Srinagar Leh Highway Status 2016

Srinagar Leh Highway Status 2016 may be saying closed as of now BUT this year owing to less snow in all over Himalayas, the 434 KM long Srinagar – Leh Highway is expected to open by end of March this year if weather holds up in coming days. There is only about 8-10 feet of snow between Baltal to Zojila this year and 2-3 feet between Sonamarg to Baltal …

So, all the adventure lovers out there preparing for the trip to Leh – Ladakh this year, gear up for a longer season of adventure in Ladakh as the Srinagar – Leh Highway is set to let you cruise it through by end of March or first week of April… Please keep in mind that even when the highway gets open it needs at least couple of weeks to settle or get stabilized from initial snow sliding that happens due to quick melting of snow. So, do not rush into the highway as soon as the road is thrown open, wait for couple of weeks to let it stabilize 😉

As per the past years, I will be starting this sticky post for status of the 434 KM long Srinagar Leh Highway Status 2016 which so many adventure lovers await every year. However, instead of updating the main article here at DoW Blog, I will keep the updated progress in the DoW Community thread for the same for better tracking of updates. A forum topic always helps in better updates tracking as well as collation of such updates in time organized manner. Hence, for all updates on Srinagar – Leh Highway after this initial post please stay tuned to the topic in DoW Community: Srinagar – Leh Highway Status 2016 | DoW Community Thread

Srinagar Leh Highway Status 2016
Srinagar Leh Highway Status 2016

Once the Srinagar – Leh road opens, I may not be that active in frequently updating the status because these roads close and open on frequent basis. It is barely impossible for a single tiny soul like me to update this information on daily basis once the road gets open, so please request you to excuse me on that front and accept my apologies :)… However, if there is some major blockade of 3 – 4 days, I will try to surely update such information about Srinagar – Leh highway status. That is another reason to keep updated to DoW Community Thread for the same.

I hope as per the last year, this year as well this article thread will be useful in planning your journey on Srinagar – Leh Highway and further to Leh – Ladakh.

Again, for all latest updates on Srinagar – Leh Highway Status 2016 after this initial post on DoW Blog, please stay tuned to the topic in DoW Community: Srinagar – Leh Highway Status 2016 | DoW Community Thread

Current Srinagar Leh Highway Status 2016 = OPEN | Updated: 30th Apr, 2016
  • Srinagar to Sonamarg is Open
  • Sonamarg to Zojila Pass to Kargil is Open
  • Kargil to Leh is Open
Timings of Zojila Pass in 2016: 30th April 2016
  • Drass to Sonamarg (light vehicles): up to 1 PM
  • Drass to Sonamarg (light vehicles): after 1 PM
Srinagar Leh Highway | Important Articles
Srinagar – Leh Highway Status = OPENED | Update Date: 30th April, 2016

Srinagar – Leh Highway is opened for Light vehicles now. The timings of movement for traffic are as, Drass to Sonamarg = up to 1 PM, Soamarg to Drass after 1 PM

Srinagar – Leh Highway Status = CLOSED | Update Date: 1st March, 2016

Snow clearance is full swing on Srinagar – Leh Highwayowing to less snow this year and is expected to open the highway by April starting this year.

Srinagar, March 1 2016: The strategic 434 km long Srinagar-Leh Highway, the only road linking the Ladakh region with rest of Jammu and Kashmir is likely to open early this year.

The likely early opening of the road is mostly credited to less snowfall this year and the dry weather.

Beacon officials told Rising Kashmir that the snow clearance work on the highway was started on February 24 and is going on. The highway was closed in December last year following heavy snowfall. Border Roads Organization (BRO) officials said that the snow clearance operation from Gagengar to Gumri started on Wednesday, adding that the snow clearance operation will be completed by mid March and the road is expected to be thrown open by ending March.

Pertinently last year the road was officially opened on May 13.

Zojilla Pass on the highway which experiences heavy snowfall and remain closed for several months during winter is considered to be the most difficult and avalanche prone terrain. However this year due to the less snowfall during winters the road clearance operation in high swing it is likely to take less time to clear the as compared to previous years.

Reports said that nearly 8-10 ft of snow has accumulated along Zojila Pass while as 3-4 ft of snow along Sonamarg-Baltal road.

“The snow clearance work has been started and will be completed around mid march and the road is likely to be thrown open by ending March this year subject to good weather,” Chief Engineer Beacon, Brig A K Das told Rising Kashmir.

Braving the bone-chilling cold, BRO has pressed dozens of its workers and snow-cutters into service to clear the Zojilla Pass, Das said.

He said that the toughest work to clear snow remains the 30-km-long-stretch up to zero point of Zojilla from Sonamarg.

He said that if weather continues to support, the road is all set to open by March end this year.

Officials added that Project Beacon of Border Road Organization is responsible for clearing the road up to zero point near Zojilla from Sonamarg, while the Vijayak of BRO clears the road from the Kargil side.

External Source: Snow clearance operation on Sgr-Leh highway in full swing

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Khardong Pass- highest motor able claim


Khardung La/pass is located in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir. The pass lies north of Leh and is the gateway to the Shyok and Nubra valleys. The Siachen Glacier lies part way up the latter valley. Built in 1976, it was opened to public motor vehicles in 1988 and has since seen many automobile, motorbike and mountain biking expeditions. Maintained by the Border Roads Organisation, the pass is strategically important to India as it is used to carry supplies to the Siachen Glacier.

It is positioned at an altitude of 18,379 ft. and is also known as the ‘Pass of Lower Castle’. The place offers amazing picturesque and attractive views of valleys. In addition, Tibetan prayer flags add numerous colors to the scenic beauty. Khardung La is a strategically important pass lying on a caravan road from Leh to Kashgar. In earlier times camels and horses took this trade route to supply goods and valuables. Today it is used to carry supplies to Siachen Glacier and is of high logistic importance to Indian army. The nearest reachable town to this pass is Leh which is linked to Manali and Srinagar.

Bikers from all over the world visit this mountain pass on their motorcycles and do mountain biking which is a refreshing and remarkable experience for lifetime. Also, there is an army canteen where tea and snacks are offered and there is also a souvenir shop nearby from where you can get memento of your tour.

Khardung La is situated 39 km by road from Leh. The first 24 km, as far as the South Pullu check point, are paved. From there to the North Pullu check point about 15 km beyond the pass the roadway is primarily loose rock, dirt, and occasional rivulets of snow melt. However, this pass is in better repair than many of the surrounding passes such as Tanglang La. From North Pullu into the Nubra Valley, the road is very well maintained (except in a very few places where washouts or falling rock occur). Hired vehicles (2 and 4-wheel-drive), heavy trucks, and motorcycles regularly travel into the Nubra Valley, though special permits may need to be arranged for travellers to make the journey.

Snow Leopard Trek

Area: Ladakh
Best Season: Dec-Feb
Altitude: 3900m -4500m
Grade: Challenging

Hemis National Park is a high altitude national park in the eastern Ladakh region of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India. World famous for being the best place to see the snow leopard in the wild, it is believed to have the highest density of snow leopards of any protected area in the world. Nestled with some of the endangered species of the Himalayan region, the Hemis National Park is one of the major attractions in Ladakh pulling in adventurers and animal lovers from all over the world. It stretches from an elevation of 4100 meters and covers up the entire Rumbak Valley, and is home to varied species of animals and Himalayan birds. Hemis National Park is India’s only protected area inside the Palearctic ecozone, outside the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary northeast of Hemis, and the proposed Tso Lhamo Cold Desert Conservation Area in North Sikkim.

The Snow Leopard Trek, which is one of the popular winter treks in the Ladakh region, rises up into a territory where human hospitality evanesces and brings forth a wild stretch of rugged mountains dotted with animals like snow leopards, Tibetan wolves, blue sheep, horned sheep and Eurasian Brown Bear and more. It is also an abode to several species of birds like the Golden Eagle, different species of vultures and migratory birds.

