Ladakh is a land like no other. Bounded by two of the world's mightiest mountain ranges, the Great Himalaya and the Karakoram.
Yes, water! Today, a high-altitude desert, sheltered from the rain-bearing clouds of the Indian monsoon by the barrier of the Great Himalaya, Ladakh was once covered by an extensive lake system, the vestiges of which still exist on its south-east plateau of Rupshu and Chushul in drainage basins with evocative names like Tso-moriri, Tsokar, and grandest of all, Pangong-tso. Occasionally, some stray monsoon clouds do find their way over the Himalaya , and lately this seems to be happening with increasing frequency. But the main source of water remains the winter snowfall. Drass, Zanskar and the Suru Valley on the Himalaya 's northern flank receive heavy snow in winter; this feeds the glaciers whose meltwater, carried down by streams, irrigates the fields in summer. For the rest of the region, the snow on the peaks is virtually the only source of water. As the crops grow, the villagers pray not for rain, but for sun to melt the glaciers and liberate their water. Usually their prayers are answered, for the skies are clear and the sun shines for over 300 days in the year.
Ladakh lies at altitudes ranging from about 9,000 feet (2750m) at Kargil to 25,170 feet (7,672m) at Saser Kangri in the Karakoram. Thus summer temperatures rarely exceed about 27 degree celcius in the shade, while in winter they may plummet to minus 20 degree celcius even in Leh.
In the north-west of India, between the earth’s highest mountain ranges, the Karakoram and the Himalaya, Ladakh extends along the valleys of the Indus and its main tributaries. One of these, the Zanskar River flows from south to north and gives its name to the region. The population is about 15,000 and the capital is Padum which resembles a large village.
About 20 kms. South of Rangdum stands the Pazila watershed across which lies Zanskar, the most isolated of all the trans Himalayan Valleys. The Panzila Top (4401 m) is the picturesque tableland adorned with two small alpine lakes and surrounded by snow covered peaks. As the Zanskar road winds down the steep slopes of the watershed to the head of the Stod Valley , one of Zanskar's main tributary valleys, the majestic "Darang-Durung" glacier looms into full view. A long and winding river of ice and snow, the "Darang-Durung" is perhaps the largest glacier in Ladakh, outside the Siachen formation. It is from the cliff-like snout of this extensive glacier that the Stod or Doda River, the main tributary of river Zanskar, rises.
Zanskar comprises a tri-armed valley system lying between the Great Himalayan Range and the Zanskar mountain; The three arms radiate star-like towards the west, north and south from a wide central expanse where the region's two principal drainage's meet to form the main Zanskar River . The area remains inaccessible for nearly 8 months a year due to heavy snowfall resulting in closure of all the access passes, including the Penzi-la. The 240 km long Kargil-Padum road, of which the first 90 km stretch is paved, remains opened from around mid may to early November. In June, the summer is at its height in the region and the climate is ideal for trekking along the route free from vehicular traffic of any kind and when the countryside is freshly rejuvenated into life after months of frigid dormancy.