Ladakh, Review on Ladakh, Ladakh Travel

Ladakh – History & Society – A Review

Welcome to Ladakh


North India

South India

East India

North East











Bird Watching





Special Tours

Train Tours





Car Rental

View All Tours


Ladakh Tours

Camel Safari in Ladakh

Zanskar River Rafting

Cycling in Ladakh

Ladakh Trekking Tour

Trekking in Markha

Ladakh Jeep Safari

Trekking in Ladakh

Ladakh Biking

Trekking in Nubra Valley

Jeep Safari in Ladakh

Land of Ladakh

Best of Ladakh

Impressions of Ladakh

Tibet Tours

Tibet Tour

10 Days Tibet Tour

Best of Tibet

Tibet Intensive Tour

8 Days Tibet Tour

Kathmandu and Lhasa

Spiritual Lhasa Tour

India Tours

31 Days Rajasthan

30 Days Gujarat 

26 Days South

19 Days North India

18 Days Rajasthan 

17 Days South

16 Days Shekhwati

14 Days North India

13 Days Sikkim

11 Days Nepal

9 Days Ladakh

8 Days Taj Triangle

4 Days Tibet

Nepal Tours

Temple Tiger of Nepal

North India & Nepal

Nepal & Taj Mahal Tour

Bird Watching in Nepal

Majestic Nepal

Nepal Adventure Tour

Nepal Intensive

Nepal Golden Triangle

Best of Nepal

Nepal Short Tour

Nepal Heritage Tour

Nepal Temple Tour

6 Days Nepal Tibet Tour

7 Days Nepal Tibet Tour

10 Days Nepal Tibet Tour

Nepal And Goa Tour

Nepal Trekking Tour

Tibet Bhutan and Nepal Tour

Sikkim Tours

Darjeeling Trekking Tour

Sikkim, Bhutan and Nepal

Sikkim Bird Watching Tour

Kanchenjunga Trekking

East India with Sikkim

Sikkim, Nepal and Tibet Tour

Bird Watching in Sikkim

West Bengal and Sikkim Tour

Best of Sikkim

North India and Sikkim Tour

Sikkim Intensive Tour

Sikkim Tour

Sikkim Trekking Tour

Sikkim and Nepal Tour

Sikkim Jeep Safari Tour

Sikkim and Darjeeling Tour

Sikkim Triangle Tour

Sikkim Wildlife Tour

River Rafting in Sikkim

Travel Guide

Indian Architecture

Indian Embassies

Flight Sickness

India Information

Nepal Information 

India Geography

Indian History

Media in India

 Modern History

Music in India

Musical instruments

Paintings of India

Reaching India



Shopping in India


Temperature Guide

Visa Information

Indian Wildlife

Travel Tools

Airlines in India

Railway Timetable

India Dialing Codes

Currency Converter

Distance Calculator

Time Converter

India Guide

About India


Plains of India

Western Ghats

India Civilisation 

Hindu Temple

The Stupas

Rock Cut Architect

Cave Architecture

Classical Dances

Indian Music Ragas

Ajanta Murals

Learn Cooking

This short geographical and historical outline is intended to provide a general orientation for the region of Ladakh and to situate its iconographical and art-historical contents with their religious and historical contexts. 

Ladakh, the” Land of High Passes", is located in the uppermost northeast of the Indian subcontinent. Politically, it is a part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, which borders directly with China and Pakistan. However, Ladakh is an ethnic, cultural and religious enclave within the surrounding Indian provinces and is more connected with Tibet and the neighboring Himalaya states. Ladakh’s territory originally encompassed an area of 98,000 km, but after India’s extended border disputes with Pakistan and China during the years 1949-62 only 59,000 kms. remain. The border between the province of Kashmir and Pakistan remains unresolved to this day, and massive military forces are positioned on both sides of the provisional line of Control. Ladakh, too, has served as an area for the build-up of Indian military forces. As a politically sensitive area Ladakh could not be entered until 1974; since then it has been opened for tourism and had been able to end its previous isolation during the winter months, due to the construction of an airport in Leh. Ladakh is a land of extreme climatic and geographical contrasts. Its alpine landscape with broad, high plateaus, interrupted by deep-cut, often ravine-like valleys, is bordered both to the north and to the south by the earth’s two highest mountain chains, the Himalaya and the Karakoram, with peaks up to 8000 m high. They create barriers on which moisture-carrying air-currents rain down, with the result that the climate in Ladakh’s interior is an arid zone, more like a mountainous desert. This landscape exercises its fascination through its unusually dry, clear air, its harshness, its wealth of forms and shapes and its intense stony-gray and ochre colours. Green oases are only to be found in the river valleys, where alluvial land can be cultivated with the help of artificial irrigation and where trees and bushes can thrive in the deeper parts of the valleys. At elevations above 5000 m, however, we find grassy, step-like surfaces that permit a form of alpine pasture economy and nomadic animal husbandry. Ladakh is drained by the young Indus River, which connects a series of other rivers and streams arising in the glacier regions as it emerges from Tibet. The Indus Valley is the region’s widest and most fertile valley; its habitable areas are home to its largest settlements (the capital city of Leh, 3500 meter) and its most important monasteries.

