Ladakh – The link between India and Central Asia

Ladakh, situated in northernmost India bordered by the Tibet autonomous region to it’s east, the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh to it’s south, both Indian Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan(PoK) to it’s west and the southwest corner of the Chinese Xinjiang autonomous region across the majestic karakoram pass in the far north, has always been a land of intrigue. The name ‘Ladakh’ means the land of high passes is full of great mountain passes like the Karakoram, Khardungla etc.

The largest town and capital of Ladakh is Leh, followed by Kargil. The Leh district contains the Indus, Shyok and Nubra river valleys while the Kargil district has the Suri, Dras and Zanskar river valleys. Being administrated as a union territory recently, it is the largest and second least populous union territory of India.

Since past, Ladakh has been important due it’s strategic location at the crossroads of important trade routes. Most notably the renowned Silk Road, which was and still is a network of trade routes connecting the East and West, and was key to the economic, cultural, political and religious interactions between these regions from the 2nd century BC to the 18th century. It primarily refers to the land but also sea routes connecting East Asia & Southeast Asia with South Asia, Persia(Iran), the Arabian Peninsula, East Adrian and Southern Europe.

Due to its contiguity with Xinjiang and Tibet and its close proximity to Central Asia, and enjoying a central position in the network of overland caravan routes that were linked to the Silk Route, Ladakh acted as an important gateway in the Indo-Central Asian exchange of men, materials and ideas through the ages. The great mountain barriers of the Hindu Kush, Karakoram, Kun Lun mountains and western Himalayas where not successful in stopping the trade from thriving.

The Central Asian Museum in Leh celebrates this rich cultural & trade history with Central Asia having many artifacts, photographs and art installations depicting trade through Ladakh. Notable exports to Central Asia were the famous Pashmina Shawls, Tea, Indigo, Coral, Salt etc. Imports from Central Asia were Bukharan and Kokandi gold coins(from the area which is now the country of Uzbekistan), Silk Cloth, Russian currency etc.

The trade and the caravan traders even helped in the urbanisation of Ladakh and giving it’s unique identity.

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