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Ladakh Ancient Routes

For all its seeming inaccessibility, Ladakh's position at the centre of a network of trade routes traditionally kept it in constant touch with the outside world. From Chinese Central Asia, the mighty Karakoram range was breached at the Karakoram pass, a giddy 18,350 feet (5,600 m). The trail from Yarkand crossed five other passes, of which the most feared was the glacier, encumbered Saser-la, north of Nubra. Travellers from Tibet could take one of two main routes. From the central part of the

Ladakh Ancient Routes

country, the Tsang-po valley, they could pass the holy sites of Kailash-Mansarovar and reach Fartok, on a tributary of the upper Indus, from where they followed the river down to Leh. Trade with the Pashmina producing areas of western Tibet flowed by a more northern route, taking in the village of Rudok, a few miles into Tibet, and from there across the 18,300 feet (5,578m) Chang-la to the Indus, and so to Leh. Baltistan, joined administratively with Ladakh for 100 years, was linked to it either via the Indus up to its confluence with the Suru-Shingo river, and on up to Kargil, or by the Chorbat-la pass over the Ladakh range, the trail dropping down to the Indus 40 km below Khalatse, and following the river up to Leh.

 

The two main approaches to Ladakh from south of the Himalaya are roughly the same as today's motor roads from Srinagar and Manali. The merchants and pilgrims who made up the majority of travellers in the pre-modern era, travelled on foot or horseback, taking about 16 days to reach Srinagar; though a man in hurry, riding non-stop and with changes of horse arranged ahead of time all along the route, could do it in as little as three days. The mails, carried in relays by runners stationed every four miles or so, took four or five days.

Ancient Routes in Ladakh

That was before the wheel as a means of transport was introduced into Ladakh, which happened only when the Srinagar - Leh motor-road was constructed as recently as the early 1960's.

 

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