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Ladakh is a land like no other. Bounded by two of the world’s mightiest mountain ranges, the Great Himalaya and the Karakoram, it lies athwart two others, the Ladakh range and the Zanskar range. 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 irresistable force against the immovable mass of Asia. It’s basic contours, uplifted by these unimaginable tectonic movements, have been modified over the millenia by the opposite forces of erosion, sculpted into the form we see today by wind and water.

Yes, water! Today, a high-altitude desert, sheltered from the rain – bearing clouds of the Indian monsoon by the barrier of the great Himalaya, Ladakh was once covered by an extensive lake system, the vestiges of which still exist on it’s south-east plateux of Rupshu and Chusul – in drainage basins with evocative names like Tso-moriri, Tso-kar, and grandest of all – Pangong-tso. Occasionally, some stray monsson clouds do find their way over the Himalaya, and lately this seems to be happening with increasing frequency. But the main source of water remains the winter snowfall. Dras, Zanskar and Suru Valley on the Himalaya’s northern flank recieve heavy snowfall in winter; this feeds the glaciers whose meltwater, carried down by streams, irrigates the fields in summer. For the rest of the region, the snow on the peaks is virtually the only source of water.

Ladakh lies at altitudes ranging from about 9,000 feet (2,750 m) at Kargil to 25,170 feet (7,672 m) at Saser Kangri in the Karakoram. The summer temperatures rarely exceed about 27 C in the shade, while in winter they may plummet to minus 20 C even in Leh. Surprisingly though, the thin air makes the heat of the sun even more intense at lower altitudes; it is said that only in Ladakh can a man sitting in the sun with his feet in the shade suffer from sunstroke and frostbite at the same time

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