Area: 98,000sq km
Religion: Buddhism, Islam.
Locational Status: Cold Desert
Its landscape, sky,
shooting stars, silence, wizened faces, rosy cheeks, dragons
and Zen – everything makes Ladakh a quite place to
visit. This ethereal cold desert that goes by names such as
‘The Last Shangrila’, Moonscape, Little Tibet and so many
others – all of which ring true, is a land that seldom fails
to baffle or surprise.
The start and rugged landscape is
situated amidst multiple-hued mountains, some smooth enough to
rub your cheeks on, others scraggly as though termites have
had a go at them for breakfast. Miles and stretches of this
never-never land, surprised by quaint little vibrant green
hamlets oozing wild roses and lavender, fringe the life-giving
Indus River. Ladakh
is a land like no other. Bounded by two of the world's
mightiest mountain ranges, the Great Himalaya and the
Karakoram, it lies athwart two other, the Ladakh range and the
In geological terms, this is a young land,
formed only a few million years ago by the buckling and
folding of the earth's crust as the Indian sub-continent
pushed with irresistible force against the immovable mass of
Asia. Its basic contours, uplifted by these unimaginable
tectonic movements, have been modified over the millennia by
the opposite process of erosion, sculpted into the form we see
today by wind and water.
Yes, water! Today, a high
-altitude desert, sheltered from the rain-bearing clouds of
the Indian monsoon by the barrier of the Great Himalaya,
Ladakh was once covered by an extensive lake system, the
vestiges of which still exist on its south -east plateau of
Rupshu and Chushul - in drainage basins with evocative names
like Tsomoiri, Tsokar, and grandest of all, Pangong-tso.
Occasionally, some stray monsoon clouds do find their way over
the Himalaya, and lately this seems to be happening with
increasing frequency. But the main source of water remains the
winter snowfall. Drass, Zanskar and the Suru Valley on the
Himalaya's northern flank receive heavy snow in winter; this
feeds the glaciers whose meltwater, carried down by streams,
irrigates the fields in summer. For the rest of the region,
the snow on the peaks is virtually the only source of water.
As the crops grow, the villagers pray not for rain, but for
sun to melt the glaciers and liberate their water. Usually
their prayers are answered, for the skies are clear and the
sun shines for over 300 days in the year.