National Geographic : 1951 May
Ladakh: a Stony Desert on Top of the World Within some 46,000 square miles, La dakh holds a population of about 195,000 people. Religion (Buddhism) and race (Mon golian) join the Ladakhis to Tibet, to which their ancestors gave allegiance. Po litically, they belong to Jammu and Kash mir, a principality whose Hindu maharaja governs a princely State for whose posses sion Indian and Pakistani armies have vied. Lately the United Nations has debated the question of a plebiscite to determine Kash mir's disposition. Ladakh has one main highway, the so called Treaty Road, actually a pony trail, which connects Srinagar and Leh. This route was taken by the author on her 550 mile caravan trip, Srinagar to Himis and return. Leaving Kashmir's green vale, Mrs. Bhavnani climbed the 11,580-foot Zoji La (pass) and entered a strange, lofty plateau where nothing grew save in those spots where irrigators could trap water. Ice fields 20,000 feet high overhung her route. Seen across enormous distances, they ap peared close at hand, so rare and clear was the air. Mountains she could "almost touch" took a day or more to reach. We met a post runner carrying mail from Leh. Each runner had to do three miles a day, handing his post to a relief at the end of his stint. At each relay point stood a small mud-and-stone hut where the runner handed his mail over to the next fellow. From Baltal on, people did not actually understand miles. They measured by daks, or post distances, of three or four miles each. We spent a bitterly cold night at Matayan, with freezing wind tearing at our tents. The next morning it was still cold. But the scenery was unique-straight and fine like a Chinese etching. There was not a tree any where, scarcely any grass, and no flower dotted the wide plateaus. Later in the day the sun came out and shone over the resplendent mountains. The scene was like a painting, with brilliant hues over the mountains, turquoise merging into sap phire skies, and a purple horizon. It was almost unreal. Dras, the next stage, is the land of the Balti and Dard people.* The men wore long cream-colored, hand-woven woolen coats and felt boots. Riding fast ponies with wooden saddles, they resembled Cossacks. Their women, garbed in black hats with veils, and tunics over full trousers, were tend ing the bright yellow fields. They looked much like the Turkis of Russia. Snow Traps Inhabitants for Six Months Except for grain fields, the landscape was devoid of vegetation and studded with multi * See "First Over the Roof of the World by Motor," by Maynard Owen Williams, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, March, 1932.