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Ladakh - The Last Shangrila

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Ladakh - The Last Shangrila
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Popularly known as "Hermit Kingdom", Ladakh is a land of snow carved peaks, translucent Lakes, barren terrain and mystic culture. The district of Ladakh lies at the border with Tibet at the most eastern corner of the State of Kashmir. Bounded by two of the world's mightiest mountain ranges, the Great Himalaya and the Karakoram, Ladakh is a land like no other. Ladakh is often referred to as the "Little Tibet", or the "Last Shangri-La". Ladakh is the trans-Himalayan region, which separates the western Himalayan peaks from the Tibetan plateau. 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.

Ladakh being a cold desert with a barren landscape and very limited sources of water, it has still been home to a thriving culture for more than a thousand years. Traditions of frugality and cooperation, coupled with an intimate knowledge of the local environment, have enabled the Ladakhis not only to survive, but to prosper. Ladakh is truly a self-sufficient land, producing all that it needs. This self-sufficiency is based essentially on an economy of small agricultural communities dependent on glacial torrents which, in wild and joyous tumult, come and meet the large Himalayan rivers. Desert conditions have forced the farmers of these celestial lands to develop unique irrigation systems. Canals draw water from far inside the mountains to guide them towards the fields which have been terraced to facilitate the work of the precious liquid. They sink into the rock, forming labyrinths stretching over several kilometers, a challenge to man, taken up 1500 years ago.

People of Ladakh are mostly Mahayana Buddhists belonging to the sect of the Red or Yellow Lamas. The faces and physique of the Ladakhis, and the clothes they wear, are more akin to those of Tibet and Central Asia than of India. Ancient inhabitants of Ladakh were Dards, and Indo-Aryan race from down the Indus. But immigration from Tibet more than a thousand years ago largly overwhelmed the culture of the Dards and moped up their racial characters. In eastern and central Ladakh, todays population seems to be mostly of Tibet origin. Further west, in and around Kargil, the people's appearance suggests a mixed origin.

The Ladakhis cannot develop the production of yak cheese as is done in Nepal for their herds are too small. Products made from fresh milk are therefore important. Each family owns some goats, cows and dzos (yak-cow). The herds follow the mountain paths and return in the evening to the quiet villages, or they move to new pastures for a summer between sky and earth.

Ladakh is also home to some of the rare animals and plant species of the living world. These include the Mountain Goat (Ibex), and the Snow Leopard, Brong Drong (wild Yak), Kyang (wild Horse) and Nyan (large horned sheep), Musk Deer and the Tibetan Antelope, which is prized for its fleece used to make best quality shawls called Shatoosh.

Ladakh Festivals

The monastic festivals are brilliant spectacles of colour, of song and dance that revitalize the spirit of the people. Cham, the srecret masked dance is performed on these occassions by monks resplendent in brocade robes and vivid masks. Long horns are blown, cymbals clash and the dancers bring alive stories from the Buddhist epics. Many of these festivals occur in the winter months and live a long hard season.

Lamas, robed in colourful garments and wearing often startlingly frightful masks, perform mimes representing various aspects of the religion such as the progress of the individual soul and its purification or the triumph of good over evil. Local people flock from near and far to these events, and the spiritual benefits they get are no doubt heightened by their enjoyment of the party atmosphere, with crowds of women and men, the opportunity to make new friendships and renew old ones, the general bustle and sense of occasion.

The magnificent monastries of Ladakh are the very essence of its culture, the repositories of all its treasures of Buddhist art, the focus of festivity. The centuries old culture of Ladakh has found expression in its monuments, Gompas oral literature, art forms, fairs and festivals, thus reflecting the strong hold religion has in the lives of the Ladakhis. Many of the annual festivals of the gompas take place in winter, a relatively idle time for the majority of the people. They take the form of dance-dramas in the gompa courtyards.

Facts about Ladakh

Name :Ladakh

Capital :Leh

Location :30 degree to 36 degree east latitude and 76 degree to 79 degree north longitude

Area :96,701 Sq.Kms

Altitude :Ranging from about 2750m at Kargil to 7,672m at Saser Kangri in the Karakoram.

District :Leh and Kargil.

Languages :Kashmiri, Urdu, Hindi, English

Population : 200,000 (approx)

Religion :Buddhism, Islam. Hindu