Being on the move on the Snow Leopard Trek in Ladakh, one encounters with surprises at each turn. From claw tracks to prey the journey quenchs a shiver of fever pitch and bring back wild snow trailing memories. The frigid climate during the winters (when the temperature drops below freezing point) further backpacks with chilling and trembling trekking days that passes through the River Indus, deep gorges and steep ridges.The snow leopard trek further allows you to get acquainted with the folklore of Rumbak Valley. It thus brings one to an indigenous territory astir over the savage breath in the midst of the cold desert and gust of freezing wind. Backpack oneself to a world beyond humanity and live on wildploring.

Hanle Village- An Enchanting Place

Hanle in Changthang region of Ladakh is one of the most beautiful, enchanting and soul loosing places in India. It is the site of the 17th century Hanle Monastery (gompa) of the “Red Hat” Tibetan Drukpa Kagyu branch of Tibetan Buddhism and is located in the Hanle Valley on an old branch of the ancient Ladakh – Tibet trade route. The view from the top of the monastery are breath-taking. The valley is home to about a thousand people, with about 300 people living in Hanle village.

Sengge Namgyal died at Hanle on his return from an expedition against the Mongols who had occupied the Tibetan province of Tsang and were threatening Ladakh.

Indian Astronomical Observatory:
Hanle is also home to the Indian Astronomical Observatory (IAO). The location of both the village and the observatory are highly sensitive due to the close proximity of the Tibetan / Chinese border and special permission is needed to visit either by the Indian Government. Fukche airport is 24 km away, and Ukdungle town is close by. India has also set up a GRT (Gamma Ray Telescope), Himalayan Chandra Telescope, of 2 m diameter at Hanle. Once complete the Major Atmospheric Cerenkov Experiment Telescope gamma ray telescope being built here will be the world’s largest telescope at the highest altitude and the second largest gamma ray telescope in the world.

The Hanle site is deemed to be excellent for visible, infrared and submillimeter observations throughout the year. Specifically the observation conditions yield about 255 spectroscopic nights per year, approximately 190 photometric nights per year and an annual rain plus snow precipitation of less than 10 cm. In addition, there are low ambient temperatures, low humidity, low concentration of atmospheric aerosols, low atmospheric water vapour, dark nights and low pollution.

The Observatory has two active telescopes. These are the 2.01 meter optical-infrared Himalayan Chandra Telescope (HCT) and a High Altitude Gamma Ray Telescope (HAGAR). The HCT is remotely operated from Bangalore from the Centre for Research and Education in Science and Technology (CREST) using a dedicated satellite link.

Himalayan Chandra Telescope
The Himalayan Chandra Telescope is a 2.01 meters (6.5 feet) diameter optical-infrared telescope named after India-born Nobel laureate Subrahmanyam Chandrasekhar. It contains a modified Ritchey-Chretien system with a primary mirror made of ULE ceramic which is designed to withstand low temperatures it experiences. The telescope was manufactured by Electo-Optical System Technologies Inc. at Tucson, Arizona, USA. The telescope is mounted with 3 science instruments called Himalaya Faint Object Spectrograph (HFOSC), the near-IR imager and the optical CCD imager. The telescope is remotely operated via an INSAT-3B satellite link which allows operation even in sub-zero temperatures in winter.

High Altitude Gamma Ray Telescope
The High Altitude Gamma Ray Telescope (HAGAR) is an atmospheric Cerenkov experiment with 7 telescopes setup in 2008. Each telescope has 7 mirrors with a total area of 4.4 square meters. The telescopes are deployed on the periphery of a circle of radius 50 meters with one telescope at the center. Each telescope has alt-azimuth mounting.

Center for Research and Education in Science and Technology
The Center for Research and Education in Science and Technology (CREST) is situated 35 km to the northeast of Bangalore near Hoskote town. The Center houses the control room for the remote operations of the 2m Himalayan Chandra Telescope (HCT) at the Indian Astronomical Observatory, Hanle, and the HCT data archive. The operations are controlled using a remote satellite link.

The Zanskar Valley

Zanskar is a subdistrict or tehsil of the Kargil district, which lies in the eastern half of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The administrative centre is Padum. Zanskar, together with the neighbouring region of Ladakh, was briefly a part of the kingdom of Guge in Western Tibet.

The Zanskar Range is a mountain range in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir that separates Zanskar from Ladakh. Geologically, the Zanskar Range is part of the Tethys Himalaya, an approximately 100-km-wide synclinorium formed by strongly folded and imbricated, weakly metamorphosed sedimentary series. The average height of the Zanskar Range is about 6,000 m (19,700 ft). Its eastern part is known as Rupshu.

It also separates Kinnaur District from Spiti in Himachal Pradesh. The highest peaks of Himachal are in the Zanskar Range.

Zanskar covers an area of some 7,000 square kilometres (2,700 sq mi), at an elevation of 3,500-7,000 metres (11,500–23,000 feet). It consists of the country lying along the two main branches of the Zanskar River. The first, the Doda, has its source near the Pensi-la (4,400 m) (14,450 ft) mountain-pass, and then flows south-eastwards along the main valley leading towards Padum, the capital of Zanskar.

The second branch is formed by two main tributaries known as Kargyag river, with its source near the Shingo La (5,091 m) (16,703 ft), and Tsarap river, with its source near the Baralacha-La. These two rivers unite below the village of Purne to form the Lungnak river (also known as the Lingti or Tsarap). The Lungnak river then flows north-westwards along a narrow gorge towards Zanskar’s central valley (known locally as gzhung khor), where it unites with the Doda river to form the Zanskar river.

For locals and trekkers alike, the Shingo La is technically one of the easiest 5000m passes in Indian Himalaya, involving no glacier trekking nor steep climbs.

“The Shingo La, the main route into Zanskar from Lahaul, is an unpleasant pass. It isn’t particularly high, at just 17,000 feet, but it is squalid and sordid and lacks grandeur.”
The Zanskar river then takes a north-eastern course until it joins the Indus in Ladakh. High mountain ridges lie on both sides of the Doda and Lingti–kargyag valleys, which run north-west to south-east. To the south-west is the Great Himalayan Range which separates Zanskar from the Kisthwar and Chamba basins. To the north-east lies the Zanskar Range, which separates Zanskar from Ladakh. The only outlet for the whole Zanskar hydrographic system is thus the Zanskar river, which cuts the deep and narrow Zanskar Gorge through the Zanskar range.

These topographical features explain why access to Zanskar is difficult from all sides. Communication with the neighbouring Himalayan areas is maintained across mountain passes or along the Zanskar river when frozen. The easiest approach leads from Kargil through the Suru valley and over the Pensi La. It is along this track that in 1979 the only road in Zanskar was built to connect Padum with the main road from Srinagar into Ladakh. One of the first Tibetologists to spend an extended period in the region was Alexander Csoma de Koros, who spent over a year living in the region in 1823. After being integrated into the newly formed state of India in 1947, Zanskar and the neighboring region of Ladakh were both declared restricted areas and only opened to foreigners in 1974. The first colour film of life in Zanskar was shot in 1958 by an expedition of three British housewives.

Flora and fauna
Much of Zanskar’s vegetation is found in the irrigated villages, and on the upper slopes which receive more precipitation and where it consists of alpine and tundra species. Most impressive are the meadows covered with thousands of edelweiss. At the foot of the Gumburanjon mountain blue poppies can be found. Crops including barley, lentils, and potatoes are grown by farmers at the lower elevations. Domesticated animals such as the yak, dzo, sheep, horse, and dog are found in the region.

Among the wildlife that can be found in Zanskar are the marmot, bear, wolf, snow leopard, kiang, bharal, alpine ibex, wild sheep and goats, and the lammergeier.

Zanskar is a high altitude semi-desert lying on the Northern flank of the Great Himalayan Range. This mountain range acts as a climatic barrier protecting Ladakh and Zanskar from most of the monsoon, resulting in a pleasantly warm and dry climate in the summer. Rain and snowfall during this period are scarce, although recent decades have shown a trend towards increasing precipitation. Several water-driven mills were built during ancient periods of drought at a great distance from the villages, but have been abandoned because running water is now available nearer to the settlements. Zanskari houses, though otherwise well built, are not adapted to the recently increasing rainfall, as their roofs leak, catching their surprised inhabitants unprepared. Most of the precipitation occurs as snowfall during the harsh and extremely long winter period. These winter snowfalls are of vital importance, since they feed the glaciers which melt in the summer and provide most of the irrigation water. Parts of Zanskar valley are considered some of the coldest continually inhabited places in the world.

