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