Ladakh, the land of many passes, snow clad mountains and arid land is among the highest of the world’s inhabited plateaus. It lies at altitudes ranging from about 2,750 meters at Kargil to 7,672 meters at Saser Kangri in the Karakoram.
The summer temperatures exceed up to 35 ° C, while in winter they may drop to -40 ° C in some high altitude areas. Ladakh has been described as ‘Moon Land’, ‘Magic Land’, and ‘Mysterious Land’ for its unique landscape and exquisite culture.
One sees no horizon here but only mountain peaks soaring up to 5 to 6 km. In the prehistoric period, Ladakh formed a great lake. Even at present, the region has some of the largest and most beautiful lakes, Pangong and the Tsomoriri lakes. Covering an area of approximately 98,000 sq. km with a population of about more than 2 lakhs, it is a repository of myriad cultural and religious influences from Tibet, India and Central Asia.
The population of Ladakh is evenly divided between Muslims and Buddhists. There are several hundred Christians also. Ladakh has witnessed Stone Age, as stone tools have been found in some parts of the region. The early history of Ladakh is shrouded in mystery. It formed originally a part of Tibet. But in the 10th century, it became independent under a line of Tibetan kings who accepted the Grand Lamas as their Suzerians. This dynasty known as Namgyal continued to rule till 1836, when Gulab Singh, the ruler of Jammu & Kashmir invaded Ladakh and annexed it to the Jammu & Kashmir territory.
For centuries, Ladakh has been an important center of trade between India and the countries of Central Asia. Leh, the capital served as the terminus for caravans. The people of Ladakh represent a blend of at least three distinct groups. Two of them were Aryans and third was of Mongols stock. The centuries-old culture of Ladakh has found expression in its monuments, monasteries, mosques, Imambaras, oral literature, paintings, fairs, and festivals.
The monasteries or gompas constitute the most interesting and fascinating feature of the cultural landscape. The exuberance, gaity, colorfulness, and pageantry associated with religious, social, and seasonal festivals make them great occasions of rejoicing & joy. A prominent feature in the Ladakhi etiquette is the presentation of scarves known as khadags on all occasions.
A Ladakhi female in full costume would create no small sensation amongst the fashionable dames of European capital.” This remark made by Mooreraft, an Englishman in 1820-22 is true even today. Ladakh has undergone
tremendous changes in post-independence India. People are now more prosperous economically, conscious socially, and advanced politically. However, the forces of change and modern age today threaten the balance with the natural environment, which has been the basic characteristic of Ladakhi life.