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LADAKH is a mysterious land shrouded in myth and legend.Much of its ancient history is known only through the mythology of its people as its written history is of very recent origin.Known for centuries as the 'land of passes' (La-pass;Dakh-land),Ladakh was described by Fa-hian,who travelled across its inhospitable terrain in 399 A.D.,as 'The land where snow never melts and only corn ripens'.

Its landscapes are forbidding by any measure.Snow-swathed mountains rise to several thousand feet above one of the most elevated plateux on earth.A treeless wind-swept country, much of Ladakh can be termed as mountains,Arctic desert,where everything is parched bt the rarefied dryness of the atmosphere.Scattered here and there, a few narrow fertile valleys provide a stark contrast to an otherwise barren,beautiful country of intense sunlight and clear sparkling air.The limpidity of the atmosphere, in fact gives the night sky a unique clarity, so full and bright with stars that one feels transported to some etheral setting far removed from earth. For endless years, mad had even discovered this remote land,several hardy animals and birds lived together here in an exquisite equilibrium.Circumstances have now changed as they have almost everywhere else on the subcontinent.Today,Ladakh's flora and fauna are threatened and protection is vital if the ancient ecosystems are to survive the trauma of modern man.Through the fabric of this account runs a strong statement,that the armed forces possible contribution to conservation remains untapped.Harnessing this vital potential force may be the single most important conservation advance India could make in the battle to save what remains of its natural wealth.



Drass (3230 m), 60 km west of Kargil on the road to Srinagar, is a small township lying in the centre of the valley of the same name. It has become famous as the second coldest inhabited place in the world by virtue of the intense cold that descends upon the valley along with repeated snowfalls during winters. Winter temperature is sometimes known to plummet to less than minus 40 degrees.

The Drass valley starts from the base of the Zojila pass, the Himalayan gateway to Ladakh. For centuries its inhabitants are known to have negotiated this formidable pass even during the most risky period in the late autumn or early spring, when the whole sector remains snow-bound and is subject to frequent snow storms, to transport trader's merchandise across and to help stranded travellers to traverse it. By virtue of their mastery over the pass they had established a monopoly over the carrying trade during the heydays of the Pan-Asian trade. A hardly people enduring with fortitude and harshness of the valley's winter, the inhabitants of drass can well be described as the guardian's of Ladakh's gateway.

Drass is a convenient base for a 3-day long trek to Suru valley across the sub-range separating the two valleys. This trek passes through some of the most beautiful upland villages and flower sprinkled meadows on both sides of the 4500 mts high Umbala pass, which falls enroute. The trek to the holy cave of Amarnath in neighbouring Kashmir, which stars from Minamarg below Zojila, takes 3 days and involves crossing of 5200 mts high pass. Drass also offers numerous shorter treks and hikes to the upland villages.



About 20 kms. South of Rangdum stands the Pazila watershed across which lies Zanskar, the most isolated of all the trans Himalayan Valleys. The Panzila Top (4401 m) is the picturesque tableland adorned with two small alpine lakes and surrounded by snow covered peaks. As the Zanskar road winds down the steep slopes of the watershed to the head of the Stod Valley, one of Zanskar's main tributary valleys, the majestic "Drang-Drung" glacier looms into full view. A long and winding river of ice and snow, the Drang-Drung" is perhaps the largest glacier in Ladakh, outside the Siachen formation. It is from the cliff-like snout of this extensive glacier that the Stod or Doda River, the main tributary of river Zanskar, rises.

Zanskar comprises a tri-armed valley system lying between the Great Himalayan Range and the Zanskar mountain; The three arms radiate star-like towards the west, north and south from a wide central expanse where the region's two principal drainage's meet to  form the main Zanskar River. It is mainly along the course of this valley system that the region's 10,000 strong, mainly Buddhists population lives. Spread over an estimated geographical area of 5000 sq. kms. High rise, mountains and deep gorges surround Zanskar. The area remains inaccessible for nearly 8 months a year due to heavy snowfall resulting in closure of all the access passes, including the Penzi-la. To-day, Zanskar has the distinction of being the least interfered with microcosms of Ladakh, and one of the last few surviving cultural satellites of Tibet. Within the mountain ramparts of this lost Shangrila stand a number of ancient yet active monastic establishments. Some of these religious foundations have evolved around remote meditation caves believed to have been used by a succession of famous Buddhist saints for prolonged meditation in pursuit of knowledge and enlightenment.



One of the most beautiful regions of Ladakh , the Suru Valley forms the mainstay of Kargil district. Lying nestled along the north-eastern foothills of the great Himalayan Wall, it extends from Kargil town, first southward for a length of about 75 Kms Upto the expanse around Panikhar, thence eastward for another stretch of nearly 65 kms upto the foot of the Penzila watershed where the Suru  valley rises. Its composite population of about 30,000 -- mainly of Tibeti-Darad descent -- are Muslims who had converted their Buddhist faith around the middle of the 16th century. The upper valley reaches of the valley, particularly around the Sankoo bowl, the Panikhar expense and the higher stretch beyond, present a spectacle of breathtaking features-majestic mountain ramparts crowned by snow capped peaks, undulating alpine slopes draining into wild mountain streams of foaming cascades of pristine water, awesome glaciers descending along the Himalayan slopes to the river bed in riverine formation, Quaint villages of adobe houses straggling dry hillocks surrounded by large tracts of lush crops downward the patches of alpine pastures uphill. The beauty of this region is further enhanced by the sheer contrast provided by the towering peaks of Kun (7035 m)and Nun (7135 m) which loom over the skyline in their crystalline majesty.



At a height of 3657 m rangdum is the farthest and the most isolated part of the Suru Valley. It is an elliptical expanded plateau surrounded by colourful hills on the one side and glacier encrusted rocky mountains on the other. Situated  130 kms  South- east of Kargil, it falls midway between Kargil and Padum. Due to its remoteness from inhabited parts either of Suru or Zanskar, the areas wild beauty is almost haunting, while its isolation is near perfect even as the unpaved Zanskar road traverses its length. The chief attraction of this area is an imposing 18th century Buddhist monastery with about 40 monks in residence. Perched picturesquely atop a centrally rising hillock which is entrenched around by the bifurcated course of a wild mountain stream, the Rangdum monastery has the aura of an ancient fortification guarding a mystical mountain valley. The villagers are descendents of the monastery's agricultural, serf-tenants, who do not own any land in the region. The monastery enjoys perpetual and unalienable o wnership of the entire valley including the fields tilled by the villagers, the pastures, hills and even the streams. Rangdum also serves as an important trekking base. The most popular trek from here leads to Henaskut near Lamayuru, across the spectacular gorge of the kanji valley. This 5-day trek also forms the last leg of the two week long trans-Himalayan traverse between Kashmir and Ladakh.


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