With the recent bifurcation of India’s northernmost state Jammu and Kashmir, the Union Government has created the nation’s first Buddhist-only union territory. Here is all you need to know about the arid mountainous region of Ladakh. By Bayar Jain
The Union Government of India recently revoked Article 370, a special provision in the Constitution that gave the residents of Jammu and Kashmir the freedom to make their own rules regarding citizenship, ownership of property, and even fundamental rights. As a result, India will now be home to two new Union Territories (UTs) – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. The latter being the nation’s first Buddhist-only union territory.
The proposed UT Ladakh will extend from the Siachen glacier in the Karakoram range, to the Great Himalayas in the south. The north of Ladakh borders China, while Tibet lies to its east. With this new formation, Ladakh will have a population of 2.74 lakhs, out of which 1.33 lakh people are Buddhists (as per 2011 Census). This accounts for almost 50% of their total population! The only other state where such a high concentration of one religion exists is in Punjab where the Sikh population makes up for 57.69% of the total population.
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The etymology of the word ‘Ladakh’ gives us a glimpse of this paradisiacal mountainous region’s history. Ladakh is a transliteration of the Persian spelling of the Tibetan name La-dvags, which means ‘land of high passes.’ Originally, the region connected India with the Silk Road. For a large part of Ladakh’s history, it served as a major trading hub. Hundreds of camels, horses, mules, silks and carpets were brought in caravans from other countries. In the process, the region also became a great source for spices to be traded world over. Although barter trade and the silk route is no longer functional, Ladakh continues to remain a major exporter of spices.
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When in Ladakh, there are many places you can visit. The Nubra Valley, The Zanskar Ranges, the Khardung-la Pass, Pangong Tso Lake, Spituk Monastery, Tso Moriri lake…phew! The list is endless! This newly formed UT will give you a truly Buddhist experience, one that is largely unavailable in any other part of the nation. It is home to many monasteries such as The Hemis Monastery, Thiksey Monastery, Diskit Monastery, Likir Monastery, Spituk Monastery, Stakna Monastery, Alchi Monastery, Phyang Monastery and a lot more. An equally, if not more, number of lakes also add to the beauty of Ladakh. Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri, Tso Kar, Nyak Tso, Yarab Tso, Mirpal Tso, Stat Tso, Lang Tso, and Kiager Tso are just some of the serene waters here. For the more adventurous, Ladakh has many trekking routes such as Chadar Trek, Stok Kangri Trek, Snow Leapord Trek, Markha Valley Trek, and more!
Currently, tourism in Ladakh has been affected. Following the government’s clampdown, many tourists have cancelled plans to visit this northern region. Earlier, heavy snowfall also affected the tourism sector here. However, when things settle down, one can easily hop onto one of the many flights that cater to this region. Despite Kushok Bakula Rimpochee being the only airport in the Leh-Ladakh region, many flights operate to and fro this sector. Major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata have direct flights. By road, one can take either of the two main highways: the Manali – Leh highway, or the Srinagar-Leh one.