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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Ladakh And Baltistan

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A province of Kashmir, India. The name Ladak, commonly but less correctly spelt Ladakh, and sometimes Ladag, belongs primarily to the broad valley of the upper Indus in West Tibet, but includes several surrounding districts in political connexion with it; the present limits are between 75° 40' and 80° 30' E., and between 32° 25' and 36° N. It is bounded N. by the Kuenlun range and the slopes of the Karakoram, N.W. and W. by the dependency of Baltistan or Little Tibet, S.W. by Kashmir proper, S. by British Himalayan territory, and E. by the Tibetan provinces of Ngari and Rudok. The whole region lies very high, the valleys of Rupshu in the south-east being 15,000 ft., and the Indus near Leh 11,000 ft., while the average height of the surrounding ranges is 19,000 ft. The proportion of arable and even possible pasture land to barren rock and gravel is very small. Pop., including Baltistan (1901) 16 5,99 2, of whom 30,216 in Ladakh proper are Buddhists, whereas the Baltis have adopted the Shiah form of Islam.

The natural features of the country may be best explained by reference to two native terms, under one or other of which every part is included; viz. changtang, i.e. " northern., or high plain," where the amount of level ground is considerable, and rong, i.e. " deep valley," where the contrary condition prevails. The former predominates in the east, diminishing gradually westwards. There, although the vast alluvial deposits which once filled the valley to a remarkably uniform height of about 15,000 ft. have left their traces on the mountain sides, they have undergone immense denudation, and their debris now forms secondary deposits, flat bottoms or shelving slopes, the only spots available for cultivation or pasture. These masses of alluvium are often either metamorphosed to a subcrystalline rock still showing the composition of the strata, or simply consoli dated by lime.

Grand scenery is exceptional, for the valleys are confined, and from the higher points the view is generally of a confused mass of brown or yellow hills, absolutely barren, and of no great apparent height. The parallelism characteristic of the Himalayan ranges continues here, the direction being north-west and southeast. A central range divides the Indus valley, here 4 to 8 m. wide, from that of its north branch the Shyok, which with its fertile tributary valley of Nubra is again bounded on the north by the Karakoram. This central ridge is mostly syenitic gneiss, and north-east from it are found, successively, Silurian slates, Carboniferous shales and Triassic limestones, the gneiss recurring at the Turkestan frontier. The Indus lies along the line which separates the crystalline rocks from the Eocene sandstones and shales of the lower range of hills on the left bank, the lofty mountains behind them consisting of parallel bands of rocks from Silurian to Cretaceous.

Several lakes in the east districts at about 14,000 ft. have been of much greater extent, and connected with the river systems of the country, but they are now mostly without outlet, saline, and in process of desiccation.

Leh is the capital of Ladakh, and the road to Leh from Srinagar lies up the lovely Sind valley to the sources of the river at the Zoji La Pass (11,300 ft.) in the Zaskar range. This is the range which, skirting the southern edge of the upland plains of Deosai in Baltistan, divides them from the valley of Kashmir, and then continues to Nanga Parbat (26,620 ft.) and beyond that mountain stretches to the north of Swat and Bajour. To the south-east it is an unbroken chain till it merges into the line of snowy peaks seen from Simla and the plains of India - the range which reaches past Chini to the famous peaks of Gangotri, Nandadevi and Nampa. It is the most central and conspicuous range in the Himalaya. The Zoji La, which curves from the head of the Sind valley on to the bleak uplands of Dras (where lies the road to the trough of the Indus and Leh), is, in spite of its altitude, a pass on which little snow lies; but for local accumulations, it would be open all the year round. It affords a typical instance of that cutting-back process by which a river-head may erode a channel through a watershed into the plateau behind, there being no steep fall towards the Indus on the northern side of the range. From the Zoji La the road continues by easy gradients, following the line of the Dras drainage, to the Indus, when it turns up the valley to Leh. From Leh there are many routes into Tibet, the best known being that from the Indus valley to the Tibetan plateau, by the Chang La, to Lake Pangkong and Rudok (14,000 ft.). Rudok occupies a forward position on the western Tibetan border analogous to that of Leh in Kashmir. The chief trade route to Lhasa from Leh, however, follows the line offered by the valleys of the Indus and the Brahmaputra (or Tsanpo), crossing the divide between these rivers north of Lake Manasarowar.

The observatory at Leh is the most elevated observatory in Asia. " The atmosphere of the Indus valley is remarkably clear and transparent, and the heat of the sun is very great. There is generally a difference of more than 60° between the reading of the exposed sun thermometer in vacuo and the air tempera ture in the shade, and this difference has occasionally exceeded 90° .... The mean annual temperature at Leh is 40°, that of the coldest months (January and February) only 18° and 19°, but it rises rapidly from February to July, in which month it reaches 62° with a mean diurnal maximum of 80° both in that month and August, and an average difference of 29° or 30° between the early morning and afternoon. The mean highest temperature of the year is 90°, varying between 84° and 93° in the twelve years previous to 1893. On the other hand, in the winter the minimum thermometer falls occasionally below o°, and in 1878 reached as low as 17° below zero. The extreme range of recorded temperature is therefore not less than 110°. The air is as dry as Quetta, and rather more uniformly so.... The amount of rain and snow is insignificant. The average rain (and snow) fall is only 2.7 in. in the year.' The winds are generally light, and depend on the local direction of the valleys. At Leh, which stands at the entrance of the valley leading to the Kardang Pass, the most common directions are between south and west in the daytime and summer, and from northeast in the night, especially in the later months of the year. In January and February the air is generally calm, and April and May are the most windy months of the year.