The region’s climate is as extreme a s the landscape. Great differences in temperature between day and night (up to 30oC) give rise to strong countervailing and down-winds that frequently develop into storms. These winds have carved and worded upon the arid and unprotected mountain landscape since time immemorial and shape it into astonishing and fascinating forms. The valleys are free from night-time frost only in July and August; until recently Ladakh was entirely cut off from the rest of the world during the eight months long wither, because the passes were blocked by snow. All agricultural work and other out-door activities are limited to the summer, which begins abruptly and ends just as abruptly after four months. One serious problem is the sparse precipitation. People, animals and plants are almost entirely dependent on water flowing down from melting glaciers. The people in Ladakh have developed a unique and well-adapted culture in response to these extreme and difficult environmental and life conditions, resting on a resilient economy based on farming and grazing and extended barter of goods and services. The technical and social problem of survival was regarded as capable of being mastered through artificial irrigation, socially anchored community services and rules concerning mutual assistance. Because the brief summer period demands everyone’s participation during sowing and harvest, children, as well as monks and runs from the monasteries all lend a hand. The main staple food is barley, followed by wheat; here only fast-growing varieties can bring a yield. Apricots and apples as well as vegetables thrive in the deeper valleys. Some of the village families move to pastures higher up in the mountains with their domestic animals, sheep, goats, yaks, and dzo (a cross between yaks and domestic cattle), and produce the all-important butter and other milk products there. Material for heating during the winter is obtained by clothing dung and dry, spindly wood from bushes; wool-production is important for domestic clothing needs and for export. Until recently transport of local products was possible only on foot or on the back of animals. This is still the case in more remote areas. The Ladakhis of remote areas still make journeys lasting days or weeks to come to a market or to a monastery celebration. The passes up to 2000m highs are to be crossed just to get from one valley to another. In spite of these geographical hardships Ladakh had seven major trade and caravan routes, representing the shortest routes from India to Central Asia, and from the Middle East to China and Tibet which passed through here. The caravans could spend the winter in the capital city of Leh, and an important market and trade center arose there. Ladakh’s isolation from the rest of the world was overcome here, and cultural contacts were made possible by economic exchange. Tea, salt, wood, metal, silk and jewelry could be obtained in exchange for domestic surplus products. Religious teachers also came on these roads and brought foreign culture with them. It is from the reports of pilgrims and travelers that we derive our earliest knowledge of Ladakh, its inhabitants and their religion. The history of Ladakh’s settlement can be traced to the 5th century B.C. Burial finds and relief sculptures on cliffs bear witness to the early presence of Indo-Aryan tribes in this region; Dards, Balti and Mon. Together with immigrants of Tibetan-Mongolian descent they constitute a mixed population that speaks a Sino-Tibetan dialect. The royal residence was then established in Leh. The new dynasty gave itself the name ”Namgyal, (”Great Victor “), and in fact Ladakh enjoyed a period of cultural flowering under their rule. However, the country was repeatedly the victim of Tibetan and Kashmiri invaders and was forced to defend itself against several attacks of the Mongols. At the end of the 17th century the Islamic Kashmir provided Ladakh with military assistance against Tibet and received tribute in payment. In 1846 the kingdom finally lost its independence altogether; it was conquered and annexed by the Kashmiri Maharaja of the Dogra Dynasty and was thereby subsumed under Indian sovereignty. The king and the nobility were stripped of power and the residence of the royal family was removed to Stock. In 1947, when the Indian – British Raj was divided into Pakistan & India, the Maharaja of primarily Islamic Kashmir was unsure which of the two states he should join with. He appealed to India for assistance against invading Pakistani troops, which succeeded in repulsing the Pakistan’s attempted annexation but which has since then claimed full sovereignty over Kashmir, just as Pakistan does. Thus the succeeding conflicts were pre-programmed. The conflicts were pre-programmed. The conflicting parties repeatedly evaded the demand for a referendum. A truce-line (Line of Control) was drawn through United Nations mediation; since then military forces of both countries stand facing each other across the Line. Ladakh, too, has been a victim of the unstable political situation in the region due to the ever-recurring fighting and border conflicts with China as well. Pakistan ceded a portion of the Ladakhi province of Baltistan, which it had occupied, to China. China, furthermore, annexed Aksai-Chin, the north-eastern part of Ladakh bordering on Tibet, after military clashes with India, with the result that the old kingdom of Ladakh is divided into four parts today, and has lost almost 38,000 square km of land. 

