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Introduction

Ladakh is a region of Jammu and Kashmir, the northernmost state of the Republic of India. It lies between the Kunlun mountain range in the north and the main Great Himalayas to the south, inhabited by people of Indo-Aryan and Tibetan descent. It is one of the most sparsely populated regions in Kashmir.
"Ladakh, the Persian transliteration of the Tibetan La-dvags, is warranted by the pronunciation of the word in several Tibetan districts."
Historically, the region included the Baltistan (Baltiyul) valleys, the Indus Valley, the remote Zangskar, Lahaul and Spiti to the south, Aksai Chin and Ngari, including the Rudok region and Guge, in the east, and the Nubra valleys to the north.
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 Xinjiang to the far north. 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.

In the past Ladakh gained importance from its strategic location at the crossroads of important 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 Government of India has successfully encouraged tourism in Ladakh. Since Ladakh is a part of the Kashmir dispute, the Indian military maintains a strong presence in the region.
The largest town in Ladakh is Leh. It is one of the few remaining abodes of Buddhism in South Asia, including the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bhutan and Sri Lanka; 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.


History

Rock carvings found in many parts of Ladakh show 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.
Hemis Monastery in the 1870s

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 Ladakhi 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. The first spreading of Buddhism was the one in Tibet proper.

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. Due to massacres of Hindus in the valley they took refuge in the capital of India. There they became known as Kashmiri pandits.
Thikse Monastery, Ladakh

King Bhagan reunited and strengthened Ladakh and founded the Namgyal dynasty which survives to 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 Zanskar and Spiti. However, despite a defeat of Ladakh by the Mughals, who had already annexed Kashmir and Baltistan, it retained its independence.


Geography

Ladakh is the highest plateau of the Indian state of Kashmir with much of it being over 3,000 m (9,800 ft). 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 region of Xinjiang 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 to converge at Pulu. The geographical divide between Ladakh in the highlands of Kashmir and the Tibetan Plateau commences in the vicinity of Pulu. It 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 control, 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.[?][19] The peaks in the Ladakh range are at a medium altitude close to the Zoji-la (5,000–5,500 m or 16,000–18,050 ft), and increase towards south-east, culminating in the twin summits of Nun-Kun (7000 m or 23,000 ft).

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 4,400 m (14,436 ft) 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, that 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 70 km 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 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 with 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).
Monthly average temperature in Leh

The Ladakh range has no major peaks; its average height is a little less than 6,000 m (19,700 ft), and few of its passes are less than 5,000 m (16,400 ft). The Pangong range runs parallel to the Ladakh range about 100 km northwest from Chushul, along the southern shore of the Pangong Lake. Its highest range is 6,700 m (22,000 ft) and the northern slopes are heavily glaciated. The region comprising the valley of the Shayok 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–Siachen line include the Apsarasas group (highest point 7,245 m, 23,770 ft), the Rimo group (highest point 7,385 m, 24,230 ft) and the Teram Kangri group (highest point 7,464 m, 24,488 ft), together with Mamostong Kangri (7,526 m, 24691 ft) and Singhi Kangri (7,751 m, 25,430 ft). North of the Karakoram lies the Kunlun. Thus, between Leh and eastern Central Asia there is a triple barrier — the 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 in the region has been attributed to abnormal rain patterns and retreating 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 retreating glaciers.

The regions on the north flank of the Himalayas — Dras, the Suru valley and Zangskar — experience heavy snowfall and remain cut off from the rest of the region for several months in the year, as the whole region remains cut off by road from the rest of the country. Summers are short, though they are long enough to grow crops. The summer weather is dry and pleasant. Temperature ranges are from -3 to 30 °C in summer and from -20 to -35 °C in winter.


Government and politics

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 28 August 1995. The inaugural meeting of the council was held at Leh on 3 September 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, the 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 MP from Ladakh in the current Lok Sabha is Hassan Khan an Independent.

Although on the whole there has been religious harmony in Ladakh, religion has tended to be 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 to the 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.[citation needed] 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. A consortium of political parties formed in 2002 decided that a regional party should be formed under a single flag and carry on with the struggle for this status. Things changed when a few of the nominated candidates shifted sides and joined national and Kashmiri parties. Since then the political scene in Ladakh has been uncertain. While the LUTF demands union territory status for just the Leh district, the general consensus among the people in Kargil and Ladakh is that these districts be included in the demand. This Party lost prestige after it indulged in narrow-minded politics that led to the suspension of prestigious educational movements like the Operation New Hope, implemented jointly by the Students' Educational & Cultural Movement of Ladakh.


Culture

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). Edible without cooking, tsampa makes useful 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. As 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 of the surplus barley that is 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.


Education

According to the 2001 census, the overall literacy rate in Leh District is 62% (72% for males and 50% for females), and in Kargil District 58% (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. It is still in existence 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 international organisations, the school has grown to accommodate approximately two thousand pupils in several branches. It prides itself on preserving Ladakhi tradition and culture. The Druk White Lotus School under the guidance of His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa, spiritual head of the Drukpa Order (the dominant Buddhist sect in Ladakh and traditionally, the state religion of Ladakh) located in Shey is another school which aims at helping to maintain the cultural traditions of Ladakh with its missionary approach to teaching.

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


Media

The government radio broadcaster "All India Radio" and government television station "Doordarshan"[60] both have stations in Leh that broadcast local content for a few hours a day. Beyond that, Ladakhis themselves produce feature films that are screened in auditoriums and community halls. They are often made on fairly modest budgets.

There are also a handful of private news outlets.

* Rangyul or Kargil Number is a local newspaper of Ladakh in English and Urdu which is readily available from newspaper shops. It is published from Kashmir.
* reachladakh.com has Ladakhi reporters posting news regularly.
* Daily updated news of Ladakh can be accessed on visiteladakh.com.

Some publications that cover Jammu and Kashmir as a whole, also provide some coverage of Ladakh.

* The Daily Excelsior, claims to be "The largest circulated daily of Jammu and Kashmir".
* Epilogue, a monthly magazine covering Jammu and Kashmir.
* Kashmir Times, a daily newspaper covering Jammu and Kashmir


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