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Ladakh History

The region of Ladakh once formed part of the erstwhile Kingdom of Ladakh and for nearly 900 years from the middle of the 10th century existed as an independent kingdom. Its dynasties descended from the king of old Tibet. After 1531, it was periodically attacked by the Muslims from Kashmir, until it was finally annexed to Kashmir in the mid 19th century. The early colonizers of Ladakh included the Indo-Aryan Mons from across the Himalayan range, the Darads from the extreme western Himalayas, and the nomads from the Tibetan highlands. While Mons are believed to have carried north-Indian Buddhism to these highland valleys, the Darads and Baltis of the lower Indus Valley are credited with the introduction of farming and the Tibetans with the tradition of herding. Its valleys, by virtue of their contiguity with Kashmir, Kishtwar and Kulu, served as the initial receptacles of successive ethnic and cultural waves emanating from across the Great Himalayan range.

Its political fortunes flowed over the centuries, and the kingdom, was at its best in the early 17th century under the famous king Sengge Namgyal, whose rule extended across Spiti and western Tibet up to the Mayumla beyond the sacred sites of Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar. During this period Ladakh became recognized as the best trade route between the Punjab and Central Asia. The merchants and pilgrims who made up the majority of travellers during this period of time, travelled on foot or horseback,

History of Ladakh

taking about 16 days to reach Srinagar, although the people riding non-stop and with changes of horse all along the route, could do it in as little as three days. These merchants who deal in textiles and spices, raw silk and carpets, dyestuffs and narcotics, transported their goods on pony who took about two months to carry them from Amritsar to the Central Asian towns of Yarkand and Knotan. On this long route, Leh was the half-way house, and developed into a bustling entreport, its bazaars thronged with merchants from far countries. This 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 1960s.

 

The 434 km Srinagar-Leh highway follows the historic trade route, thus giving travellers a glimpse of villages that are historically and culturally important. The famous pashm (better known as cashmere) was produced in the high altitudes of eastern Ladakh and western Tibet and transported thorough Leh to Srinagar where skilled artisans transformed it into shawls which are known all over the world for their softness and warmth. Ironically, it was this lucrative trade, that finally spelt

Ladakh History

the doom of the independent kingdom. It attracted the covetous gaze of Gulab Singh, the ruler of Jammu in the early 19th century, and in 1834, he sent his general Zorawar Singh to invade Ladakh. Hence, followed a decade of war and turmoil, which ended with the emergence of the British as the paramount power in north India. Ladakh, together with the neighbouring province of Baltistan, was incorporated into the newly created State of Jammu & Kashmir. Just over a century later, this union was disturbed by the partition of India, Baltistan becoming part of Pakistan, while Ladakh remained in India as part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

 
 
 
 

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