Zanskar’s population is small, the April 2006 medical census records a population of 13,849 people. The medical census is the most accurate indicator of population as it collects birth, death, and census information from Zangskar’s 22 medical aid centers. Roughly 95% of the inhabitants practice Tibetan Buddhism, while the remainder are Sunni Muslims, whose ancestors settled in Padum and its environs in the 19th century. The majority of Zanskaris are of mixed Tibetan and Indo-European origins; notably Changpa, Dard and Mon. The latter are in fact ethnically Dard, but “Mon” is used in order to distinguish them from later Dard settlers.

The population lives mainly in scattered small villages, the largest being the capital Padum, with nearly 700 inhabitants. Most of the villages are located in the valleys of the Zanskar river and its two main tributaries. Given the isolation of this region, the inhabitants tend towards self-sufficiency, and until recently lived in almost complete autarky. External trade has, however, always been necessary for the acquisition of goods such as tools, jewellery, or religious artefacts.

The Zanskaris’ main occupations are cattle-rearing and farming of land that they almost always own. Cultivable land is scarce, and restricted to alluvial fans and terraces, cultivated fields being rarely found above an altitude of 4,000 metres. The Zanskaris have developed a system of intensive arable agriculture and complex irrigation to produce enough food in these conditions. The scarcity of cultivable land has also resulted in a tendency towards a stable, zero-growth population. An efficient birth-control system in Zanskar has historically been achieved by the common practice of polyandrous marriage, in which several brothers are married to the same wife, and the widespread adoption of a celibate religious life. A high infant mortality rate also contributes to population stability.

In the summer, the women and children stay far away from the villages to tend to the livestock. This system, known as transhumance, is similar to the one found in the Alps where the animals are sent during the summer higher up in the mountains (the alpages) and were kept by the children and women.

Aside from some 300 Sunni Muslims living in Padum (out of a population of about 700), almost the whole population of Zanskar is Buddhist. However, most of the senior government posts are filled by Muslims of Tehsil centre Padum. Almost every village has a local monastery, often containing ancient wall-paintings and images. There are two main branches of Tibetan Buddhism here — the Drugpa, including Sani Monastery, Dzongkhul, Stagrimo and Bardan Monastery – all loosely affiliated with Stakna in the Indus valley. The Gelugpa control Rangdum Monastery, Karsha, Stongde and Phugtal Monastery, which all pay allegiance to the Ngari Rinpoche, who has his main seat at Likir Monastery in Ladakh. The present emanation of the Ngari Rinpoche is the younger brother of the Dalai Lama.

Livestock, and especially the yak, is of paramount importance in Zanskar. Yaks are used to plough the land, to thresh the grain, to carry heavy loads (up to 200 kilograms), and their dung not only serves as fertiliser but is also the only heating fuel available in the region. They are a vital source of milk and sometimes, but rarely, of meat. The yak’s fur is used to make clothes, carpets, ropes, and bed covers.

The first traces of human activity in Zanskar seem to go back as far as the Bronze Age. Petroglyphs attributed to that period suggest that their creators were hunters on the steppes of central Asia, living between Kazakhstan and China. It is suspected that an Indo-European population known as the Mon might then have lived in this region, before mixing with or being replaced by the next settlers, the Dards. Early Buddhism coming from Kashmir spread its influence in Zanskar, possibly as early as 200 BC. The earliest monuments date from the Kushan period. After this eastward propagation of Buddhism, Zanskar and large parts of the Western Himalaya were overrun in the 7th century by the Tibetans, who imposed their then animistic Bön religion.

Buddhism regained its influence over Zanskar in the 8th century when Tibet was also converted to this religion. Between the 10th and 11th centuries, two Royal Houses were founded in Zanskar, and the monasteries of Karsha and Phugtal (see picture) were built. Until the 15th century Zanskar existed as a more or less independent Buddhist Kingdom ruled by between two and four related royal families. Since the 15th century, Zanskar has been subordinate to Ladakh, sharing its fortunes and misfortunes. In 1822 a coalition of Kulu, Lahoul, and Kinnaur invaded Zanskar, plundering the country and destroying the Royal palace at Padum.

In the mid-20th century, border conflicts between India, Pakistan and China caused Ladakh and Zanskar to be closed to foreigners. During these wars Ladakh lost two thirds of its original territory, losing Baltistan to Pakistan and the Aksai Chin to China. Ladakh and Zanskar, despite a tumultuous history of internal wars and external aggressions, have never lost their cultural and religious heritage since the 8th century. Thanks to its adherence to the Indian Union, this is also one of the rare regions in the Himalaya where traditional Tibetan culture, society, and buildings survived the Chinese Cultural Revolution. In the last twenty years, the opening of a road and the massive influx of tourists and researchers have brought many changes to the traditional social organisation of Zanskar. In 2007 the valley suffered its third year of a desert locust infestation with many villages losing their crops. The response of the monasteries was to carry out Puja ( prayer ) to get rid of them while the government was advocating the use of insecticides which the Buddhists were reluctant to use, but in some cases were forced to try with as yet undocumented success. In 2008 it was reported that the Locusts had left the central Zanskar plains.

Tourism is probably the major disruption that Zanskar has experienced during recent times. The opening of this region to foreigners has brought benefits such as the financing of schools and the restoration of monasteries and roads, but has also taken its toll on this fragile mountain environment and its population.

People living in Zanskar speak Zanskar Skad, and can speak a little bit of mixed Hindi and Urdu[citation needed], but can’t read the same. Monks who have studied outside of Zanskar may know Standard Tibetan. Educated people of Zanskar know English as it is a compulsory subject in Indian schools. Zanskari zanskar pe skad is a dialect of Ladakhi and has four sub dialects known as Stod skad, Zhung skad, Sham skad and Lungna skad. It is written using the Tibetan Script.

Tsomoriri Wetland Conservation Reserve

Tso Moriri is a lake in the Ladakhi part of the Changthang Plateau (literally: northern plains) in Jammu and Kashmir in northern India. The lake is at an altitude of 4,522 m (14,836 ft). It is the largest of the high altitude lakes entirely within India and entirely within Ladakh in this Trans-Himalayan biogeographic region. The official name of the land and water reserve here is the Tso Moriri Wetland Conservation Reserve.

The lake is fed by springs and snow-melt from neighboring mountains. Most water enters the lake in two major stream systems, one entering the lake from the north, the other from the southwest. Both stream systems include extensive marshes where they enter the lake. It formerly had an outlet to the south, but this has become blocked and the lake has become a endorheic lake. The lake is oligotrophic in nature, and its waters are alkaline.

Accessibility to the lake is largely limited to summer season, though Karzok on the northwest shore and the military facilities on the eastern shores have year-round habitation.

As per a classification of the Himalayan Lakes done on the basis of their origin, there are four groups and Tso Moriri falls under the third group of “remnant lakes”. The classification as reported states:

(i) Glacial lakes which are formed in and around glaciers; (ii) Structural lakes, formed by folds or faults due to movements in earth’s crust (e.g. Nainital lake in Uttarakhand), (iii) Remnant lakes which were originally structural but represent the remnants of vast lakes (e.g., Tso Moriri, Tso Kar, Pangong Tso in Ladakh, and Dal Lake in Kashmir), (iv) Natural dammed lakes i.e., temporary water bodies formed along the river courses due to deposition of rocks or debris e.g. Gohna Tal in Garhwal, Uttarakhand.

The Changthang Plateau in the eastern Ladakh represents a landscape of low productive ecosystems which protects unique floral and faunal species. The area is an extension of the western Tibetan plateau that lies above 4,500 m (14,800 ft) msl and supports diverse but low populations of several globally threatened mammals.[3] The lake’s basin could also be categorised as an basin since it is a closed drainage basin that retains water and allows no outflow to other bodies of water such as rivers or oceans.

