Ladakh is the large eastern district of the state of Jammu and Kashmir embracing the valley of the upper Indus. With a mean elevation of 4,000 meters, it is termed both ‘Mar-yul’ or lowland (in comparison with western Tibet) and ‘khachanpa’ or snow land. Popularly known as Indian’s Tibet, with an area of 96,000 square kilometers (including Kargil), Ladakh occupies over forty percent of the total area of Jammu and Kashmir. Yet, with the population of 1, 17,637 (Leh district), it is one of the most sparsely populated regions of the world and has been geographically described as ‘ a desert of bare crags and granite dust with vast and arid tablelands of high elevation’. Its mountains and valleys form what may broadly be viewed as a system pf parallels; this ‘parallelism’, as well-known traveler and surveyor Alexander Cunningham phrased it, stretches south-east to North West.
Ladakh’s northern boundary is formed by the Karakoram (literally, ‘black gravel’) range, one of the biggest mountain massifs in the world, which has passes at heights of 52,000-5,575 meters above sea level. Stretching all the way from the source of the Gilgit river to the main branch of the Qara Qash, the Karakoram range runs parallel to the Kailash range and the Outer Himalayas in the north-west south-east direction. Its highest peaks, K2 (Mt Godwin-Austen) and Gasherbrum, lie to the north near the Mustagh pass (5,800 meters).
To the south of the Karakoram streches the Ladakh range which, with its two major passes- Leh Chang and the Khardong La (both over 5,000 meters)- forms the northern boundary of the Indus valley, which constitutes Ladakh’s heartland. South of Ladakh range and cut off from its mainland chain by the Indus, lies the Zanskar range.
These three mountain chains embrace two river valleys, those of the Indus and Shayok. The Indus, known as the Sengee-khabab or ‘lion river’ in Ladakh, runs entire length of the region.
Ladakh itself falls into six distinct regions; the far north-west part, north of Chang Chenmo; to its west, the valley of the river Nubra; central Ladakh, dotted with villages along the Indus or at the mouth of rivers and streams flowing into it; Zanskar, to Leh’s southwest, a wild, glaciated region; Rupshu, an upland plateau with great lakes in south-east Ladakh; and Dras, Purig (Purik) and Suru, to the west of Zanskar.
Central Ladakh, with the town of Leh as its heart, has the highest population of the region, and is the hub of its population of the region, and is the hub of its political, social and cultural life. Leh from the time immemorial has been enterpot and thus a region of interaction between people coming from distance area: India, Central Asia, Tibet and China. The Ladakhi monopoly of wool and tea coming from and through Tibet made it an important trade center.
Zanskar, a tangle of ridge and ravine, is largely barren and inhospitable. Rupshu’s cattle, sheep, large goats, and yak, are used as draught animals while its more numerous shawls goat is an important source of pashmina. The Nubra valley with its villages set on low platforms of alluvial soil is relatively fertile.