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Ladakh occupies the western end of the Tibetan plateau and is often referred to as Little Tibet. Indeed, its Buddhist people are of Tibetan origin and many still wear the traditional robes, stove pipe hats and curious felt boots with turned-up toes. Before the advent of Tibetan Buddhists there were the original native Ladakhis living in Shey region. To the north of the state of Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh and Zanskar are parts of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. They are outside the area affected by the Indian Pakistan border dispute. They lie north of the main Himalayan chain and are geographically part of the southern edge of the Tibetan plateau. At an altitude of between 8,200 feet or 2,500 meters and 14,800feet or 4,500 meters, with peaks of over 23,000feet or 7,000 meters the landscape is barren and desert like. There are several major rivers in the area including the Indus, the Zanskar, the Suru and the Shyok. The Indus River runs roughly east to west across the center of Ladakh. Ladakh’s major population centers are along this river’s banks. To the north of the Indus Valley is the Ladakh range, to the south the Zanskar range. Zanskar range is on either side of the Zanskar River valley. Its southern border is the Greater Himalaya Range.
Around the 1st. century CE Ladakh was a remote outpost of Kushan Empire. Buddhism was introduced to Ladakh from eastern Kashmir in early 2nd. century CE when people in western Tibet were still practiced the Bon religion.
After the demise of the first Tibetan Empire, Tibetan monarchy was divided among three brothers in 1020 CE. One of them moved to Ladakh and founded the first royal dynasty in Ladakh. When Tibetan Buddhism in the eastern neighboring kingdom of Guge experienced a new high point, this rejuvenation affected Ladakh. Its temple monasteries and the manner in which religion sharply pervaded the people's way of life gave clear evidence of this. In many cases, old shrines of the earlier Bon religion were transformed into Buddhist monasteries. In the following centuries, the Ladakhi rulers extended the territory under their control. Lhachen Utpala (1080 to 1110 CE) expanded his kingdom up to the realm of the related dynasties of Purang and Mustang (in present-day Nepal). New importance was attached to the culture of the Ladakhi monks when the reform sect of the Gelugpa created by Tsongkhapa led to the reestablishment of monasteries in the 15th century CE.
Family feuds ended at the beginning of the 15th century CE with the division of the empire. Lhachen Bhagan unified Ladakh in 1470 CE and founded the new Namgyal dynasty. His successor was able to stand ground against an invasion from East Turkestan, but over the years Ladakh was to be plagued repeatedly by plundering, ravaging Islamic armies. During the reign of the powerful kings Sengge Namgyal (ca. 1570 to 1620 CE) and Deldan Namgyal (ca. 1620-1660 CE) the empire was not only further extended, but blossomed anew culturally inside original Ladakh territories. It came to an end when the great fifth Dalai Lama of Tibet (Nawang Lobsang Gyatso 1617-82 CE) convinced the Mongolians, whom he had converted to Lamaism, to enter a military campaign against West Tibet and Ladakh. The king of Ladakh, Delegs Namgyal, turned to Kashmir for help. In the Battle of Basgo (ca 1685 CE) the Tibetan-Mongolian army was stopped but from that period Ladakh came under the political influence of the Islamic Mughal Empire in India. It is fascinating to note that the political influence of the far away Mughal monarchs did not affect the day to day life of Buddhist people of Ladakh who remained steadfastly loyal to the Buddhist Lama monastic traditions.
One of the sons of the ruler of Ladakh, Sengge Namgyal became the monarch of Zanskar region, thereby linking Zanskar to Ladakh. Zanskar could resist the Islamic encroachment even better than Ladakh because of its remoteness and the difficulty of movement in the Zanskar valley. The Dogra Rulers divided Zanskar into two puppet kingdoms so that they could better control the fortunes of the region. These two kingdoms (regions) still remain although the rulers are no longer sovereign monarchs.
1999 Pakistan infiltrated thousands of regular soldiers and terrorists into the Kargil, Dras, Mushkoh, Batalik and Chorbatia remote mountains in western Ladakh. India responded with "Operation Vijay", in which the Indian Army and Air Force successfully evicted the infiltrators.