Tso Moriri Lake, Korzok, in Ladakh.
The lake is 20 to 50 kilometers southeast of the elevated valley of the core Rupshu Valley and falls within the greater Rupshu Plateau and valley area. The lake is ringed by hills rising over 6,000 m (20,000 ft). “Changpas”, the nomadic migratory shepherds (pastoral community) of yak, sheep, goat, and horses of Tibetan origin and who are engaged in trade and work on caravans in Ladakh region, are the main inhabitants of the area. Changpa (Champa) herders use the land of this valley as grazing ground and for cultivation.

The Working Report (2006) of the Planning Commission of the Government of India also reports:

Despite a poor vegetation cover, relatively low standing biomass and high anthropogenic pressure, this area sustains a considerably high livestock population. Steady increase in the livestock population in the area is mainly attributed to influx of nomadic herders from Tibet during recent decades and promotion of Pashmina goat production by the Animal Husbandry Department (AHD) for fine quality under wool (Pashmina). The herders and AHD officials, in recent years have begun to raise concern over degradation of pastures, resultant shortage of forage, and mass mortality of livestock during severe winters.

The Korzok Monastery, on the western bank of the lake is 400 years old and attracts tourists and Buddhist pilgrims. Tourism during May – September attracts large number of foreign and local tourists even though tented accommodation is the facility available, apart from a small PWD guest house close to the Lake. Northeast of Tso Moriri is a small lake which is known locally as Lake of Joy.

Further information: Leh
The lake is located to the southeast of Leh in eastern Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir, at a road distance of 240 kilometres (150 mi). The road is in a good condition for the most part. One can also reach Tsomoriri directly from the Pangong Tso via the remote Changtang region. This is considered to be one of the most beautiful drives in the entire Ladakh region. Foreigners are not allowed to go beyond the Man – Merak villages on Pangong Tso as permits are not issued for them. The distance between Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri is 235 km and there are no petrol pumps in the area. Carrying enough fuel is therefore necessary. Leh is also connected by air with many destinations in India.

Hydrology and water quality
The lake, draining a catchment area of 120 km2 (46 sq mi) is enclosed by peaks exceeding 6,000 meters on both the east and west sides. On the south, a nearly flat valley connects with but does not drain into or out of the Pare Chu (river.) This valley contains the Nuro Sumdo wetlands (with a catchment area of 20 km2 or 7.7 sq mi), a boggy area that mostly drains into the Pare Chu. Several small mountain streams feed the lake, including one through pasture land at Peldo Le. The lake is fed by springs and snow melt and has a maximum depth of 40 m (130 ft). Aridity and cold desert conditions prevail in the lake region; with summer temperature varying from 0 ° to 30 °C (32 °-86 °F) and winter temperature recording −10 ° and −40 °C (14 ° to -40 °F). Geologically the lake is in Ordovician rock.

Fauna and flora

Tibetan Ass in the vicinity of Tso Moriri Lake
An avifaunal survey of the lake and its adjoining Nuro Sumdo wetland conducted in July 1996 revealed the following facts:

Thirty-four species of birds included 14 species of water birds (some are pictured in the gallery) of which following are the vulnerable species
Black-necked cranes (Grus nigricollis) endangered.
Bar-headed geese (Anser indicus)– only breeding ground in India
Brown-headed gulls (Larus brunnicephalus)
Great crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus) (rare)
Ferruginous pochard
Black-necked grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) (rare)
Tibetan gazelle, Procapra picticaudata, Goa antelope (threatened)
Nayan Ovis ammon hodgsoni
Bharal (Pseudois nayaur) Himalayan blue sheep
Tibetan Ass (Kiang) or Equus kiang, endemic to the Tibetan Plateau
Great Tibetan Sheep
One species of marmot, Marmota himalayana in large numbers seen on the hill slopes surrounding the lake and also along the roadsides
One species of hare, Lepus oistolus
One species of vole, Alticola roylei
Three species of mouse hares, Ochotona macrotis, Ochotona curzoniae or Tibetan sand fox and Scincella ladacensis
Large carnivores
Carnivores fauna reported are:
the snow leopard (Uncia uncia)
the Tibetan wolf (Canis lupus chanco)

Tso Moriri Lake during August
While the deeper parts of the lake have no vegetation, the shallow areas are reported to have Potamogeton sps. Marshes have several species of sedges and reeds, particularly Carex, Caragana and Astragalus sps., which are all representative of the surrounding arid steppe vegetation. Details of the Vegetation recorded in the area comprises the following:

Characteristic Caragana and Astragalus species
Potamogeton species
Several species of Carex, Primula (low growing herb), and Pedicularis(parasitic plant)
Common species of Juncus thomsonii and Leontopodium sp
Phytoplankton species of Oocystis with density was 900 cells/L to a depth of 25 m (82 ft). Specimens of the diatom Cyclotella also recorded.
Pastures for domestic livestock
Ramsar site[edit]
Largely based on the ecological diversity of the Lake (explained in the previous section) and its surroundings, the Tsomiriri was notified in November 2002 under the List of Ramsar Wetland sites under the Ramsar Convention. The justification could be summarized as:[7]

The faunal collection is unique and has a large variety with endemic and vulnerable species
The herbivore species are also endemic to the region
The lake plays a fundamental role as breeding grounds and key staging posts on migration routes for several water birds belonging to six families, which is distinctive of wetland diversity and productivity
Threats to the lake
There are a number of threats to the Lake, such as:

Increase in the number of tourists visiting the lake affecting the breeding of avifauna
Additional road construction along the lake
Pasture degradation affecting wildlife, particularly wild herbivores (marmots, hares, ungulates)
An increase in the grazing of sheep in the wetlands surrounding the lake
The absence of a proper garbage disposal facility at the lake.
Dogs kept by the people who live near the lake are known to attack the cranes and destroy their eggs.
Jeep safaris have been known to chase wildlife such as kiang and approach close to the breeding ground.
Lack of regulations and monitoring by the government.
Conservation efforts
The need for evolving a strategy and an action plan to preserve the extreme fragility of the lake ecosystem has been recognized with the needed emphasis at the National and International level to develop the lake conservation activity with participation of all stakeholders. The actions initiated in this direction are:

Tso Moriri is an administratively declared Wetland Reserve. Legally, shooting wildlife is prohibited. The State Department of Wildlife has set up a check post near Mahe Bridge at the entrance towards the lake. WWF-India Project has established a field office at Korzok on the northwest shore of Tso Moriri for ‘Conservation of High Altitude Wetlands in Ladakh Region’ to carry out surveys, interact with tourists, tour guides, act as information centre and conduct education awareness programmes for locals, tourists etc.

Wildlife Institute of India has also set up a field station at Leh to carry out scientific research in the region. Nature clubs have been set up and Information booklet on the lake published. Efforts of WWF – India has also resulted in the local community declaring Tso Moriri as a ‘Sacred Gift for a Living Planet’ during the Annual Conference held in Nepal in November 2000.

Some of the other achievements so far reported on the Lake’s conservation are:

Regulation in consultation with local community Vehicular traffic flow and parking has been restructured with restriction of camping sites around the lake
The Indo Tibetan Border Petrol (ITBP), tour operators and local population have introduced regular garbage cleanup operations
Korzok community living around the lake has voluntarily built traditional and social fencing around the wetland to protect breeding and feeding grounds from vehicular traffic
Tso Moriri Conservation Trust has been set up.
Twenty Nature Clubs have been registered in different schools in Ladakh
The Indian Army has committed to support and set up a Nature Interpretation Centre at ‘Hall of Fame’, Leh.

World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) role
World Wildlife Fund for Nature — India (WWF-India) is spearheading the efforts at conservation of the Tso Moriri lake in particular, and the Ladakh region in general. WWF’s activities as a NGO have spanned more than 30 years. The main objective set by WWF is the main activities planned for the Tso Moriri and other wetlands in Ladakh regions are:

The Promotion of Nature Conservation and Environmental Protection as the Basis for Sustainable and Equitable Development.

