A land of freezing winds and burning hot sunlight, Ladakh is a cold desert lying in the rain shadow of the Great Himalayas and other smaller ranges. Little rain and snow reaches this dry area, where natural forces have created a fantastic landscape. Surrounded by rugged mountains this land is completely different from the green landscape of many parts of the Himalayas. Bounded by two of the world’s mightiest mountain ranges, the Great Himalaya and the Karokaram, it is a land which has no match.
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.
The main source of water in this land remains the winter snowfall. Ladakh was once covered by an extensive lake system, the vestiges of which still exist on its south -east plateaux of Rupshu and Chushul – in drainage basins with evocative names like Tso-moriri, Tsokar,and grandest of all, Pangong-tso. The temperature rarely exceeds 27 degree celcuis in summer while in winter it may drop to minus 20 degree celcuis.
Made up of two administrative districts – Leh and Kargil, Ladakh covers a total area of about 59,000 square kilometers. Leh is the chief town. Allied ethnologically and geographically with the Tibet region of China, the area has a predominantly Lamaist Buddhist population. It was nominally a dependency of Tibet. After 1531 it was invaded periodically by Muslims from Kashmir; it was annexed to Kashmir in the mid-19th cent.
Todays Ladakh which forms a part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India has some of its areas under the illegal occupation of Pakistan and China.