Ladakh, the land of many passes, snow clad mountains and arid land is among the highest of the world's inhabited plateaus. It lies at altitudes ranging from about 2,750 meters at Kargil to 7,672 meters at Saser Kangri in the Karakoram. The summer temperatures exceed up to 35 ° C, while in winter they may drop to -40 ° C in some high altitude areas. Ladakh has been the described as 'Moon Land', 'Magic Land', and 'Mysterious Land' for its unique landscape and exquisite culture. One sees no horizon here but only mountain peaks soaring up to 5 to 6 km. In the prehistoric period Ladakh formed a great lake. Even at present the region has some of the largest and most beautiful lakes, Pangong and the Tsomoriri lakes. Covering an area of approximately 98,000 sq. km with a population of about more than 2 lakhs, it is a repository of myriad cultural and religious influences from Tibet, India and Central Asia. The population of Ladakh is evenly divided between Muslims and Buddhists. There are several hundred Christians also. Ladakh has witnessed Stone Age, as stone tools have been found in some parts of the region. The early history of Ladakh is shrouded in mystery. It formed originally a part of Tibet. But in the 10th century it became independent under a line of Tibetan kings who accepted the Grand Lamas as their Suzerains. This dynasty known as Namgyal continued to rule till 1836, when Gulab Singh, the ruler of Jammu & Kashmir invaded Ladakh and annexed it to the Jammu & Kashmir territory. For centuries, Ladakh has been an important center of trade between India and the countries of the Central Asia.Leh, the capital served as the terminus for caravans.
The people of Ladakh represent a blend of at least three distinct groups. Two of them were Aryans and third was of Mongols stock. The centuries old culture of Ladakh has found expression in its monuments, monasteries, mosques, Imambaras, oral literature, paintings, fairs, and festivals. The monasteries or gompas constitute the most interesting and fascinating feature of the cultural landscape. The exuberance, gaity, colorfulness, and pageantry associated with religious, social, and seasonal festivals make them great occasions of rejoicing & joy. A prominent feature in the Ladakhi etiquette is the presentation of scarves known as khadags on all occasions. A Ladakhi female in full costume would create no small sensation amongst the fashionable dames of European capital." This remark made by William Moorcroft (1767 - 27 August 1825) , an Englishman in 1820-22 is true even today. Ladakh has undergone tremendous changes in post-independence India. People are now more prosperous economically, conscious socially, and advanced politically. However the forces of change and modern age today threaten the balance with the natural environment, which has been the basic characteristic of Ladakhi life.
Ladakh is sandwiched between two vast mountain systems, the Karakoram to the north and the Himalaya to the south. Covering an area of about 60,000 sq km and ranging in elevation from 2600m to 7070 m, it is the largest and highest district in India. The Indus valley is the Ladakhi heartland, with the highest population density, and large amounts of agricultural land. Running parallel, roughly north-east south-west with it are a series of valleys and mountain ranges. North of the Indus valley is the Ladakh range, on the other side of which is the Shayok, and Nubra valleys. South of the Indus is the Stok range, clearly visible from Leh. On the other side is the Markha valley, a popular trekking destination. Farther south-west is a series of minor ranges and then uninhabited valleys we come to Zangskar, with the Kargyak and the Stod rivers joining at Padum, to form the Zangskar river which bucks the trend and flows north through a narrow gorge to join the Indus. To the south of Zangskar is the Grand Himalayan range marking the southern limit of Ladakh. To the east of this series of ranges is the Changtang, a high plateau home to nomads. It is known as Kharnak in the west, Samad Rokchen in the north east and Korzok in the south east. Not a true plateau, it has a chaotic assortment of minor mountains ranges not much higher than the wide valleys between them. With no drainage leading out of this area, there are a number of beautiful salt water lakes that make popular destinations for tourists.
Ladakh is country's coldest, highest and the driest zone. Ladakh has a cool and generally dry mountain climate. Much of Ladakh is above 11,000 feet (3,350 M). Therefore, you can expect warm to hot days in the summer and cool nights. In winter the temp may drop as low as -35*C. There is occasional snowfall in winter caused by “Western Disturbances”. Summer days are generally warm, 25-30*C. Annual rainfall does not normally exceed 10cm/3.5 in though over the past decade or so there have been occasional spells of unusually heavy rainfall.