Evolve plan to establish a Sustainable Tourism Model managed by Local Communities at Tso Moriri
Carry on with the biological and socio-economic surveys around selected wetlands and document for future reference
Organize capacity building training programmes for Tour operators, Army, Teachers and local communities
Frequent education and awareness Programmes for various target groups
Management Planning for Tso Moriri and also Tsokar and Pangong Tso lakes by involving major stakeholders
To set guidelines for introducing Eco-Tourism Certification Scheme in Ladakh
To mobilise financial resources to carry out a comprehensive Strategic Environment Assessment
Develop Environmental Management Systems, implement and certify the Environment Management Systems with special focus on tourism sector
Maintain and enhance existing field presence at Tso Moriri, Leh, and Tsokar and increase presence at Chushul and Hanle marshes as well to achieve better results

Camping with the nomads of Changthang plateau in Ladakh- Monisha Ahmed

Clutching on to the last vestiges of their nomadic life, the Changpas believe their animals are a crucial link to the gods

It was four in the morning and preparations were under way to move to Norchen. It was dark and a cold wind blew all around us. Tashi Zangmo quickly lit a fire and made tea. Tharchen and Angchuk took the tent down, folded it lengthways, and inserted the poles in the middle before rolling it up. They rounded up the yaks and began to load them. Carpets and blankets were first laid across the animals’ backs, followed by saddle-bags, stove, stone hand-mill, and butter-tea maker. One yak carried a steel trunk containing prayer books, images of Buddhist deities, silver amulets and offering bowls. One of the more docile yaks was chosen for five-year-old Chogyal to ride on, and a seat fashioned for him among the luggage. He cried as he was lifted and strapped on to the animal’s back, but a few sweets quickly placated him. By five o’clock, Norgey left with the sheep and goats. An hour later the horses were saddled, and the nomads were ready to move. Tashi Zangmo balanced her perak (turquoise-studded headdress) on her head; she mounted her horse and led the way for her family. The caravan spread over at least two kilometres and within this the pack animals were kept close together. Yaks were driven in the front, followed by women and children. Dogs glided in and out, barking at the yaks to ensure they kept moving. The men came in the rear leading the horses. Behind them lay just a flat stretch of land, a few stone walls, and smoke rising from the burning embers of hastily doused fires. “Look at the kind of life we lead,” Tharchen once remarked between moves of the camp, “Always moving, always packing, never staying in one place.” “We have to keep moving,” Skarma, his younger brother, pointed out, “After all, we are the people who move behind the sheep and the goats.”Tharchen is a nomadic pastoralist herding sheep and pashmina goats. He lives in Rupshu (eastern Ladakh), residing in a brown yak-hair tent along with his younger brother Angchuk, their wife Tashi Zangmo, and their five children. His tent is one among several hundreds that dot the arid landscape of the vast, undulating plains of Changthang or the ‘Northern Plateau’. Camping at altitudes ranging from 12,000 to 15,000 feet, the nomads live in an extreme environment where temperatures drop as low as -50 degree C in winter. Tharchen is a learned yet humble man, a proficient craftsman and highly skilled tailor, regularly receiving orders to make brocade hats for weddings or to carve a prayer stone. He is also very religious, and in the absence of a lama in Rupshu often officiates as one. His younger brother, Angchuk, does not have quite the same versatility as him and relations between the two are often tense. Being the younger husband his position within the family seemed ambivalent and it was clear he had very little say in its affairs or control over finances. Their wife, Tashi Zangmo, was more protective of her younger husband but paid heed to the words of the older one. Nomadic life has a gentle rhythm, where everything is centred around the animals. In a land devoid of agriculture this is not surprising as livestock is a precious commodity and their produce (i.e. fibre and meat) translates into cash. It is also not surprising to discover that in a society that depends solely on pastoralism their animals are a crucial link to the gods. “My elders once told me,” Abi Yangzom, Tharchen’s mother said as we waited in her tent for the livestock to return, “that in the beginning our sheep were all different colours. These were mainly white, red, and blue. One day Gyamo Konjor, a princess from a neighbouring kingdom, came and took all the sheep for a walk. Along the way she came to a big river, and she made the sheep walk through it. The water washed away their colour and since that day we have only white sheep.” The Buddhist pantheon is represented by a three-tier division of the world. The uppermost level is inhabited by the gods, the lowest by spirits of the aquatic and subterranean worlds, while people live in between, in a world also inhabited by demons. The three worlds are depicted by a system of colours: white for heaven, red for earth, and blue for the aquatic and subterranean realm. That the nomad’s sheep were once mainly these colours is not, therefore, coincidental. Consequently, the nomads believe that their livestock are intrinsically sacred animals bestowed upon them by the gods and must be constantly consecrated.
Livestock are the reason the nomads follow a migratory route, shifting camp about 10 times a year. While the time spent at any one place is not fixed, each move is dependent on the availability of pasture and water. The children who take the livestock out grazing will tell their parents that the grass on the mountains is virtually exhausted, and the women will grumble that the flow of water in the stream has ebbed. These sentiments are conveyed to the chief, who meets with the men and a date is fixed for the move.Each move is typically carried out early in the morning, just before sunrise. By mid-day the nomads reach Norchen and each family moves to their hereditary tent site. The tent doors face east as it is inauspicious to turn the tent’s back to the rising sun. Once the tent is pitched, the women move in — the stove is the first to be set up, a fire lit, and soon tea is boiling away.Four months had passed since the entire camp had last been together, and people renewed contacts and exchanged news. Some shahtoosh had been apprehended at the border, Lanze had eloped with a Tibetan, and officers from the Air Force had come enquiring about a plane that had crashed in the winter — without evidence of the pilot’s body they could not declare him dead! The Manipa from Spiti had also arrived and would perform the stone-breaking ceremony, symbolic of the destruction of evil, read horoscopes and predict fortunes or unforeseen catastrophes. It was also time to shear the livestock. The weight of the thick coat was getting unbearable for the animals to carry. Soon the traders would come and the nomads debated who would give the year’s best price for pashmina as wool was generally bartered for grain. Despite its desolate character the Changthang earns annual revenue of Rs 15 crore for Ladakh — probably the second largest revenue earner for the region after tourism. Soon after the shearing is over, the nomads hold a large prayer ceremony. “It is for the good of our people and our animals,” Nawang Chogyal says, “To protect us all, cleanse us of our sins, and eliminate any misfortune amongst us.” Usually the Rinpoche from the Dubbock Gompa is invited to preside over the prayers. Dubbock is a small monastery, but the nomads of Rupshu have always sent their young monks and nuns to train there. No matter that it belongs to the Nyingmapa School of Buddhism, and they to the Kargyugpa. Nomadic life follows the same cyclical pattern, but change is also inevitable. In recent years, many nomads have migrated to Leh in search of what they consider a better way of life. Most of them end up doing menial jobs, as coolies and construction workers, on daily wages. Education has transformed many of the youth, who now perceive a nomadic life as ‘backward’. No longer demarcated as a ‘Restricted Areas Zone’, Changthang is now much visited by tourists who are attracted by the remoteness, stark beauty, and nomadic lifestyle of its people. But tourism has brought only marginal benefits to the people. Most of the Leh-based travel agents use non-local guides and horses resulting in an increase in pressure on the nomads’ grazing lands. Though each trekking group is meant to pay Rs 20 per pack animal this hardly compensates for the loss of pasture. Jeep safaris in Changthang are also hugely popular with tourists but often drivers take their four-wheel drives off the beaten track and this has an adverse effect on the pastures. Unprecedented amounts of garbage are also piling up at tourist campsites. There is an urgent need for eco-sensitive tourism on the Changthang. Tharchen’s children have all left. So have his two brothers and sister. Today he is a figment of the self-assured nomad I once knew, unsure of his future, dreading to have to leave the Changthang but faced with little choice as nomadic life is difficult for the elderly without the support of the extended family. As I leave, Tharchen clutches to the last vestiges of his nomadic life. A chill wind blows as he walks back to his tent, the mountains surrounding the campsite washed in the golden hue of the setting sun. Clouds are gathering in the distance. A dog barks and Tharchen bends to pick up a stone. A lone shepherd returns with his flocks, probably delayed because his animals had strayed too far off in search of pasture. In a few days it would be time to move camp, it was evident the grass on the high pastures was decreasing as the colour of the mountain tops changed from green to brown. But in this light it was difficult to discern.


