Ladakh has a cold desert climate with long harsh winters from October to early March with minimum temperatures well below freezing for most of the winter. The city gets occasional snowfall during winter. The weather in the remaining months is generally fine and warm during the day. Average annual rainfall is only 102 mm (4.02 inches). In 2010 the city experienced flash floods which killed more than 100 people. Mountains dominate the landscape around the Leh as it is at an altitude of 3,500 m. The principal access roads include the 434 km Srinagar-Leh highway which connects Leh with Srinagar and the 473 km Leh-Manali Highway which connects Manali with Leh. Both roads are open only on a seasonal basis. Although the access roads from Srinagar and Manali are often blocked by snow in winter, the local roads in the Indus Valley usually remain open due to the low level of precipitation and snowfall.
Changthang means Northern Plateau in Tibetan
Leh was the capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh, now the Leh district in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Leh district, with an area of 45,110 sq-km is the second largest district in the country. The town is dominated by the ruined Leh Palace, the former mansion of the royal family of Ladakh, built in the same style and about the same time as the Potala Palace-the chief residence of the Dalai Lama until the 14th Dalai Lama fled to Dharamsala, India, during the 1959 Tibetan uprising. Leh is at an altitude of 3,524 meters (11,562 ft), and is connected via National Highway 1D to Srinagar in the southwest and to Manali in the south via the Leh-Manali Highway. In 2010, Leh was heavily damaged by the sudden floods caused by a cloud burst. The old town of Leh was added to the World Monuments Fund’s list of 100 most endangered sites due to increased rainfall from climate change and other reasons. Neglect and changing settlement patterns within the old town have threatened the long-term preservation of this unique site.
Leh hilltop Buddhist Shanti Stupa
The rapid and poorly planned urbanization of Leh has increased the risk of flash floods in some areas, while other areas, according to research by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network, suffer from the less dramatic, gradual effects of invisible disasters, which often go unreported. Leh was an important stopover on trade routes along the Indus Valley between Tibet to the east, Kashmir to the west and also between India and China for centuries. The main goods carried were salt, grain, pashm or cashmere wool, charas or cannabis resin from the Tarim Basin, indigo, silk yarn and Banaras brocade. Although there are a few indications that the Chinese knew of a trade route through Ladakh to India as early as the Kushan period (1st to 3rd centuries CE) and certainly by Tang dynasty, little is actually known of the history of the region before the formation of the kingdom towards the end of the 10th century by the Tibetan prince, Skyid lde nyima gon (or Nyima gon), a grandson of the anti-Buddhist Tibetan king, Langdarma (r. c. 838 to 841). He conquered Western Tibet although his army originally numbered only 300 men.
Leh Polo Ground since 1885
Several towns and castles are said to have been founded by Nyima gon and he apparently ordered the construction of the main sculptures at Shey. “In an inscription he says he had them made for the religious benefit of the Tsangpo (the dynastical name of his father and ancestors), and of all the people of Ngaris (Western Tibet). This shows that already in this generation Langdarma opposition to Buddhism had disappeared.” Shey, just 15 km east of modern Leh, was the ancient seat of the Ladakhi kings. During the reign of Delegs Namgyal (1660–1685), the Nawab of Kashmir, which was then a province in the Mughal Empire, arranged for the Mongol army to (temporarily) leave Ladakh (though it returned later). As payment for assisting Delegs Namgyal in the Tibet-Ladakh-Mughal war of 1679–1684, the Nawab made a number of onerous demands. One of the least was to build a large Sunni Muslim mosque in Leh at the upper end of the bazaar in Leh, below the Leh Palace. The mosque reflects a mixture of Islamic and Tibetan architecture and can accommodate more than 500 people. This was apparently not the first mosque in Leh; there are two smaller ones which are said to be older. Several trade routes have traditionally converged on Leh, from all four directions. The most direct route was the one the modern highway follows from the Punjab via Mandi, the Kulu valley, over the Rohtang Pass through Lahaul and on to the Indus Valley and then down river to Leh.
Bungalow at Leh Hotel Bimla
The route from Srinagar was roughly the same as the road that today crosses the Zoji La pass to Kargil, and then up the Indus Valley to Leh. From Baltistan there were two difficult routes: the main on ran up the Shyok Valley from the Indus, over a pass and then down the Hanu River to the Indus again below Khalsi (Khaltse). The other ran from Skardu straight up the Indus to Kargil and on to Leh. Then, there were both the summer and winter routes from Leh to Yarkand across the Karakorum. Finally, there were a couple of possible routes from Leh to Lhasa. The first Englishman to reach Leh was William Moorcroft (explorer) in 1820. The first recorded royal residence in Ladakh, built at the top of the high Namgyal (‘Victory’) Peak overlooking the present palace and town, is the now-ruined fort and the gon-khang (Temple of the Guardian Divinities) built by King Tashi Namgyal. Tashi Namgyal is known to have ruled during the final quarter of the 16th century CE. The Namgyal (also called Tsemo Gompa = Red Gompa, or dGon-pa-so-ma = New Monastery), a temple, is the main Buddhist centre in Leh. There are some older walls of fortifications behind it which Francke reported used to be known as the “Dard Castle.” If it was indeed built by Dards, it must pre-date the establishment of Tibetan rulers in Ladakh over a thousand years ago.
Leh Magnetic Hill / Gravity Hill
The royal palace, known as Leh Palace, was built by King Sengge Namgyal (1612–1642), presumably between the period when the Portuguese Jesuit priest, Francisco de Azevedo, visited Leh in 1631, and made no mention of it, and Sengge Namgyal death in 1642. The Leh Palace is nine storeys high; the upper floors accommodated the royal family, and the stables and store rooms are located on the lower floors. The palace was abandoned when Kashmiri forces besieged it in the mid-19th century. The royal family moved their premises south to their current home in Stok Palace on the southern bank of the Indus. The original name of the town is not sLel, as it is now-a-days spelt, but sLes, which signifies an encampment of nomads. These Tibetan nomads were probably in the habit of visiting the Leh valley at a time when it had begun to be irrigated by Dard colonisers. Thus, the most ancient part of the ruins on the top of rNam-rgyal-rtse-mo hill at Leh are called ‘aBrog-pal-mkhar (Dard castle)
Since the 8th century people belonging to different religions, particularly Buddhism and Islam, have been living in harmony in Leh. They co-inhabited the region from the time of early period of Namgyal dynasty and there are no records of any conflict between them. Besides these two communities there are people living in the region who belong to other religions such as Christianity, Hinduism, and Sikhism, who too live in harmony and form a vital part of the society. The small Christian community in Leh are descendants of converts from Tibetan Buddhism by German Moravian missionaries who established a church at Keylong in Lahaul in the 1860s, and were allowed to open another mission in Leh in 1885 and had a sub branch in Khaltse.
They stayed open until Indian Independence in 1947. In spite of their successful medical and educational activities, they made only a few converts. Every year Sindhu Darshan Festival is held at Shey, 15 km away from town to promote religious harmony and glory of Indus (Sindhu) river. At this time, Leh is packed with thousands of tourists coming from all over India, as well as foreign countries.