Historical background

For close on 900 years, from the middle of the lOth century , Ladakh was an independent kingdom, its dynasties descending from the kings of old Tibet. Its political fortunes ebbed and flowed over the centuries, and the kingdom, was at its greatest in the early l7th century under the famous king Sengge Namgyal, whose rule extended across Spiti and western Tibet up to the Mayumla beyond the sacred sites of Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar, and gradually perhaps partly due to the fact that it was politically stable, in contrast to the lawless tribes further west, Ladakh became recognized as the best trade route between the Punjab and Central Asia. For centuries it was traversed by caravans carrying textiles and spices, raw silk and carpets, dyestuffs and narcotics. Heedless of the land's rugged terrain and apparent remoteness, merchants entrusted their goods to relays of pony transporters who took about two months to carry them from Amritsar to the Central Asian towns of Yarkand and Khotan. On this long route, Leh was the half way house, and developed into a bustling entrepot, its bazaars thronged with merchants from far countries.

The famous pashm (better known as cashmere) also came down from the high-altitude plateaux of eastern Ladakh and western Tibet where it was produced, through Leh to Srinagar where skilled artisans transformed it from a matted oily mass of goat's underfleece into shawls known the world over for their softness anc warmth. Ironically, it was this lucrativl trade, that finally spelt the doom of the independent kingdom. It attracted the covetous gaze of Gulab Singh, the rule of Jammu in the early 19th century, anc in 1834, he sent his general Zorawar Singh to invade Ladakh.There followed a decade of war and turmoil, which ended with the emergence of the British as the paramount power ir north India. Ladakh, together with the neighbouring province of Baltistan, was incorporated into the newly created State of Jammu & Kashmir. Just over a century later, this union was disturbed by the partition of India, Baltistan becoming part of Pakistan, while Ladakh remained in India as part of the State of Jammu & Kashmir.