Nubra is a tri-armed valley located to the north east of Ladakh valley. Diskit the capital of Nubra is about 150 km north from Leh town, the capital of Ladakh district, India. Local scholars say that its original name was Ldumra (the valley of flowers). The Shyok River meets the Nubra or Siachan River to form a large valley that separates the Ladakh and Karakoram Ranges. The Shyok river is a tributary of the Indus river. The average altitude of the valley is about 10,000 ft. i.e. 3048 metres above the sea level. The common way to access this valley is to travel over the Khardung La pass from Leh town. Foreign nationals are required to get a Protected area permit to visit the Nubra Valley. Since 1st May 2014 Indian citizens are no longer required to get an Inner Line Permit to visit the valley.

Like the rest of the Tibetan Plateau, Nubra is a high altitude cold desert with rare precipitation and scant vegetation except along river beds. The villages are irrigated and fertile, producing wheat, barley, peas, mustard and a variety of fruits and nuts, including blood apples, walnuts, apricots and even a few almond trees. Most of the Nubra Valley is inhabited by Nubra dialect or Nubra Skat speakers. The majority are Buddhists. In the western or lowest altitude end of Nubra Valley near the Line of Control i.e. the Indo-Pak border, along the Shyok River, the inhabitants are Balti of Gilgit-Baltistan, who speak Balti, and are Shia and Sufia Nurbakhshia Muslims.

Siachen Glacier lies to the north of the valley. The Sasser Pass and the famous Karakoram Pass lie to the northwest of the valley and connect Nubra with Uyghur (Mandarin : Xinjiang). Previously there was much trade passing through the area with western China’s Xinjiang and Central Asia.

Diskit town in the valley have become the congregation centre for people of the region. Diskit is the headquarters of the Nubra Valley and thus has lot of government offices with basic facilities. It is also connected by road with Leh. The 32 metre Maitreya Buddha statue is the landmark of Nubra Valley and is maintained by the Diskit Monastery.

Along the Nubra or Siachan River lie the villages of Sumur, Kyagar (called Tiger by the Indian Army), Tirith, Panamik, Turtuk and many others. Samstanling monastery is between Kyagar and Sumur villages, and Panamik is noted for its hot springs. Across the Nubra or Siachan River at Panamik, is the isolated Ensa Gompa.

On the Shyok (pronounced Shayok) River, the main village, Diskit, is home to the dramatically positioned Diskit Monastery which is built in 1420 AD. Hundar was the capital of the erstwhile Nubra kingdom in the 17th century, and is home to the Chamba Gompa. Between Hundar and Diskit lie several kilometres of sand dunes, and (two-humped) bactrian camels graze in the neighbouring “forests” of seabuckthorn. Non-locals are not allowed below Hundar village into the Balti area, as it is a border area. The beautiful village of Baigdandu is also located in this area. There is a marked presence of people with startling blue eyes, auburn hair and rosy cheeks as against the typical mongoloid features of the Ladakhis. Local lore has it that they were a Greek tribe who came in search of Jesus Christ’s tomb and eventually settled here. Baigdandu is also known for the goats that give you the famous Pashmina shawls.

The main road access to the Nubra Valley is over Khardung La pass which is open throughout the year. Its status as the highest motorable road in the world is no longer accepted by most authorities. An alternative route, opened in 2008, crosses the Wari La from Sakti, to the east of Khardung La, connecting to the main Nubra road system via Agham and Khalsar along the Shyok River. There are also trekkable passes over the Ladakh Range from the Indus Valley at various points. Routes from Nubra to Baltistan and Yarkand, though historically important, have been closed since 1947 and 1950 respectively.

The valley was open for tourists till Hunder (the land of sand dunes) until 2010. The region beyond Hunder gives way to a greener region of Ladakh because of its lower altitude. The village of Turtuk which was unseen by tourists till 2010 is a virgin destination for people who seek peace and an interaction with a tribal community of Ladakh. The village is stuffed with apricot trees and children. The local tribe, Balti, follows its age old customs in their lifestyle and speak a language which is just spoken and not written. For tourists Turtuk offers serene camping sites with environment friendly infrastructure.

The valley has been secluded as has been most of the exterior parts of Ladakh. Almost all of the region has been facing problems to get good quality education. There have been initiatives in the past by the government but extreme weather conditions and vicinity to the borders have been a major hurdle in implementing a solid education base. There is also migration of the population that gets exposed to the big cities of India and hence the people do not get benefitted out of their local learned population. There are very few Non-Government organizations active in Nubra region. A national NGO karmabhoomi works for the education and employment generation in the Turtuk region with an intention to cover the whole of Ladakh in future.

Alchi Monastery

Alchi Monastery or Alchi Gompa is a Buddhist monastery, known more as a monastic complex (chos-‘khor) of temples inAlchi village in the Leh District, of the Indian state under the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council of Jammu and Kashmir. The complex comprises four separate settlements in the Alchi village in the lower Ladakh region with monuments dated to different periods. Of these four hamlets, Alchi monastery is said to be the oldest and most famous. It is administered by the Likir Monastery.

Alchi is also part of the three villages (all in lower Ladakh region) which constitute the ‘Alchi group of monuments’; the other two villages adjoining Alchi are the Mangyu and Sumda Chun. The monuments in these three villages are stated to be of “unique style and workmanship’, but the Alchi monastic complex is the best known.

The monastery complex was built, according to local tradition, by the great translator Guru Rinchen Zangpo between 958 and 1055. However, inscriptions in the preserved monuments ascribe it to a Tibetan noble called Kal-dan Shes-rab later in the 11th century. Dukhang or Assembly Hall and the Main Temple (gTsug-lag-khang), which is a three-storied temple called the Sumtseg (gSum-brtsegs), are built in Kashmiri style as seen in many monasteries; the third temple is called the Manjushri Temple (‘Jam-dpal lHa-khang). Chortens are also an important part of the complex.

The artistic and spiritual details of both Buddhism and the Hindu kings of that time in Kashmir are reflected in the wall paintings in the monastery. These are some of the oldest surviving paintings in Ladakh. The complex also has huge statues of the Buddha and elaborate wood carvings and art-work comparable to the baroque style. Shakti Maira has vividly explained the beauty of this small monastery.


The history of the monuments in the Alchi complex and in the other two villages in the Alchi group is not precise, in spite of many inscriptions and texts displayed on the walls.

Alchi MonasteryTraditionally, the creation of the Alchi complex is attributed to the famous scholar-translator Rinchen Zangpo (958–1055) in the 10th century, along with the Lamayuru Monastery, the Wanla, the Mang-gyu and the Sumda. During the tenth century, the Tibetan King Yeshe Od of Guge, in order to spread Buddhism in the Trans Himalayan region, took the initiative by allocating 21 scholars to the region. However, due to harsh climatic and topographic conditions, only two survived, one of them the esteemed scholar and translator Rinchen Zangpo who established Buddhist activity in the Ladakh region and other areas of India including Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim. During his sojourn there, he also went to the neighbouring countries of Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet. Zangpo became known by the epithet “Lohtsawa” or the “Great Translator”; he is credited with building 108 monasteries in the trans-Himalayan region in his quest to disseminate Buddhism. He institutionalized Buddhism in the region; these monasteries are considered the mainstay of Vajrayana of Tibetan Buddhism (also known asLamaism). Zangpo engaged Kashmiri artists to create wall paintings and sculptures in the legendary 108 monasteries; only a few of these have survived, with the Alchi Monastery complex in Ladakh having pride of place among all monasteries that he built.A

Since the monasteries of this period did not belong to any of the established Tibetan schools, they were initially brought under the control of the Kadampa order. When the condition of the monasteries deteriorated, they were mostly taken over by the Gelukpa order, with the exception of Lamayuru which was placed under the Drigunkpa sect. After worship at Alchi monastery ceased for some reason in the fifteenth century, it also became under the Gelugpa sect controlled from Likir.

Geography and visitor information

Alchi is located on the south bank of the Indus River at an altitude of 3,100 metres (10,200 ft) and 65 kilometres (40 mi) outside of Leh (to its west). Leh is connected by air from Delhi. The road approach to Leh starts at Manali, a route that is accessible from May or June to October, depending on the snow fall conditions in the valley.[3][10] The village is in the high altitude rain shadow area of Ladakh. It is laid out in four settlements on the banks of a tributary of the Indus River. The monastic complex is separate from the other village settlements.[1][6]


An image of Tara in Manjushri

The monastery complex has three major shrines: the Dukhang (Assembly hall), the Sumtseg and the Temple of Manjushri, all dating from between the early 12th and early 13th centuries. Chortens are also an important part of the complex. In addition, the Alchi complex has two other important temples, the Translator’s temple called the ‘Lotsabha Lakhang’ and a new temple called the ‘Lakhang Soma’.[1] This collection of four small shrines in the Alchi village has been described by The Hindu:

… as a jewel of colours and forms that is so utterly beautiful that the normal state of breathlessness in this high altitude becomes a deep gasp.