One particularly drastic loss that Ladakh has had to suffer has been the closing of the ancient and vital trade route to Central Asia and China and the freezing the commercial traffic. Furthermore, it was a restricted area until the 1970’s. as a result, Ladakh became ever more dependent on India economically. India in its turn recognized Ladakh’s strategic importance and built up numerous military presence there. The Indian government spends a great deal on the construction of roads and bridges, power supply, irrigation and numerous other development projects and tries to bind the remote province closer to itself. The desire for autonomy has been repressed until now; however, Ladakh took a first step towards greater independence from the State of Jammu and Kashmir when it gained Hill Council Status in 1995. The character of the population has changed in the last decades: it has been influenced by the presence of Indian soldiers (allegedly in a 1:1 ratio to the number of Ladakhis), by Tibetan refugees, and by economically motivated immigration from Kashmir. The latter, together with the tourists, cause the number of inhabitants of Leh to increase many times over during the summer months. As desirable as the opening of the country in 1974 was for foreign contacts and tourism, it brought the Ladakhi population additional cultural and social pressures and insecurity as well. Due to changes in population policy, i.e. high immigration and even higher birth rates, resulting in part from the prohibition of the traditional polyandry, the ancient mode of economy, bound as it was to limited land resources, is no longer sufficient. New opportunities for jobs and training drain the villages of young people and men; this in turn disrupts the traditional, tried and tested structures of communal living. 

Another new problem facing Ladakh, ensuing from the political and military conflict between India and Pakistan, is the deepened alienation and even confrontation between Moslems and Buddhists, although these religions had coexisted amicably since long. Islam had come to Ladakh from Kashmir and had taken root only in western Ladakh, primarily in the province of Kargil. One might say that there is a religious border between Islam and Buddhism around 200 km to the east of Leh. In the capital itself about one-third of the inhabitants are Moslem, and marriages between Ladakhi women and Moslem men are take place quite often. But the trend towards fundamentalism has left its traces; within Ladakh there is now less mutual religious tolerance. With its Buddhist majority, Ladakh accuses the government in Srinagar of insufficiently respecting its cultural independence and integrity, and feels itself tyrannized and economically exploited by the Kashmiri Moslems. Ironically, the numerous stores in Leh offering Buddhist souvenirs are run by Moslem merchants from Kashmir. They earn their living by made in Srinagar by Muslim craftsmen. 

Ladakh is also the last refuge for Buddhism in its Tibetan form and here it is still practiced in its most original form. Even though its social and religious structures are changing under the pressure of modernity, Ladakh can still be described as an oasis of Tibetan Buddhist culture. Following the severe restriction of free religious expression and practice by the Chinese in Tibet and many of the monastery communities there were broken up and scattered, many monks and nuns fled not only to India, as did the Dalai Lama, but also to Ladakh, which offered them new homes in its numerous monasteries. The only difference in religious and social practice and policy was that, in contrast to Tibet, religious and temporal powers were always kept separate here.