Vegetation is confined to valleys and sheltered spots, where a stunted growth of tamarisk and Myricaria, Hippophae and Elaeagnus, furze, and the roots of burtsi, a salsolaceous plant, supply the traveller with much-needed firewood. The trees are the pencil cedar ( Juniperus excelsa ), the poplar and willow (both extensively planted, the latter sometimes wild), apple, mulberry, apricot and walnut. Irrigation is skilfully managed, the principal products being wheat, a beardless variety of barley called grim, millet, buckwheat, pease, beans and turnips. Lucerne and prangos (an umbelliferous plant) are used as fodder.

Among domestic animals are the famous shawl goat, two kinds of sheep, of which the larger (huniya ) is used for carrying burdens, and is a principal source of wealth, the yak and the dso, a valuable hybrid between the yak and common cow. Among wild animals are the kiang or wild ass, ibex, several kinds of wild sheep, antelope (Pantholops ), marmot, hare and other Tibetan fauna.

The present value of the trade between British India and Tibet passing through Ladakh is inconsiderable Ladakh, however, is improving in its trade prospects apart from Tibet. It is curious that both Ladakh and Tibet import a considerable amount of treasure, for on the borders of western Tibet and within a radius of 100 or 200 m. of Leh there centres a gold-mining industry which apparently only requires scientific development to render it enormously productive. Here the surface soil has been for many centuries washed for gold by bands of Tibetan miners, who never work deeper than 20 to 50 ft., and whose methods of washing are of the crudest description. They work in winter, chiefly because of the binding power of frost on the friable soil, suffering great hardships and obtaining but a poor return for their labour. But the remoteness of Ladakh and its extreme altitude still continue to bar the way to substantial progress, though its central position naturally entitles it to be a great trade mart.

The adjoining territory of Baltistan forms the west extremity of Tibet, whose natural limits here are the Indus from its abrupt southward bend in 74° 45' E., and the mountains to the north and west, separating a comparatively peaceful Tibetan population from the fiercer Aryan tribes beyond. Mahommedan writers about the 16th century speak of Baltistan as " Little Tibet," and of Ladakh as " Great Tibet," thus ignoring the really Great Tibet altogether. The Balti call Gilgit " a Tibet," and Dr Leitner says that the Chilasi call themselves Bot or Tibetans; but, although these districts may have been overrun by the Tibetans, or have received rulers of that race, the ethnological frontier coincides with the geographical one given. Baltistan is a mass of lofty mountains, the prevailing formation being gneiss. In the north is the Baltoro glacier, the largest out of the arctic regions, 35 m. long, contained between two ridges whose highest peaks to the south are 25,000 and to the north 28,265 ft. The Indus, as in Lower Ladakh, runs in a narrow gorge, widening for nearly 20 m. after receiving the Shyok. The capital, Skardu, a scattered collection of houses, stands here, perched on a rock 7250 ft. above the sea. The house roofs are flat, occupied only in part by a second story, the remaining space being devoted to drying apricots, the chief staple of the main valley, which supports little cultivation. But the rapid slope westwards is seen generally in the vegetation. Birch, plane, spruce and Pinus excelsa appear; the fruits are finer, including pomegranate, pear, peach, vine and melon, and where irrigation is available, as in the North Shigar, and at the deltas of the tributary valleys, the crops are more luxuriant and varied.


The earliest notice of Ladakh is by the Chinese pilgrim Fa-hien, A.D. 400, who, travelling in search of a purer I H. F. Blandford, Climate and Weather of India (London, 1889).

faith, found Buddhism flourishing there, the only novelty to him being the prayer-cylinder, the efficacy of which he declares is incredible. Ladakh formed part of the Tibetan empire until its disruption in the 10th century, and since then has continued ecclesiastically subject, and sometimes tributary, to Lhasa. Its inaccessibility saved it from any Mussulman invasion until 1531, when Sultan Said of Kashgar marched an army across the Karakoram, one division fighting its way into Kashmir and wintering there. Next year they invaded eastern Tibet, where nearly all perished from the effects of the climate.

Early in the 17th century Ladakh was invaded by its Mahommedan neighbours of Baltistan, who plundered and destroyed the temples and monasteries; and again, in 1685-1688, by the Sokpa, who were expelled only by the aid of the lieutenant of Aurangzeb in Kashmir, Ladakh thereafter becoming tributary. The gyalpo or king then made a nominal profession of Islam, and allowed a mosque to be founded at Leh, and the Kashmiris have ever since addressed his successors by a Mahommedan title. When the Sikhs took Kashmir, Ladakh, dreading their approach, offered allegiance to Great Britain. It was, however, conquered and annexed in1834-1841by Gulab Singh of Jammu - the unwarlike Ladakhis, even with nature fighting on their side, and against indifferent generalship, being no match for the Dogra troops. These next turned their arms successfully against the Baltis (who in the 18th century were subject to the Mogul), and were then tempted to revive the claims of Ladakh to the Chinese provinces of Rudok and Ngari. This, however, brought down an army from Lhasa, and after a three days' fight the Indian force was almost annihilated - chiefly indeed by frostbite and other sufferings, for the battle was fought in mid-winter, 15,000 ft. above the sea. The Chinese then marched on Leh, but were soon driven out again, and peace was finally made on the basis of the old frontier. The widespread prestige of China is illustrated by the fact that tribute, though disguised as a present, is paid to her, for Ladakh, by the maharaja of Kashmir.

The principal works to be consulted are F. Drew, The Jummoo and Kashmir Territories; Cunningham, Ladak; Major J. Biddulph, The Tribes of the Hindoo Koosh; Ramsay, Western Tibet; GodwinAusten, " The Mountain Systems of the Himalaya," vol. vi., Proc. R.G.S. (1884); W. Lawrence, The Valley of Kashmir (1895); H. F. Blandford, The Climate and Weather of India (1889). (T. H. H.*)

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Ladakh And Baltistan'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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