The artistic and spiritual details of both Buddhism and the Hindu kings of that time in Kashmir are reflected in the wall paintings in the monastery complex. These are some of the oldest surviving paintings in Ladakh. The complex also has huge statues of the Buddha and “lavish wood carvings and art-work — almost baroque in style.”Shakti Maira vividly explains the beauty of this small monastery as “stylistically rendered in an eclectic mix of Tibetan and Kashmiri faces and clothes.”


Entrance Door portal of Manjushri temple

Dukhang or the Assembly Hall is at the heart of the monastery complex, where monks perform worship and ceremonies. It is large and ancient, and the original wooden door frame is retained. Many additions were made to the ancient structure during the 12th and 13th centuries. The colonnaded veranda leads to the hall from a front courtyard and frescoes of one thousand Buddhas are depicted in the passageway. The Wheel of Life and Mahakal can be seen at the outer gate. The walls of the Dukhang, dedicated toPanch Tathāgatas, are painted with six different mandalas that surround the Vairochana, the main deity worshipped in the hall. The mandalas are set among by many paintings of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, goddesses, fierce divinities and guardians of dharma, and also lesser divinities.


The Alchi Sumtseg in the Alchi complex is one of the most outstanding, but its purpose is not clearly established. The Sumtseg (gSum-brtsegs) means a three storied building, though small, was built with loam and natural stone (reflected in the bland exterior) in the Tibetan building tradition. However, the luxuriant woodwork columns, facades, walls, clay images and paintings in the interior of the monastery were made by Kashmiri artists.The sanctum in the ground floor and the first floor measures 5.4 metres (18 ft)x5.8 metres (19 ft) with the niches of 2.1–2.7 metres (6.9–8.9 ft) width and 4 metres (13 ft) height (niches in the main wall are larger in size vis-a-vis the side walls). The niches depict the main images of three Bodhisattvas (all in standing posture and about 4 metres (13 ft) in height) and its associate secondary deities (four in each niche) with two flying goddesses in each niche. Except for the main wooden door on the top floor, which is dilapidated, the rest of the Sumtseg is well preserved in its original form, as built in the early 13th century. The second floor of the building is more in the form of a balcony with a lantern mounting. Image of Maitreya, the largest in size (4.63 metres (15.2 ft)), is deified on the back wall and flanked by the images of Avalokiteshwara to its right and Manjushri to its left. An interesting aspect of the elegant drapery (dhotis) worn by the deities is the display of different themes printed in different textile patterns; Maitreya’s dhoti depicts the life of Buddha, the Avlokiteshwara’s dhoti shows holy places and royal palaces and Manjushri’s dhoti has adepts (of 84 Mahasiddhas) printed on it. Iconographically, the deities have a single head with four arms but differently portrayed. Each deity is identified to a different Buddha. Maitreya has a five Buddha crown representing Vairochana. Avalokiteshwara’s crown represents Amitabha and Manjushri’s crown represents Akshobhya. An inscription in the main niche states that the three images are reliquaries representing body, speech and mind-compared to the three bodies of the Buddha-namely, Maitreya denoting the Buddha body of reality, Avolokiteshwara representing pure rapture and Manjushri representing emanational body. In simple terms, they represent the Buddhist concepts of Compassion, Hope and Wisdom.

Further, depiction of Buddha’s life in textile prints on the dhoti is a unique representation of the cycle of the life of Buddha that is arranged in a reverse sequence. It is in medallion form painted red, with each medallion measuring 15 centimetres (5.9 in) over a blue background. 48 scenes representing 41 episodes with five preaching scenes and two scenes of punarnirvana – all are arranged in pre-determined sequence representing the events in Buddha’s life between the last journey in Tushita heaven and the first sermon in Sarnath.

Dating of the Sumtseg has been made on the basis of the names of the priests inscribed on the top floor of the structure. The last name inscribed is that of the Drigungpa school of Drigungpa or Jigten Gonpo (1143–1217) from which it is inferred that Sumsteg was established in the early 13th century.

Alchi Monastery

Manjushri Temple

From various analysis of the iconography of the temple compared with that of the Sumtseg and Sumda Assembly hall, it has been inferred that the temple dates to around 1225 AD. Manjushri Temple, also called ‘Jampe Lhakhang’, is built around the four central images of Manjushri (seated back to back) seen on a common platform that is 5.7 metres (19 ft) square. Four pillars form the enclosure for the images; the pillars are supported with cross bracing connected to the painted wood ceiling. The paintings on the wooden ceiling are similar to those in the Sumtseg and the two chortens, but are unrefined. Located close to the Indus river, the temple is not well preserved except for wood carvings on the doors and pillars. The Lotsaba temple to its left side is a later addition. The Manjushri images are on a common pedestal (85 centimetres (33 in) high), painted recently to give an overall picture of fright since the decorative scrolls are derived from the tails of Makara surrounded by images of animals, gods and symbols. The normal colour attributed to Manjushri images is orange, but in this temple they are depicted with different colours.[15]

Each of the four images is single-headed with four arms that are adorned with a sword, a book on top of a lotus, a bow and an arrow. Each wall in the shrine is dedicated to a Buddha image. Manjushri is depicted on the main wall, seated on a lion throne; the side walls have images of Amitabha on the right and Aksharabhya on the left. The images are set around the central image of Manjushri in a niche in the wall. Manjushri is adorned with jewellery (pearls and other moulded forms) and a crown made of a flower band. In the base of the throne on which the Manjushri image is deified, is a depiction of ‘Seven Jewels’ and ‘Eight Suspicious Symbols’ (flanked by lions) enclosed in a square frame that is distinctive. The top of the throne frame has makara mountings.


Photo is of painted ceiling of chorten in the complex, paintings supposed to be of 12th/13th century AD.

The earliest recorded Chortens are the Great Chorten and the Small Chorten (stupa) to the early 13th century, following the building of the Sumtseg. These chortens are decorated gateways known locally as ‘Kakani Chörten’ and ‘Ka-ka-ni mchod-rten’ that are considered unique to Alchi with historical link to other monuments. More chortens were added between the 13th and 14th centuries. In the Alchi complex, there are also three other chortens, which have ancient paintings.

History of Ladakh

Rock carvings found in many parts of Ladakh indicate that the area has been inhabited from Neolithic times.[12] Ladakh’s earliest inhabitants consisted of a mixed Indo-Aryan population of Mons and Dards,[14] who find mention in the works of Herodotus,[b]Nearchus, Megasthenes, Pliny,Ptolemy, and the geographical lists of the Puranas.[15] Around the 1st century, Ladakh was a part of the Kushana empire. Buddhism spread into western Ladakh from Kashmir in the 2nd century when much of eastern Ladakh and western Tibet was still practising the Bon religion. The 7th century Buddhist traveler Xuanzang describes the region in his accounts.[e]

In the 8th century, Ladakh was involved in the clash between Tibetan expansion pressing from the East and Chinese influence exerted from Central Asia through the passes. Suzerainty over Ladakh frequently changed hands between China and Tibet. In 842 Nyima-Gon, a Tibetan royal representative annexed Ladakh for himself after the break-up of the Tibetan empire, and founded a separate Ladakhi dynasty. During this period Ladakh acquired a predominantly Tibetan population. The dynasty spearheaded the second spreading of Buddhism, importing religious ideas from north-west India, particularly from Kashmir. The first spreading of Buddhism was the one in Tibet proper.

