The Leh-Ladakh city
Nestled against a mountainous splendour, Ladakh is an enchanting land, which despite the stealthy approach of modernisation, seem to hold on precariously to its time-honoured past. The magnificence of the soaring mountain ranges and pristine valleys, the exuberance of its traditional festivals and the uncanny chutzpa with which its people dare the extreme conditions, earns Ladak the title of ‘The Land touched by God’s finger’. It’s a place of many discoveries, of thrilling adventures, chilling experiences and throbbing senses. One may come away from it with an euphoric delight of being touched by That Finger.
Ladakh has had stragtegic historic importance being placed firmly on the ancient Silk route for the trade convoys of China, Yarkhund, Central Asia, Persia, Constantinople and India. It served as a place where camels and caravans could descend from the high passes and respite. It paid homage to many transient settlements such as Aryans, Tibetans, Chinese and Arabs, but finally consolidated as a simple empire under Senegal Namgyal who also buit the looming 9 storey Leh Palace in 16th centuary.
The Leh city capital of Ladakh nestles between the Zanskar and the Ladakh Ranges. Even though called a city, it is an extended town with settlements sprinkled all down the countryside. Towns such as Spitok, Basgo, Kuru, Changspa, Saspol, Shey, Thiksey etc, though have 20 – 50 kms between them, come under the district capital, though Leh itself is not more than a kilometer in any direction. Washed by the Indus and Shyok river systems, the towns thrive by the water banks through seasonal agriculture, animal husbandry and the now thriving tourism industry. Every house has apricot, apple, walnut trees and atleast a cow. Many inhabitants are immigrants from neighboring Kargil, Dras, Padum and Zanskar regions entering as tourist guides and drivers. The city centre consist of mainly the Main Bazaar, the Leh Palace, the KBR airport, Shanti Stupa, hotels and restaurants and little establishments catering to these.
Ladakh district is divided into 9 CD Blocks namely Leh, Khaltsi, Nyoma, Durbuk, Kharu, Nubra, Saspol, Panamic and Chuchot.
Strategic location :To understand the Ladakh of today, one must consider its strategic location on the Indian frontier. What you might see, hear and feel may appear more foreign than Indian to you.
The state of J & K including the districts of Ladakh is bounded by Tibet in North East, Xinjian province, China in North, Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan in North West, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in East and South-East with Pakistani Punjab, ofcourse South to all these is Himachal Pradesh of India.
This geographic location is strategically important for two reasons:
- The local culture is richly ethnic and heavily influenced by atleast one of the above regions i.e disctricts closer to China are more Chinese, those close to Tibet are highly Tibetan, those towards the west have greater Islamic domination. Though the population move smoothly within each other, traditions and rituals are fiercely guarded.
- Since 1972 when we lost part of the north-western sector like Gilgit – Baltistan, and Azaad Kashmir to Pakistan and Aksai Chin to China in 1962 and our subsequent win in 1999, the Indian Defence Forces play an important role in the smooth running of the remaining state. So, you might see uniformed personnel clearing up snow in the high altitudes, tarring roads, cleaning up rubble, managing traffic, supplying drinking water, air dropping supplies during winters, assisting with medical help at key places, keeping a look out for wild animals or helping you cross the road. Ofcourse, that’s not all they do – keeping watch in high towers of Siachen Glacier, LOC, LAC and DBO.
Why is it important to know this bit of history – because when you talk with local tour guides or townspeople, these events feature much in their casual chitchat. The people of Ladakh are ingratiated to the Indian Armed Forces.
And like a pink elephant in the room, one just cannot miss the Stok Kangri, a snow capped mountain peak looming heavily in the backdrop to everything.
For centuries after the initial settlements, Ladakh has more than been forgotten. Except for being used as a frontier outpost by later Mughal rulers and British, there was no real interaction between the region and the rest of the world. As such Ladakh has remained in a time wrap of age old traditions. Its only just catching up. In 1829, when a French traveler interacted with the locals, she found them to be the most contend and pride people ever. They had no idea what ‘poor’ meant. They were hardworking, happy, full of song and dance and had a strong community sense. That has since changed. Nonetheless, you will still find the Ladakhi quick to smile and converse when you offer the salutatory ‘Julay!‘