Pegged as the new ‘Roof of the World’, Ladakh is the largest district of Jammu & Kashmir and second largest in India. It sits on a strategically important location between politically locker-horned countries of Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and India. Said in one breath as ‘Leh-Ladakh’, it can mean the entire district or the capital ‘Leh’ in Ladakh. Many a traveller has been bewitched by its raw, barren beauty enough to return again and again daring steep inclines and unpredictable weather conditions. To understand Ladakh one must know its regional topography. One of the biggest misconception is that Ladakh sits on the Himalayan Mountain Range, whereas it is actually stranded on the Karakoram Mountains. The Great Himalayas start as Pir Panjal mountains lower, near Jammu district, where one may visit Vaishnodevi Temple and runs just south of Zanskar Mountains. This is why, the mountains around Leh-Ladakh have no resemblance to the ones seen in Himachal, Uttarakhand, Nepal or Aruchanal Pradesh. Unlike the Himalayas, Karakoram has desert like conditions with little or no rainfall during the year. Its extent is felt all the way down the north of Afghanistan and Pakistan where it disappears into the Pamirs and Hindukush and China where it merges with the Tibetan desert. To the south, it descends into the basins of Shyok and Indus rivers which separate the range from The Greater Himalayas. Due to this geographic location, straddled between the many ranges and especially shielded by the Himalayas, from indian monsoons, Karakoram has been left high and dry. Its climate resembles those of artic and desert conditions. Therefore Ladakh is often called “COLD DESERT”. Temperature varies from –40°C in winter and +35°C in summer. Precipitation is very low at 10cm mainly as snow. Air is very dry with low relative humidity, and source of irrigation are only the melting glaciers. The district is under snow for nearly 6-8months. Karakoram as the highest mountain ranges in the world, 482km long, 5000 – 28000ft high, home to the most non-polar glaciers and thereby also called ‘The Third Pole’. There are more feathers in its cap;
- K2 – is the second highest mountain peak, 28,251ft, after Mount Everest
- Earth’s fourteen more than 8000+m peaks are nested here, including Gasherburn I and II and Broad Peak
- The Siachen glacier at 44kms is the second largest glacier out of the artic/antartic circle
- The Biafo glacier at 39kms is the third largest glacier out of artic/antartic circle.
- About 40% of these mountains are glaciated, much more than the Himalayas at 20%
- Pangong Tso is the highest saltwater or brackish lake in the world
- Khardungla Pass , elevation disputed, is the highest motorable highway in the world
- Changla Pass at 17,590ft is the second highest motorable pass.