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Ladakh: Land of High Passes


Ladakh lies between the Kunlun moutain range on the North and Himalaya range on south. Orginally the Indo-Aryan and Tibetan lived there. Ladakh due to its location holds a great geo strtagic importance.


The earliest population have been trace to the Dards or Brokpas. Many ancient writings by the Greek historians such as Herodotus and Megasthenes have confirmed the same. During the 1st century Leh was under the rule of the Kushan Empire. This can be proved through the Kharoshti inscription discovered near Khalatse Bridge. Till the 15th century, it was an independent dynasty and was ruled by the local Tibetan Royal Family. Nyima-Gon was the first one to establish the Ladakh dynasty after the Tibetan Empire broke in 842 CE. 

During this period there was spread of Buddhism and Tibetan religion and culture across the region. Also, this lead to the construction of several monasteries in Ladakh, like the Upper Manahris Monastery.

Ladakh was divided into upper and lower Ladakh. While the upper Ladakh was ruled by King Takbumde from Leh and Shey, the later was ruled by King Takpabum from Basgo and Temisgam. It was later that a king from lower Ladakh, Bhagan defeated the King of Leh and took over it. This was the starting of the Namgyal dynasty which is present till date. 

During the period of Sengge Namgyal, as a ruler the growth and development in Ladakh was in full swing. He got the Leh Palace built up and shifted his home and administration there from Shey Palace. His kingdom expanded to Zanskar and Spiti. 

Deldan Namgyal became the next ruler after Sengge Namgyal was defeated by the Mughals. As a symbol between the Mughals and Deldan Namgyal, Aurangzeb built a mosque in Leh. 

After the collapse of the Mughal Empire, in 1834 the Leh region came under the rule of the Dogras when General Zorawar Singh dethroned and exiled Tshespal Namgyal the then ruler of Ladakh. 

In May 1841, the Qing Dynasty tried to conquer the regions which lead to the Sino-Sikh war. However, they were defeated and Treaty of Chushul was signed among the two which stated no interference into the territories. But it was under the British Rule that Ladakh was included into the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. 

After the Independence of India in 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh had yet to decide the whether to side with India or Pakistan. In the meanwhile, in 1948 the Pakistani raiders invaded and occupied Kargil and Zanskar. With the signing of Instrument of Accession, the Union of India sent the troops to the Princely State to prevent further invasion and thus this included the State to become the part of India.


Ladakh is a part of India and is surrounded by major regional powers including Pakistan, China, Afghanistan, and Tibet. Its location is very important as it was a major trade route. It has Kunlun mountain range in the north and the main Great Himalayas to the south. Previously the region included the Baltistan valley (now administrated by Pakistan), the remote of Spiti and Zanskar, upper Indus valley, Ngari and Akshai chin in the northeast. 

As it is the highest altitude plateau in the Indian region, Ladakh climate is regarded as harsh and extremely dry. It is also referred to as the cold desert. Due its high altitude, it creates the Rain Shadow and denies the monsoon clouds. Indus River and its major tributaries, the Shyok-Nubra, Chang Chenmo, Hanle, Zanskar, and Suru-dras rivers are the main source of water for the region.  

The vegetation is less due to the weather and the soil type. The crops either grow in the valley or the irrigated areas. It is low on organic content and also has poor water retention capacity. The soil is rough and sandy in texture with qualities similar to pebbles. 

Due to the extreme winters the region remains shut from the rest of India. Dras, the Suru valley and Zangskar experience extreme snow fall and Dras is regarded as the second coldest place on earth. 


Historically, this region was inhabited by Indo-Aryan and Tibetan descent. According to Unique Identification Aadhar India, updated 31, May 2020, the projected population of Ladakh by mid of year 2020 is 289,023 belonging to different caste and cultures. 

Dard descent people settle in the areas of Dras and Dha-Hanu. Dhahanu people, who are originally known as Brokpa, practice Tibetan Buddhism. The have continued to preserve their culture and traditions. They till date don’t marry out of their clan. The major population of Dards have majorly converted into Islam. The main reason of the same is majorly due to the exchange of cultural activities in and out around the region.

