Ladakh is a high altitude mountainous region bounded by the Karakoram Range from the north and the Great Himalayas in the south. It is a land that abounds in awesome physical features set in an enormous and spectacular environment. Often described as ‘Moonland’ on account of the unique lunar landscape, Ladakh was an independent mountain kingdom for close to a millennium. Leh, the royal capital, was a major crossroads of Asia and a stopping point on the ancient migration routes of the trans-Himalayas, connecting Central Asia with the Indian sub-continent. From here, the old caravan routes led westward through Kashmir to the Silk roads, northward across the Karakorum Pass to Central Asia, eastward across the Chang-thang highlands to Tibet and China, and southward through present-day Himachal Pradesh to the plains of India.

Many migrants have traveled through the region, some settling on the way, giving a distinctive characteristic to its population - from the west, early Dard settlers and later-day invaders from Baltistan; from the east, Tibetan settlers, invaders and rulers; from the north, traders from Yarkand; and much later, Dogra conquerors from Jammu in the south.

The people who settled here established Ladakh’s centuries-old religious and cultural heritage: the shamanistic Bon-po with roots across the Tien Shen to Southern Siberia’s Attai mountains, and later, Buddhists from Kashmir some five centuries before Buddhism reached Tibet. The 16th century saw the introduction of Islam to the region and 19th century Moravian missionaries brought Christianity.

For centuries, Silk Road caravans and devoted pilgrims passed through this crossroads, endowing the region with a convergence of religious and artistic traditions, which find expression in its monuments, monasteries, festivals, cultural traditions and in the lifestyle of the people. Shielded by the high mountain ramparts, Ladakh remains an unspoiled enclave of Tibetan Buddhism to date.

Reaching Leh

Leh is well connected to New Delhi by a one-hour flight. Indian Airlines operates a daily flight during June through September and four times weekly during the rest of the year. Jet Airways operate twice daily service to Leh during summer months and once daily during the rest of the year. Go air with Jet Airways which operates twice daily and Air Vistara which operates once daily. These flights tend to be heavily booked and reservations should be made well in advance to get the best airfare package.

Road Journeys

Road Journey from Kashmir-The Srinagar-Leh National Highway is the main overland approach into Ladakh from Kashmir . This 434-km long highway broadly follows the historic trade route between Central Asia / Tibet and India . It runs across the Zoji-La (11,500-ft./3,505 m), the high pass in the Zanskar range of the Great Himalayas, which generally opens for vehicular traffic in May. This road journey provides the best possible introduction to the land and people of Ladakh region. At one stage , as you cross the Zoji-la watershed, you suddenly leave the lushness of Kashmir and enter into the barren contours of a trans-Himalayan landscape. Drass , the first township over the pass, inhabited by a population of mainly Dard origin, has the popular reputation of being the second coldest inhabited place in the world. But in summer when the pass is open, the standing crops and clumps of willow give it a gentle and pleasant look. After Drass, the valley narrows down to almost a gorge, opening up here and there to allow small patches of terraced cultivation, till Kargil town, the second largest town of Ladakh and Headquarters of Kargil district. Here the journey has to be broken for an overnight stay.
On leaving Kargil, the road plunges into the ridges and valleys of the Zanskar range, passing through the valleys of Pashkyum and Mulek. At Mulbek, you will be able to see and admire the gigantic rock carving of Maitreya Buddha , dating to the 7 th or 8 th Century. Two more passes, Namika-la (12,200 ft/3,719 m) and Fotu-la (13,432 ft/4,094 m), follow the exit of Mulbek valley. From Fotu1a, the road descends in sweeps and turns, past the spectacularly sited monastery of Lamayuru and the wind-eroded towers and pinnacles of "Moonland" feature, down to the Indus at Khalatse. From here the road follows the river, passing villages with their terraced fields and neat whitewashed houses. At last Leh is visible from a ridge, dominated by the imposing 17 th century Leh Palace.

Road journey from Manali - The Manali- Leh Road (473 km) is open from early June through September. For much of its length, this road passes through barren areas that are entirely devoid of any settled habitation. Lahoul district, through which the road passes, is a typically trans-Himalayan landscape. The first major pass in this road, the Rohtang pass (13,000 ft/3,978m), cuts through the Pir Panjal range of the Great Himalayas. Lahouli houses are built in the Ladakhi pattern, out of sun-dried bricks. Whitewashed and flat-roofed, they stand among the irrigated fields of the villages, which cling to the mountain slopes. Beyond Keyl o ng, headquarter of Lahoul district, the road follows the Bhaga River up towards its source, passing a few more villages, the last till the territory of Ladakh is entered. Now it ascends the Baralacha-la (16,050 ft/ 4,892m), which is a tri-junction, with a trail from Spiti also joining in from the southeast. This is the crossing of the Great Himalayan Range , the watershed between the Indus and the Chenab Rivers .
The Zanskar Range , which lies next on this road, is crossed through two more passes, the Lachulung- la (16,600 ft/ 5,059m) and the Taglang-la (17,469 ft/5,325rn). Between these two passes , there is nothing but rock and sand, rolling hills and broad plains scoured by dust devils. In this area, seasonal camps are set up at Serchu & Pang at various points along the road to cater to the needs of travellers. Once over the Taglang-la, the descent to the Indus starts, and soon one passes the first village. The road follows the Gya River down to the Indus at Upshi , from where it is smooth driving to Leh, past the Indus valley villages of Karu, Stakna, Thikse, Shey, and Choglamsar , before entering the town.

Climate: The climatic conditions of Ladakh are mainly dry with little or no rainfall. Summer temperatures rarely exceed 27 C in the shade while in winter they may even plunge to 15 C below zero. During winters, most parts of Ladakh are snow bound and all the land approaches out of the region are closed.