For close on 900 years from the middle of the 10th century, Ladakh was an
independent kingdom , its dynasties descending from the king of old Tibet.
Its political fortunes ebbed and flowed over the centuries, and the
kingdom, was at its greatest in the early 17th century under the famous
king Sengge Namgyal, whose rule extended across Spiti and western Tibet up
to the Mayumla beyond the sacred sites of Mount Kailash and Lake
And gradually, perhaps partly due to the fact that it was politically
stable, in contrast to the lawless tribes further west, Ladakh became
recognized as the best trade route between the Pubjab and Central Asia.
For centuries it was travered by caravans carrying textiles and spices,
raw silk and carpets, dyestuffs and narcotics.
Religion & Culture
The traveller from India will look in vain for similarities between the
land and people he has left and those he encounters in Ladakh. The faces
and physique of the Ladakhis, and the clothes they wear, are more akin to
those of Tibet and Central Asia than of India. The original population may
have been Dards, an Indo-Aryan race from down the Indus. But immigration
fromTibet, perhaps a millennium or so ago, largely overwhelmed the culture
of the Dards and obliterated their racial characteristics. In eastern and
central Ladakh, today's population seems to be mostly of Tibetan origin.
Further west, in and arond Kargil, there ismuch in the people's appearance
that suggests a mixed origin. The exception to this generalizationis the
Arghons, a community of Muslims in Leh, the descendants of marriages
between local women and Kashmiri or Central Asian merchants.
Ladakh lies at altitudes ranging from about 9,000 feet (2750m) at Kargil
to 25,170 feet (7,672m) at Saser Kangri in the Karakoram. Thus summer
temperatures rarely exceed about 27 degree celcuis in the shade, while in
winter they may plummet to minus 20 degree celcuis even in Leh.
Surprisingly, though, the thin air makes the heat ofthe 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!