Ladakh (“land of high passes”) (Ladakhi: la’dwags; Hindi : लद्; Urdu : لَدّاخ) is a region in Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir that currently extends from the Kunlun Mountain Range to the main Great Himalayas to the south, inhabited by people of Indo-Aryans and Tibetan descent. It is one of the most sparsely populated regions in Jammu and Kashmir and its culture and history are closely related to that of Tibet.
Historically, the region included the Baltistan valleys (now mostly in Pakistan), the entire upper Indus Valley, the remote Zanskar, Lahaul & Spiti to the south, much of Ngari including the Rudok region and Guge in the east, Aksai Chin in the northeast (extending to the Kun Lun mountains), and the Nubra Valley to the north over Khardong La in the Ladakh Range. Contemporary Ladakh borders Tibet to the east, the Lahaul & Spiti regions to the south, the Vale of Kashmir, Jammu and Baltyiul regions to the west, and the southwest corner of Xianjang across the Karakoram Pass in the far north. Ladakh is renowned for its remote mountain beauty and culture. Aksai Chin is one of the disputed border areas between China and India. It is administered by China as part of Hotan County but is also claimed by India as a part of the Ladakh region of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. In 1962, China and India fought a brief war over Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh, but in 1993 and 1996 the two countries signed agreements to respect the Line of Actual Control. In the past Ladakh gained importance from its strategic location at the crossroads of important trade routes, but since the Chinese authorities closed the borders with Tibet and Central Asia in the 1960s, international trade has dwindled except for tourism. Since 1974, the Government of India has successfully encouraged tourism in Ladakh. Since Ladakh is a part of strategically important Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian Army maintains a strong presence in the region.
The largest town in Ladakh is Leh. The administrative centre is Padum. Zanskar, together with the neighbouring region of Ladakh, was briefly a part of the kingdom of Guge in Western Tibet.
The Zanskar Range is a mountain range that separates Zanskar from Ladakh. Geologically, the Zanskar Range is part of the Tethys Himalaya, an approximately 100-km-wide synclinorium formed by strongly folded and imbricated, weakly metamorphosed sedimentary series. The average height of the Zanskar Range is about 6,000 m (19,700 ft). Its eastern part is known as Rupshu.
It also separates Kinnaur District from Spiti in Himachal Pradesh. The highest peaks in Himachal are in the Zanskar Range.
The first traces of human activity in Zanskar seem to go back as far as the Bronze Age. It is suspected that an Indo-European population known as the Mon might then have lived in this region, before mixing with or being replaced by the next settlers, the Dards. Early Buddhism coming from Kashmir spread its influence in Zanskar, possibly as early as 200 BC. After this eastward propagation of Buddhism, Zanskar and large parts of the Western Himalaya were overrun in the 7th century by the Tibetans, who imposed their then animistic Bön religion.
Buddhism regained its influence over Zanskar in the 8th century when Tibet was also converted to this religion. Between the 10th and 11th centuries, two Royal Houses were founded in Zanskar, and the monasteries of Karsha and Phugtal (see picture) were built. Until the 15th century Zanskar existed as a more or less independent Buddhist Kingdom ruled by between two and four related royal families. Since the 15th century, Zanskar has been subordinate to Ladakh, sharing its fortunes and misfortunes. In 1822 a coalition of Kulu, Lahoul, and Kinnaur invaded Zanskar, plundering the country and destroying the Royal palace at Padum.
In the mid-20th century, border conflicts between India, Pakistan and China caused Ladakh and Zanskar to be closed to foreigners. During these wars Ladakh lost two thirds of its original territory, losing Baltistan to Pakistan and the Aksai Chin to China. Ladakh and Zanskar, despite a tumultuous history of internal wars and external aggressions, have never lost their cultural and religious heritage since the 8th century. Thanks to its adherence to the Indian Union, this is also one of the rare regions in the Himalaya where traditional Tibetan culture, society, and buildings survived the Chinese . In the last twenty years, the opening of a road and the massive influx of tourists and researchers have brought many changes to the traditional social organisation of Zanskar. In 2007 the valley suffered its third year of a desert locust infestation with many villages losing their crops. The response of the monasteries was to carry out Puja ( prayer ) to get rid of them while the government was advocating the use of insecticides which the Buddhists were reluctant to use, but in some cases were forced to try with as yet undocumented success. In 2008 it was reported that the Locusts had left the central Zanskar plains.