The four great religious schools of Tibetan Buddhism are still represented in Ladakh, that offer their teachings in harmonious co-existence with each other: The” unreformed “Red Hat School of the Nyingmapa (”The Ancient Ones, “with their monastery of Traktok), founded in the 8th century by the great teacher Padmasambhava, the ”half-reformed “Red Hat Order of the Kargyupa (”Lineage of Oral Instruction“) for example, in the monasteries of Lamayuru, Phiyang, Wanla, Hemis, Bardan, and Sani. The Sakyapa School (Matho Monastery) and the Yellow Hat Gelugpa Order (the monasteries of Spituk, Tikse, Likir, Rangdun, etc.) that arose as the ”School of the Virtuous “in the wake of a Reformation carried out by Tsongkhapa in the 14th Century. Together with the Kargyupa it is the most important and most widespread order having its spiritual head is the Dalai Lama.

During and after the reign of the emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century B.C. in India Buddhism was spread with missionary zeal, and was brought to Ladakh, Tibet and China by way of Kashmir. Ancient reports describe Kashmir as the center for the spread of Buddhism. According to Chinese sources 5000 monks were settled there at that time. Buddhism spread continually over the following centuries. In 78 C.E. 500 Kashmiri arhats were sent to Tibet. Scholars such as Sambhota, who was raised in Kashmir, translated religious texts and introduced and adapted the Kashmiri alphabet to the Tibetan language, which up until this time had been a purely spoken language. Fa-Hien, a Chinese on a pilgrimage to India wrote in 399 C.E. that Buddhism was flourishing in Ladakh at this time. At the beginning of the 7th century C.E. (according to Chinese dating) the first king of Ladakh made Buddhism the state religion. In the 9th century, King Langdarma of Tibet, a follower of the Bon religion, repressed Buddhism, persecuted monks and destroyed their monasteries. It was only in the 10th century that Buddhism could be re-established in Tibet; the reintroduction took place from Ladakh. The great scholar of this era was Rinchen Zangpo, who translated many Sanskrit texts into Tibetan and is reputed to have founded a total of 108 monasteries and temples. He brought painters and craftsmen from Kashmir to decorate them. They, in turn had a deep and lasting influence on the style of Tibetan religious art.

Originally, the monasteries were located far away from people and noise, like the caves of the ascetics and hermits from which they frequently developed. The symbol of the mandala was frequently used as the basis of monastery architecture. Not until the 16th century, when the Red and Yellow Hat orders were drawn into the political conflict between Ladakh and Tibet were monasteries built like fortresses in strategically important locations and elevated high above the valleys. This did not save them from being sacked and destroyed, however; primarily from the surrounding Moslem areas. Since only a few monasteries have remained unchanged since the early phase, the large and impressive structures mentioned above are for the most part what remains for us today.

Smaller monasteries often consist of only one room, in larger ones on the other hand many buildings cluster around a central courtyard, in which ceremonies are celebrated and cham-dances are presented. The audience sits in a gallery that is built around the courtyard. The ”dukhang, “or assembly hall, is an important building, in which three areas are separated by eight or sixteen wooden pillars, and on whose interior walls scenes from the life of the Buddha, of the saints and of the prayers and ceremonies of the monks take place, and the altar of the protector-deity is here, as well. The strict monastery hierarchy is immediately apparent through the different heights of the thrones for the Dalai Lama, for example, and for the abbots and monks. In front of the monks’ seats are small lacquer tables for the ritual objects of Tibetan Buddhism: Diamond-scepter (vajra) and bell (as symbold of the male and female principles), hand-drums, teacups for the traditional butter tea and eating bowl. The Lhakang is the center of the monastery and is the most richly decorated area, with beautifully painted interior rooms expressing reverence to the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and protector-deities. The latter were originally harmful spirits and demons of ancient popular beliefs who according to tradition were subsequently subdued by saints and integrated as protectors of Vajrayana Buddhism. In the course of time several Lhakangs could be constructed, witness to changes in religious focus and interpretation of the teachings.

For the most part the monks themselves settle below the monastery in dwellings, mostly built of adobe, that belong to them and are inherited from one generation to another within their families. Today, some of these dwellings have glass windows and electricity, and reflect the social status of the family through their size and equipment and furnishings. They often stick like honeycombs on the steep cliff faces and can only be reached by ladders. Until recently about one-fourth of the male population of Ladakh lived in monasteries; at present the tendency is declining. Monasticism is deeply bound up with the structure of the society as a whole. In most cases a family’s youngest son is raised there.

