Beyond the roof of the world
Hemmed in by mountains on every side, the area of Ladakh is often geographically defined in relation to its surroundings. Near the valley of Kashmir, the region is on the western edge of the Tibetan plateau, situated between the Himalayan mountain range to the south and the Karakoram1 Range to the north. In synchronic geo-political terms it includes two political districts in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, Leh2
and Kargil; these are also the names of the two main towns in Ladakh, each an urban center of their respective district. Ladakh comprises close to 70 percent of the geographic territory of Jammu and Kashmir, yet its current population, notoriously small by Indian national standards, is less than 3 percent of the state’s population. This sparse population makes Ladakh the least populated region in the nation of India, with a regional population of only 232,864 (Census of India 2001). Yet, at times there can be at least twice this many people in Ladakh. Walking through Leh’s main bazaar today are many individuals who have come from other parts of India for work, including transient laborers, shopkeepers with seasonal shops, and army personnel. A large number of traders from other areas within the state of Jammu and Kashmir come to Ladakh during the summer months to run shops and restaurants during the busy tourist season, which attracts thousands of domestic and international tourists.