LADAKH:: ROOF OF THE WORLD

Ladakh - called the roof top of the world, is a land surrounded in myth and legend. Much of its ancient history is known only through the mythology of its people as its writing is of very recent origin. Known for centuries as the "land" of passes" ( La-pass; Dakh-land ), Ladakh was described by Fa-hia, who traveled across its inhospitable terrain in 399 AD, as the land where the snow never melts and only corn ripens. Ladakh abounds in ancient architecture, paintings, flora and fauna, sure to keep a visitor spell-bound for hours. Situated on the western end of the Himalayas, Ladakh has four major mountain ranges - the great Himalayan, Zanskar, Ladakh and the Karakoram - passing through it. A maze of enormously high snowcapped peaks and the largest glaciers outside the polar region dominate the terrain where mountain heights range from a mere 8000 feet to 15000 feet while passes of upto 20000 feee and peaks reaching above 25000 feet can be seen all around. Covering an area of approximately 98,000 sq.kms. Ladakh has a sparse population of about 135,000.

Leh, the main town of the region, is dominated by Sengge Namgyal's nine-storey Palace, a building in the grand tradition of Tibetan architecture, said to have inspired the famous Potala in Lhasa, which was built half a century later. A fort built by King Tashi Namgyal in the 16th century associated with Gompas remain intact.

Gompas The most attractive features of the landscape of Ladakh are the Buddhist gompas or monasteries. Sited on the highest point of the mountain spurs or majestically sprawling over cliffsides, located in the vicinity of villages, these aesthetically pleasing, architecturally interesting gompas provide the focus for the faith of the highly religious Buddhist people. The gompas are places of worship, isolated meditation and religious intruction for the young and have a wealth of artefacts. Lamayuru, the oldest religious centre of Ladakh, beats all others in sheer grandeur. In its uniqueness of wood carving, statues and frescoes. Alchi offers the highest rewards. The wealth of its possessions and its annual summer festival made Hemis the most popular while Thikse rates high in terms of architectural impact and the beauty of its Buddha statue. Likir and Phyang with their proximity to Leh are great attractions in their favour while the accessibility of the Shey, Spituk and the Sankar gompas make them suitable for tourists with time at a premium.

Kargil - the second town of Ladakh, is situated on the Suru river. Kargil , aprox. 200 kms from Leh, is the main staging point between Srinagar and Leh, and the gateway to Suru Valley and Zanskar.

Suru Valley - a greatly underrated part of Ladakh, runs from about 140 kms from Kargil up to the base of the Penzi-la pass into Zanskar. Plentiful of irrigation water allow the plantation of thick stands of willow and poplar, giving the area a lushness rare in Ladakh. About half way its lenth, the river loops its way past a huge mound of alluvium, the last gasp of the Zanskar range, to carry on , past the glaciers of the Nun-Kun massif to Rangum, a gompa on a hillock overlooking a wide marshy plain. Panikhar, the village just short of the valley's right angled turn, which is also the base for long treks in the direction of Kashmir and Kishtwar. Two more trekking bases are Sanku, and further down Rangdum.

Zanskar - two rivers, flowing towards each other along the northern flank of the Great Himalaya, meet in the broad plain of Padum, and become the Zanskar river which flows off northwards through a gorge in the Zanskar range, to the Indus at Nimo. Zanskar, is a favourite destination for trekkers and is also known as a land of religion and has the greatest concentration of gompas in Ladakh. The main ones are Sani, Karsha and Stongde.

Festival Dates - Leh Gompa : End January - early February, Stok Gompa : Early -mid February, Matho Gompa : End February - early March, Lamayura Gompa : End April - early May, Hemis Gompa : End June - early July, Phuang Gompa : Early to end July, Thikse gompa : Mid July to early August, Spituk Gompa : Early to mid January, Festival of Ladakh: 1st week of August.

To Reach Ladakh - Main overland approach to Ladakh is from the Kashmir Valley via the 434 kms Srinagar - Leh road, remain open for the traffice from early June to November. The 473 kms Manali- Leh road has been serving as th second land approach to Ladakh. Opens from around mid-June to October. Inaddition Local Airlines operates rugular flights to Leh from Delhi, Jammu and Srinagar.

For futher information and detailed itineraries for tours to Ladakh and trekking in the Zanaskar Range, please contact M. Ashraf - Email : hilltour@vsnl.net

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