The family continues to provide for his material needs. He lives together with a teacher for whom he performs small services and who is responsible for his religious and personal care. A monk takes his place in the hierarchy according to his level of education and training, with corresponding talks and duties. He is regarded as fully ordained only after he has taken the entire 225 vows. Such monks and lamas are no longer involved in worldly activities at all, but rather dedicate themselves exclusively to religion. 

The monasteries, visually and culturally dominating Ladakh to an extraordinary extent, as nowhere else on earth, seem to express the way nature is experienced here in religious form. They stand on exposed place; on steep slopes, part of the mountain range itself, points of crystallization where stone, light and stillness come together. They guard treasures of many and various kinds; the treasure of wisdom, expressing itself in the practice of meditation and right world – view, the treasures of exact knowledge and mastery of the rituals for the benefit of human, and all beings through strengthening the good an driving back evil. Reincarnations of saints are revered in the persons of the abbots of the monasteries. The treasure of education is manifest in the libraries and in the effort to open up wisdom and knowledge to young people, and finally, the art treasures are what make all this aspiration visible as objects to the eye. Trained monks and other artists, enlightened through meditation and drawing on the store of religious faith and experience, have created wonderful paintings and sculptures that decorate the walls of the prayer-rooms and temples. Both the mind and the spirit can immerse themselves in contemplation of these mandalas and representations of the lives of the lives of the Buddha, the Bodhisattvas and the saints; fixed as they are in religious memory, utterly exact in their conception, style and structure. Meditation deities in all their aspects serve as aids on the inner path. The resplendent colors and richness of design of the frescoes, roll-paintings (thangkas) and statues contrast with the magnificent bareness of the monasteries’ architecture and the desert-like mountain landscape surrounding them. 

The combination of magnificent natural vistas and interest in a unique art – historical experience has drawn a growing stream of tourists to Ladakh since it was allowed to open its borders in 1974. At the same time the Ladakhis gained the opportunity to travel themselves, exposing themselves to the ”western“ world outside and thereby to the confrontation with its life-style norms. A moderate modernization followed first reaching the cities of Leh and Kargil, but which is gradually reaching the more remote valleys as well. 

”Efforts at development on the part of the Indian motherland bring electric power, radio, television and western clothing. State schools with Indian teachers and a university are replacing monastic education, bringing the desire for novelty, but unfortunately also skepticism towards Ladakh’s own, traditional culture with them this traditional culture is caught up in a process of change; the first of coming fundamental changes in the society and the traditional system are already beginning to show. The monasteries are not spared this process, either. The close connection with the village populations is beginning to loosen, the number of monks and nuns is declining because of other career possibilities, in the state administration or in tourism are now available to those who would have chosen a monastic life in the past. On the other hand, western travelers who are interested in Buddhism often come for a stay in the monasteries. Lamas and abbots also travel to the outside world for longer periods of time to give teachings in the new Buddhist centers abroad. In this way, Ladakh is once again be-coming a starting-point for the spread of Buddhism, as it was already several times in its religious part; but now it reaches the entire world. Tourism, sparked by interest in the art treasures of Tibetan Buddhism also generates urgently needed funds for preserving them. But it is also a burden for the monasteries and its initial effects are destructive: Theft of ritual and art objects that are then sold to tourists is an unfortunate fact. In addition, the precious frescoes are getting degraded from the moisture that results due to large number of visitors. Preservation and restoration are urgently necessary to protect these unique culture. 

(The sender of this review has not sent his/her identity)

Tours all over India – Nepal and Bhutan Home Mail to tourism expert of India e-mail  Online chat regarding travel and tours to India Chat Get contact information to Indian Tour Operator and Travel Agent Contact  Send your enquiry or tour request. Enquiry  Tour and Travel experts for India and Indian sub-continent About Us

Your feedback about travel and tours to India and Indian sub-continentFeedback


Visit the site map of Indo Vacations Site Map India related and other useful links Links
Copyright © Indo Vacations. All Rights Reserved.