Join Lotus Ladakh Tours this Summer and Fall on a ten-day journey into the ancient Tibetan Buddhist culture of Ladakh in the Western Himalayas. Based in the Capital City of Leh, we will travel to Nubra Valley as well Western Ladakh taking in the incredible scenery and learning about the fascinating millennium old history. Our small groups stay in well-appointed family run guesthouses where you will have a single room with attached baths and showers. You will have ample opportunity to meet and interact with the wonderfully gracious people of Ladakh. Experience our small group tours with like-minded curious adventure travelers who wish to take a step back in time to explore this stunning Himalayan landscape, living Ladakhi Buddhist culture, as well as the profound spiritual presence of this ancient land on the roof of the world.
History of Ladakh
The word Ladakh comes from the word Ladags or land of the mountain passes. This is a land of stunning beauty and kind-hearted inhabitants, with a rich tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Ladakh is often referred to as Little Tibet, having a long tradition of trade and religious affiliations with Tibet for centuries. There is now a vibrant and strong Tibetan refugee settlement near the capital city of Leh. Once a forbidden land closed for centuries to the West, Ladakh first opened up to tourism in 1974. The trade routes, once part of the great Silk Route, were the only access Ladakh had to the outside world. These trade routes met here at the intersection between India, China to the East, and Central Asia to the Northeast. Ladakh is now a fascinating mix of the old and new, the ancient culture and the ever-changing modern world.
A region of Jammu and Kashmir in India and Pakistan on the border of Tibet. The site of a Tibetan kingdom during the 1600s, it was annexed by the maharaja of Jammu in 1834, it later became a protectorate of India after the partition of 1947 and is now a Union Territory as of 2019. For centuries Ladakh has been on the Buddhist pilgrimage trail linking Kashmir and Tibet through the Himalaya.
Each summer witnesses the arrival of travelers from all over the world who come for various reasons. Many are drawn to the rich and long-standing history of Tibetan Buddhism, with over 35 well-preserved monasteries of the four main branches of Buddhism, many of which hold religious festivals and the famous Cham Dances in the summer.
His Holiness, the 14th Dali Lama, has a summer palace here, usually spending over a month doing several weekly spiritual teachings for the people of Ladakh. Others are drawn by the incredible mountain landscapes, the long river valleys, the pristine and unpolluted mountain air, and snow-capped mountains.
Ladakh is a major destination for Himalayan trekking, mountain climbing, river rafting, and the world's highest marathon, La Ultra. Mountain treks can last from a few days to a few weeks crossing mountain valleys, rivers, and major mountain passes. Ladakh has an abundance of wildlife such as the elusive Himalayan snow leopard, the Siberian ibex, the Himalayan wolf, the black-necked crane, bharal or blue sheep, the Himalayan vulture, golden eagles, the Asiatic brown bear, the Tibetan argali, red fox, Himalayan marmot, wild ass, wooly hare, pikas, and many species of finches.
The capital city of Leh is now a relatively cosmopolitan city center with all of the comforts of the West. Fine hotels and restaurants are found here with high-craftsmanship artworks, rugs, and pashmina wool products. There are a number antique and artifact shops selling rare and unusual pieces of furniture, musical instruments, cooking pots and utensils, rare old jewelry, and things not found anywhere else in the world.
There are a number of fascinating historical and spiritual places of significance in the history of the pre-Buddhist Bon-pa religion, as well as Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism.
Geographically, Ladakh is dominated by three mountain ranges running from Northwest to Southeast. The Great Himalayan Range, the Ladakhi Range, and the Zanskar Range. Ladakh is a high elevation semi-desert region with villages varying in range between 2,750 and 4,550 meters. Normally, the Indian monsoon doesn't reach Ladakh, resulting in less than three inches of rainfall per year. Winters can be extremely cold, with temperatures reaching a bone-chilling -30 Celsius. Summers are very pleasant, with an average daily temperature of 24 degrees Celsius.
For centuries Ladakis have constructed long-distance water canals off of the streams and rivers and into their farmlands to create a productive and stable food supply for the population. The main crops have traditionally been barley and wheat. Barley is roasted and ground to make tsampa, which is eaten by the spoonful with tea or put directly into salt butter tea. Wheat is made into noodles to make a Tibetan soup known as tupa or pinched into small balls into a stew with vegetables known as skew. The other main crops are millet, buckwheat, peas, beans, and turnips. Ladakhis have household vegetable gardens that provide the family with fresh produce throughout the summer months. Other foods produced are meat, cheese, yogurt, apricots, and apples.
The people of Ladakh are mainly Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhists. Western Ladakh is mainly Shia Muslim. Originally Bon-po, a Shamanic and Earth Animist practice, was the main religion. Lamayuru or Yuru Monastery served as a major Bon center in the West of Ladakh, while in the East, the Tibetan nomads of Chang Thang also followed the ancient Bon religion.
Ladakh was once an almost totally self-sustaining culture. Families used to live in large houses of three generations, sharing farming duties, tending livestock, growing crops, and raising the children, with strong affiliations and support of the local monasteries. They made their own tools, clothing, ropes, and other necessities. Houses, made with local resources such as mud, stone, and wood were a community group effort where villagers pitched in and worked together when a new house was needed. Now families follow the Western model of a single-family home with adults going off to work at a job during the day.
Now international and domestic tourism drive much of the economy of Ladakh. India has recently recognized the static importance of Ladakh and is building a new road system into Ladakh to strengthen border security.
The people of Ladakh claim a literacy rate of 74 percent. Once considered a luxury, now almost all children are educated in private or government-run schools. Traditionally, the youngest son would be sent to the closest monastery to be educated and live the life of a monk. Girls would live in separate nunneries, of which there are several in Ladakh.