Ladakh or the ‘Land of High Passes’ is barren yet beautiful region located in Jammu and Kashmir state in northern India. Cut off from the rest of the country for major part of the year, Ladakh shares its east border with Tibet, Lahaul and Spiti to the south and Valley of Kashmir to its west.
Strategically placed on ancient trade routes, Ladakh lies between the Kunlun Mountains in the north and the Himalayas in the south.
In the past the region comprised of Baltistan valleys, the Indus Valley, Zanskar, Lahaul and Spiti, Aksai Chin and Ngari which included Rudok and Guge and Nubra Valley. The main inhabitants of the region are of Indo-Aryan and Tibetan descent. Majority of Ladakhis are Tibetan Buddhists and the rest are mainly Shia Muslims.
The beauty of Ladakh – snowcapped peaks, clean blue sky and vistas of barren mountains broken only by blue meandering rivers – has attracted the intrepid traveler since the region was opened to tourists in the 1970s.
Tourism is the main source of livelihood for Ladakhis. Indian Army maintains a strong presence in Ladakh due to its strategic location.
Ladakh is a favorite with trekking and mountaineering enthusiasts. The scenic beauty, rugged terrain, majestic mountains and the challenge of roughing it out, has been a heady cocktail for those looking for a rush of adrenalin.
Because of its remote location and high altitude, Ladakh is not for those looking for a quick holiday. You need time on your hands and oodles of patience. Time, as you need a while to get acclimatized. Modernity is yet to reach the region which has helped preserve its natural, rustic splendour.
In 842 AD, Nyima-Gon founded a Ladakhi dynasty of his own. The dynasty led to the second spreading of Buddhism which bore religious ideas from the north west of India.
In the 13th century, Ladakh faced the Islamic invasion. Ladakh was subjected to raids and conquests from many neighbouring Muslim kingdoms for nearly two centuries and this led to partial conversion of Ladakhis to Islam.
From 1984, Ladakh became the highest battleground in the world with regular military stand offs between India and Pakistan.
In 1999, Pakistani troops infiltrated parts of western Ladakh. They captured Kargil, Dras, Batalik and Mushkoh which overlooked the Srinagar-Leh highway. At a heavy cost, India managed to expel the infiltrators.
Due to the strong influence of Tibet and its culture, Ladakh is also known as ‘Little Tibet’.
Dances are part of the Ladakh’s culture and figures high on the itinerary of tourists. Losar or the New Year is celebrated at a grand level. Jabro dance which involves the stringed instrument DaMian is performed on the day.
Drugpa-Rches is a performed by settlers of Dras and is named so because the settlers were at one point nomads or Drugpas. Donning silver ornaments and flowers, men and women dance to the tune of ‘Dammans’ (two kettledrums that are named Fo and Mo symbolizing the two genders). These instruments are played with little sticks called ‘Damshing’. The kettledrum which is named Fo has a hole at the bottom to add water and lower its sound.
Yak dance is another must see during a trip to Ladakh. Men dress up as yaks and start swaying slowly to the rhythm. The women dress up as milkmaids and try to tame the yaks.
Every February, the dance of Dosmoche is performed in the Leh palace’s courtyard after a procession in the main bazaar by black hat dancers followed by masked dance by Lamas and sacrificial offerings at its climax.
There is even a war dance held in Hemis during the Feast of the Snowy Heights.
Buddhist artifacts, tangkhas (paintings), prayer wheels, copper samovars, wooden masks, silver, turquoise and coral jewelry, pashmina and cashmere shawls, hand woven blankets and rugs and woolen garments.
Where to stay
There are a plethora of options for accommodation in Ladakh to suit every budget. From family run establishments, to guest houses to budget hotels to rooms in monasteries, Ladakh offers it all.
The maximum options are available in Leh with accommodation options ranging from guest houses in Changsva, budget hotels near the Central Library in Leh to luxury hotels on Old Sheynam Road.
Camps and hikers huts are a common feature in Nubra, Changthang and Drok-pa area during the summer months. Tourist camps spring up every season in Korzok village too.
Where to eat
From street-side stalls, restaurants, cafes to garden restaurants, Ladakh offers several options in terms of places to eat. A wide variety of cuisine from Tibetan, Korean, Chinese, Indian and Continental cuisine are also available. While in Ladakh, do not forget to try the local specialties like Momos and Marchwangan Korma. And do try the local tea made from yak’s butter.
Best time to visit
Best time to go for Ladakh is from June to October. This is the time when most of the trekking routes and road routes are open. July to August is the peak season and also the time when Manali-Leh route and Srinagar-Leh highway remain open.