest point of 7245m), SinghiKangri (highest point of 7751m), TeramKangri (highest point of 7464m), MamostongKangri (highest point of 7526m) and Rimo (highest point of 7385m).The Kun-lun mountains form the northern part of the Karakoram. The existence of three barriers (Ladakh range, Kun-lun and Karakoram range) between the regions of eastern Central Asia and Leh did not weaken the trading spirit which was established between Yarkand and Leh. The rain-wrought clouds of Indian monsoon are restricted entrance to Ladakh by the grandiose body of the Himalayas which produces a rain shadow. This makes Ladakh a desert in high-altitude. The winter snowfall on the mountains remains the prime source of water for the region. Heavy snowfall covers the northern part of the Himalayas (including Suru, Dras and Zanskar valley) owing to which it remains closed for a major part of the year. The short summers become the breeding grounds for crops. Due to the lack of vegetation, there is low proportion of oxygen in many of these places. Moreover, the effect of lowly oxygenated air can also not be counteracted by moisture which is in inadequate amounts. Ladakh lives on normal barley, wheat and naked barley (known as ‘grim’ in Urdu). Lentils, mustard (in oil form) and other pulses are also utilized. Cultivation reaches an end in the Korzok area located near the Tso-Moriri Lake. Situated at a height of 4600, it is one of the highest fields across the world.
WILDLIFE : Hoopoe and Indian redstart are common residents of Ladakh in summer. Few lakes of Changthang and banks of Indus river witness the stay of Brown-headed Gull as well. Barhead goose, Brahmini duck and Ruddy Sheldrake are some of the other migratory birds of the region. Ladakh and Tibet are the lone home to the Black Necked Crane (Picture: Right-side) which is a high-altitude bird. Other high-altitude avian groups include Red-Billed Chough, Chukor, Tibetan Racen and Snow-cock. The rocky territory located at high-altitudes houses Ibex (Picture: Right-side). Trekking opens windows to watching thousands of them in Ladakh. To the east, from Ladakh and uptil Sikkim, it is also possible to sight Blue Sheep or Bharal without difficulty. Bharal stands intermediate between sheep and goat, without belonging truly in any of these. Marmots is also categorized as another commonly found fauna in the region. The juicy grasslands of Ladakh form cozy homes to the Tibetan Wild Asses or Kyang. They can be spotted easily even though it is unfortunate that only about 1500 of them remain.
RARER ANIMALS OF LADAKH : Mainly found in the river valleys, Urial is a goat also known as Shapo. Among other rarer animals of the Ladakh region are Argali and Chiru. While Argali (also called Nayan) is characterized by its colossal horizontally curving horns, the lightweight and warm hand-pulled wool procured from Chiru is known as Shahtoosh. However, due to their endangered position, it is illegal to sell the wool. Due to the threat posed towards the livestock, the Tibetan Wolf is hunted down. Currently, there are reports of only 300 remaining wolves. Low in number, spanning only about 200, the Snow Leopard is Ladakh’s apple of the eye. Due to their introvert nature and difficulty in spotting, it is not possible to reach out to them and thus, tourists can find the marks and footprints left by the animal comfortably through a certain region. The best season to watch a Snow Leopard is the winter season when they move down to lower altitudes to search for prey.