The Ladakh region has two constituencies one being Leh and the other one is Kargil. In the Leh district and small portion around the Zangskar Valley have adopted Tibetan Buddhism as their religion whereas in Kargil there is a huge population of the Shia Muslims. Some Muslims from the Sunni descent from the Kashmiri culture also reside in the Leh and Kargil. The population from the other religion such as Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Christianity also reside in the region. The Ladakhi Buddhist practice the Vajrayana Buddhism which is a tradition associated with the Tantra and Secret Mantra

The Changpa or Champa are the semi nomads who trace their origin from Tibet. They reside in the Changtang region which is the part of high altitude Tibetan Plateau in western and northern Tibet extending into south-eastern Ladakh, India. For them rearing of animals, consuming and selling their products are the main source of livelihood. Another set of population is the Tibetan refugees who have flee Tibet and settled in Leh. This set is quite huge in number. This is another reason that in Leh there has been a huge influence of Tibetan culture and language. 

The main language of Ladakh is Ladakhi. Due to silk route and travellers from Central Asia and also the neighbouring region of Kashmir, Urdu is also spoken well in the area. Hindi and English is also among the many spoken languages. Before Ladakh became a UT, it was part of the Jammu and Kashmir whose official and court language is Urdu yet the major source of administrative work here is in English. Although there is no written script yet the writers and authors are using the Tibetan dialect to form a linguistic style that is used for casual conversation. 

Cultural and Heritage: 

Ladakh has been a centre as it is surrounded by different international states as well as the domestic ones. This has not only bought it under the title most loved and visited places but also made it centre of different cultures and traditions. Due to its history with Tibet and neighbouring region Kashmir and the travellers from Central Asia evolved the culture and traditions of Ladakh and influenced it too. 

The major culture that has influenced the Ladakh is Buddhism. The Buddhist monasteries are not only the symbol of religion but also the culture and traditions. Monasteries are the centre of worship, Meditation and peace. They conduct their Annual festivals and Carnivals in which the participation is in large numbers. The youth especially take part in such events as there devotion towards to their religion and culture. 

Monasteries are also a symbol of great architect too. Lamayuru is the oldest and largest gompas in Ladakh which is house to 150 permanent monks. In its uniqueness of wood carving, statues and frescoes, Alchi offers the highest rewards.

The core event of the monasteries is the choreographed ritual dance-drama known as ‘Chhams’, which is directed by the ‘Chham-spon’, the mystic dance master of the monastery. It is regarded a philosophical and ritual way to offer to the ancestors. A group of resident lamas dress up in colourful robes and masks representing the various divinities. The dances usually narrate the story of victory of Good over Evil. The music and praying includes chants which are either in Tibetan or Sanskrit. These chants are often recited during the important festivals and often are complex in nature. 

Leh palace is another symbol of great Architecture. It had 9 floors with royal occupying the top most and the lower one for helpers. The Palace Museum holds a rich collection of jewellery, ornaments, ceremonial dresses and crowns. Over the course of time, the condition of the Palace has worsened but it is being restored under the Archaeological Survey of India.

The most prominent food in Ladakh is thupka (noodle soup) and tsampa, (natively) nagampe, (roasted barley flour) which is very similar to the Tibetan food culture. The dish that is purely Ladakhi in nature is the Skyu, which is heavy pasta with root vegetables. Gurgur chai or Gurgur tea is the most famous and traditional hot beverage taken in the region. This includes ingredients like green tea, butter, and salt. As barley is cultivated the most in the region, it is fermented into Chang and had as an alcoholic beverage especially during the festive season and winters (-5 degree C to -20 degree C). 

The traditional attire includes headgear usually worn by women on occasions, studded with precious stones, a Kuntop or a woolen robe, a Bok a shawl used by women to carry children. It also has a Goncha a traditional robe worn by men and Skerag waistband. As these attires are heavy, they are usual wore during special festivals and marriages. 