Consequent to public demand Leh and Kargil destricts have been granted autonomy in local matters and two elected hill councils were established in the 1990s.
Rock carvings discovered in Ladakh point to this area being inhabited since Neolithic period. The earliest people in Ladakh belonged to the Indo-Aryan Mons and Dards. The inhabitants of Ladakh and Zanskar moved to this area at various times in history and gradually settled in the harsh and rugged environment of the high plateau. The largest segment of population belongs to Champa nomadic tribes, who settled in the central and eastern part of Ladakh. The Mons settlers introduced Buddhism to the region and settled in the Indus River Valley. Mahayana Buddhism still remains the predominant religion in both Ladakh and Zanskar areas. The remote and secluded Gompas often located on very prominent outcrops or on mountaintops, not only dominate the landscape, their influence pervades the entire society. There is a significant population of Shia Muslims especially in Ladakh region. Conditions in Ladakh and Zanskar are extremely hard, and the people have adapted their houses and lifestyles to deal with the extremes of temperature. The region has only been open to tourists since the 1980s.
The small town of Leh is approximately five miles north of the Indus River at an altitude of 3’521 meters or 11’552 feet above sea-level and has a population of about 30’000. It originally grew as a trading and market center and is since 1974 the main tourist staging post in the region, and an important garrison town. Looking on to the town of Leh below is the Royal Palace, that has recently been restored under the expert guidance of the specialists of the Archaeological Survey of India. It is easy to navigate in the small town. The main street runs south from the Old Town, that is located at the foot of the Royal Fort. The road to the airport heads south out of the town past the New and Old Bus Stands.
Nubra is high valley at an average altitude of 10,000 feet above sea-level. It is about 150 Kilometers or 95 Miles north of Leh. Non-local people require an 'Inner Line Permit' that is obtainable at request in Leh. Disket and Hundar are two main villages with interesting Buddhist monasteries. The Baktrian 2-humped camels are found in this valley. Hotels in Nubra Valley: Cold Desert Camp - 15 comfortable tents; Double Humped Camp Hunder - 10 tents
4-star hotel in Leh:
The Grand Dragon - 32 rooms
Lasermo Hotel – 52 rooms
Ladakh Residency Hotel - 23 rooms
Nalanda Ladakh Hotel - 13 (free WiFi)
Reenam Hotel - 24 room (free WiFi)
Zen Ladakh Hotel - 40 rooms (free WiFi)
Ladakh Serai - An Eco-Resort of 14 Yurt-style Bungalows
Hotel Lingzi - 22 rooms
3-star hotels in Leh:
Gomang Ladakh Hotel - small boutique hotel (free WiFi)
Thongsal Hotel - 24 rooms (free WiFi)
Hotel Dragon - 40 rooms
Kidar Hotel - 15 rooms
Hotel Shambha La – 12 rooms (free WiFi)
Ladakh Continental - 16 rooms
Hotel Caravan Center - 25 rooms
Royal Ladakh Hotel - 25 rooms
Grand Himalaya Hotel - 28 rooms
Ladakh Hotel - 14 rooms
Hotel Sun N Sand – 20 rooms
Cho Palace Hotel – 28 rooms
Lotus Hotel – 17 rooms
Mandala Hotel – 36 rooms
Pangong Hotel – 24 rooms
Royal Palace Hotel – 20 rooms
Spic N Span Hotel – 35 rooms
Ule Ethnic Resort – 32 double tents & 10 mud huts with attached baths
Distance from Leh in Kilometers and Miles:
Manali: 473 Kilometers or 294 Miles
Kargil: 234 Kilometers or 145 Miles
Deskit/Nubra: 118 Kilometers or 73 Miles
Srinagar: 434 Kilometers or 270 Miles
Spituk: 12 Kilometers or 8 Miles
Phayang: 17 Kilometers or 11 Miles
Basgo: 40 Kilometers or 25 Miles
Likir: 60 Kilometers or 37 Miles
Alchi: 67 Kilometers or 42 Miles
Lamayuru: 125 Kilometers or 78 Miles
Shey: 15 Kilometers or 9 Miles
Thiksey: 20 Kilometers or 12 Miles
Hemis: 49 Kilometers or 31 Miles