According to Rolf Alfred Stein, author of Tibetan Civilization, the area of Zhangzhung was not historically a part of Tibet and was a distinctly foreign territory to the Tibetans. According to Rolf Alfred Stein,[16]

“… Then further west, The Tibetans encountered a distinctly foreign nation — Shangshung, with its capital at Khyunglung. Mt. Kailāśa (Tise) and Lake Manasarovar formed part of this country, whose language has come down to us through early documents. Though still unidentified, it seems to be Indo-European. … Geographically the country was certainly open to India, both through Nepal and by way of Kashmir and Ladakh. Kailāśa is a holy place for the Indians, who make pilgrimages to it. No one knows how long they have done so, but the cult may well go back to the times when Shangshung was still independent of Tibet.
How far Zhangzhung stretched to the north, east and west is a mystery … We have already had an occasion to remark that Shangshung, embracing Kailāśa sacred Mount of the Hindus, may once have had a religion largely borrowed from Hinduism. The situation may even have lasted for quite a long time. In fact, about 950, the Hindu King of Kabulhad a statue of Vişņu, of the Kashmiri type (with three heads), which he claimed had been given him by the king of the Bhota (Tibetans) who, in turn had obtained it from Kailāśa.”

A chronicle of Ladakh compiled in the 17th century called the La dvags royal rabs, meaning the Royal Chronicle of the Kings of Ladakh recorded that this boundary was traditional and well-known. The first part of the Chronicle was written in the years 1610–1640 and the second half towards the end of the 17th century. The work has been translated into English by A. H. Francke and published in 1926 in Calcutta titled the Antiquities of Indian Tibet. In volume 2, the Ladakhi Chronicle describes the partition by King Skyid-lde-ngima-gon of his kingdom between his three sons, and then the chronicle described the extent of territory secured by that son. The following quotation is from page 94 of this book:

He gave to each of his sons a separate kingdom, viz., to the eldest Dpal-gyi-gon, Maryul of Mngah-ris, the inhabitants using black bows; ru-thogs of the east and the Gold-mine of Hgog; nearer this way Lde-mchog-dkar-po; at the frontier ra-ba-dmar-po; Wam-le, to the top of the pass of the Yi-mig rock …

From a perusal of the aforesaid work, It is evident that Rudokh was an integral part of Ladakh. Even after the family partition, Rudok continued to be part of Ladakh. Maryul meaning lowlands was a name given to a part of Ladakh. Even at that time, i.e. in the 10th century, Rudok was an integral part of Ladakh and Lde-mchog-dkar-po, i.e., Demchok was an integral part of Ladakh.

Faced with the Islamic conquest of South Asia in the 13th century, Ladakh chose to seek and accept guidance in religious matters from Tibet. For nearly two centuries till about 1600, Ladakh was subject to raids and invasions from neighbouring Muslim states, which led to the partial conversion of Ladakhis to Noorbakshi Islam.

King Bhagan reunited and strengthened Ladakh and founded the Namgyal dynasty[17] which survives to today. The Namgyals repelled most Central Asian raiders and temporarily extended the kingdom as far as Nepal,[12] in the face of concerted attempts to convert the region to Islam and destroy Buddhist artifacts.[10][12] In the early 17th century efforts were made to restore destroyed artifacts and gonpas and the kingdom expanded into Zangskar and Spiti. However, despite a defeat of Ladakh by the Mughals, who had already annexed Kashmir and Baltistan, it retained its independence.

It appears that the Balti conquest of Laddakh took place in about 1594 AD which was the era of Namgyal dynasty by Balti king Ali Sher Khan Anchan. Legends show that the Balti army obsessed with success advanced as far as Purang, in the valley of Mansarwar Lake, and won the admiration of their enemies and friends. The Raja of Laddakh sued for peace and, since Ali Sher Khan’s intention was not to annex Laddakh, he agreed subject to the condition that the village of Ganokh and Gagra Nullah should be ceded to Skardu and he (the Laddakhi Raja) should pay annual tribute. This tribute was paid through the Gonpa (monastery) of Lama Yuru till the Dogra conquest of Laddakh. Hashmatullah records that the Head Lama of the said Gonpa had admitted before him the payment of yearly tribute to Skardu Darbar till the Dogra conquest of Laddakh.[18]

In the late 17th century, Ladakh sided with Bhutan in its dispute with Tibet which, among other reasons, resulted in its invasion by the Tibetan Central Government. This event is known as the Tibet-Ladakh-Mughal war of 1679-1684.[19] Kashmir helped restore Ladakhi rule on the condition that a mosque be built in Leh and that the Ladakhi king convert to Islam.[20] The Treaty of Tingmosgang in 1684 settled the dispute between Tibet and Ladakh but severely restricted Ladakh’s independence. In 1834, theDogra Zorawar Singh, a general of Maharaja Ranjit Singh invaded and annexed Ladakh to the Sikh Empire. After the defeat of the Sikhs in the Second Anglo-Sikh War, the province of Jammu and Kashmir was transferred to Gulab Singh, to be ruled under British suzerainty as a Princely-State. A Ladakhi rebellion in 1842 was crushed and Ladakh was incorporated into the Dogra state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Namgyal family was given the jagir of Stok, which it nominally retains to this day. European influence began in Ladakh in the 1850s and increased. Geologists, sportsmen and tourists began exploring Ladakh. In 1885, Leh became the headquarters of a mission of the Moravian Church.

At the time of the partition of India in 1947, the Dogra ruler Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession to India. Pakistani raiders had reached Ladakh and military operations were initiated to evict them. The wartime conversion of the pony trail from Sonamarg to Zoji La by army engineers permitted tanks to move up and successfully capture the pass. The advance continued. Dras, Kargil and Leh were liberated and Ladakh cleared of the infiltrators.[21]

In 1949, China closed the border between Nubra and Xinjiang, blocking old trade routes. In 1955 China began to build roads connecting Xinjiang and Tibet through this area. It also built the Karakoram highway jointly with Pakistan. India built the Srinagar-Leh Highway during this period, cutting the journey time between Srinagar and Leh from 16 days to two. The route, however, remains closed during the winter months due to heavy snowfall. Construction of a 6.5 km tunnel across Zoji La pass is under consideration to make the route functional throughout the year.[12][22] The entire state of Jammu and Kashmir continues to be the subject of a territorial dispute between India, Pakistan and China.[citation needed] Kargil was an area of conflict in the wars of 1947, 1965 and 1971 and the focal point of a potential nuclear conflict during the Kargil War in 1999.

The Kargil War of 1999, codenamed “Operation Vijay” by the Indian Army, saw infiltration by Pakistani troops into parts of Western Ladakh, namely Kargil, Dras, Mushkoh, Batalik and Chorbatla, overlooking key locations on the Srinagar-Leh highway. Extensive operations were launched in high altitudes by the Indian Army with considerable artillery and air force support. Pakistani troops were evicted from the Indian side of the Line of Control which the Indian government ordered was to be respected and which was not crossed by Indian troops. The Indian government was criticized by the Indian public because India respected geographical co-ordinates more than India’s opponents: Pakistan and China.[23]

In 1984 the Siachen Glacier area in the northernmost corner of Ladakh became the venue of a continuing military standoff between India and Pakistan in the highest battleground in the world. The boundary here was not demarcated in the 1972 Simla Agreement beyond a point named NJ9842. In 1984 India occupied the entire Siachen Glacier and by 1987 the heights of the Saltoro Ridge which borders the glacier to the west, with Pakistan troops in the glacial valleys and on the ridges just west of the Saltoro Ridge crest.[24][25] This status has remained much the same since, and a ceasefire was established in 2003.

The Ladakh region was bifurcated into the Kargil and Leh districts in 1979. In 1989, there were violent riots between Buddhists and Muslims. Following demands for autonomy from the Kashmiri dominated state government, the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council was created in the 1990s. Leh and Kargil Districts now each have their own locally elected Hill Councils with some control over local policy and development funds. In 1991, a Peace Pagoda was erected in Leh by Nipponzan Myohoji.

There is a heavy presence of Indian Army and Indo-Tibetan Border Police forces in Ladakh. These forces and People’s Liberation Army forces from China have, since the 1962 Sino-Indian War, had frequent stand-offs along the Lakakh portion of the Line of Actual Control. The stand-off involving the most troops was in September 2014 in the disputed Chumar region when 800 to 1,000 Indian troops and 1,500 Chinese troops came into close proximity to each other.[26]