Archery is the traditional sport of Ladakh and many festivals are held in it. Ice hockey and cricket is also very famous and played in large number. Polo is another traditional sport and must be introduced through Central Asian countries in the mid-17th or 18th century.  There is an annual polo festival in the Dras region of the Kargil district. The Ladakh marathon in Leh is one of the highest altitude marathon in the world and is being held since 2012. 

Traditional Ayurveda and Chinese and Tibetan medicine has been the centre of medicinal system in Ladakh since ages. “Sowa-Rigpa” commonly known as Amchi system of medicine is one of the oldest, living and well documented medical tradition of the world. Amchi was the only medicine available to the people in Ladakh region and still is a part of their medicine and welfare system. In present time, through the incentive of the Government of India, National Research Institute for Sowa-Rigpa have been set up in Dharamshala in Himanchal Pradesh and Ladakh to preserve the benefits and continuation of the same. Sea buckthorns are a bush which has medicinal qualities is also used in juice and other products. 


Since the opening of Leh tourists in 1974, this industry has provided huge flow of development and employment in the region. This place has been a place of attraction for not only domestic population but global one. The following are the places that you must visit when you are in Ladakh. 

  • Pangong Lake
    This Lake is situated at an altitude of 14,100 ft. in the Eastern sector of Ladakh, at a distance of 150 km from Leh across Changla pass (17,000ft.). This lake is one of the largest and most beautiful natural brackish lakes in the country.
  • Thiksey Monastery
    This is considered to be one of the most beautiful monasteries in Ladakh. It is a 12 storey complex with around 500 Monks. This place illuminates of the Buddhist culture and traditions.  
  • Khardung-la Pass
    The pass is a gateway to the Nubra as well as Shyok valley and is one of the most elevated motorable terrains worldwide.
  • Nubra Valley
    Not only famous for its white sand deserts and double-humped camels, but also for but also the confluence of Shyak and Siachen rivers. 
  • Shanti Stupa
    Situated on a hill-top in Chanspa is this beautiful dome shaped Chorten called Shanti Stupa. The walls inside the Chorten have panels depicting the life of Lord Buddha.
  • Royal Leh Palace
    The Leh Palace is located on the top of Tsemo Hill. Built of stones, wood, mud and sand, the 9-storied palace has some beautiful artistic ruins speaks the history of the people who lived here. 
  • Hemis National Park
    It is the only National Park in the northern region of the Himalayas and is considered to be the capital of Snow Leopard of India.
  • Tsomoriri Lake
    This Lake is situated at a elevation of 15,000 ft. above the sea level, at a distance of 240 km from Leh in the South-eastern sector of Ladakh. It is like a pearl shaped and contains large mineral deposits. Korzok village is situated on the South-west bank of this lake. Korzok Gonpa and its inhabitant’s nomads by tradition are most outstanding features of this area. 
  • Kargil War Memorial
    The Kargil War Memorial is a war memorial built by the Indian Army in the town of Dras, commemorating the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan.
  • The Hall of Fame
    The Hall of Fame is a museum by the Indian Army to showcase stories of valor & life in the harsh climes of Ladakh. An important gallery is the one dedicated to the Kargil War. 
  • Gurdwara Pathar Sahib
    This gurudwara is located at the hightest point in the world and is maintained by Indian Army and servces the langar to all the visitors. 
  • Drogpas
    The greatest attraction in these areas are the villages of Dha Biama, Darchigs, Garkon, Batalik which are entirely populated by last remaining remnants of the Dards in the District. Dards are considered as last race of Aryans confined to Indus Valley.
  • Chadar Trek
    The Chadar trek is so famous because of the fact that you can walk up the frozen Zanskar river while the rugged Himalayan range wrap around you.

The best time to visit Ladakh is during the summer and April-May are months which are perfect as many tourist places are open. Leh is the main city in the Ladakh region, one of the coldest deserts in the world and is a haven of adventure sports. Hidden behind this harsh and forbidding Front is an ancient civilization and captivating people. Beyond the old frontiers lies the land of wilderness with its unaltered character and overwhelming natural beauty beckoning the more intense and adventurous of travellers.