Desert lands with extremely low temperatures are called cold deserts like Antarctica, which is the largest cold desert in the world. Ladakh in India is a cold desert that lies in the Great Himalayas on the eastern side of Jammu and Kashmir. It is also known as Khapa-chan, which means snow land.
Ladakh is enclosed by the Ladakh Range and the Karakoram Range in the north, and the Zanskar Mountains and the Great Himalayas in the south. The Siachen glacier is the longest glacier in the Karakoram Range and the second longest outside the polar region.
Ladakh is situated at a height of 3000 metres in Kargil to over 8000 metres in the Karakoram, this high altitude is the reason for extremely cold climate. Owing to the high altitude, the air is so thin that the heat of the sun can be felt intensely i.e. one can experience freezing winds and intense sunlight at the same time.
The summer temperatures in Ladakh range from 0o C during the day to -30o C during the night, while the winters are freezing with temperatures even below -40o C for most part of the day. Drass in Kargil district of Ladakh is the coldest inhabited town in the world, with the day temperatures near -50o C during the winter.
Ladakh gets an annual precipitation or rainfall of as low as 10 centimetres. This is because Ladakh lies in the rain shadow side of the Great Himalayas which block the monsoon clouds.
Extreme cold temperatures make vegetation in Ladakh extremely sparse, but one can find a little vegetation along rivers on high slopes and in irrigated places. People grow barley, potatoes, peas, beans and turnip in vegetable and apples, apricots and walnuts in fruits in the irrigated places.
A wide variety of bird species can be found in Ladakh like robins, redstarts, Tibetan snowcock, raven and hoopoe. Animals which can be found in the region include blue sheep, yak and wild goat, and several species of dogs. Most of these animals are reared for milk, meat and hides.
Yaks of these animals hold large importance as they are used for transporting loads across Himalayan trade routes since ancient times and continue even today. This is why yaks are called as the beasts of burden in Ladakh.
The total population of Ladakh is only about three lakh where most of the settled population lives in and around Leh, the capital of Ladakh. The total population of Leh district is 1.17 lakh. Another important town in Ladakh is Kargil which lies near the Line of Control facing Pakistan-administered Kashmir to the west, and the Kashmir valley to the south.
Islam and Buddhism are the two main religions of Ladakh. There are several Buddhists monasteries with their traditional ‘gompas’ and the famous of all is Hemis, being the largest and the most famous in Ladakh.
The Ladakhis usually cultivate during the summers while winters is consumed in festivals and weaving woolens. The famous Pashmina wool is obtained from a special type of goat found in Ladakh.
The most important festivals in Ladakh are Hemis, the Ladakh Festival and Gustors. The Hemis festival is the famous monastic festival which commemorates the birth of the founder of Tantric Buddhism in Tibet. Numerous tourists from India and abroad come to witness these festivals, visit the gompas and the natural beauty of Ladakh.
The Ladakhis are known to respect nature and use the natural resources like water and fuel with care and reverence. They have mastered the art of living in balance and harmony with nature.