About Leh, Ladakh

Lying in the rain shadow of the Great Himalayas and other smaller ranges, Ladakh - the Land of High Passes – is at an average elevation of 3,650 meters (11,975 feet). This isolated cold desert region comprises two districts: Leh, the largest district in India, and Kargil. Connected to the rest of the country only by two seasonally motorable highways, Ladakh forms almost two-thirds of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, yet accounts for barely 3% of its population.


Leh District has a Buddhist majority, with a smaller population of Shi'a Muslims who are almost all of Balti stock, ethnically similar to the Buddhist Ladakhis. Over 50% of Leh’s 1.17 lakh population lives in Leh Block alone.

Two primary sectors constitute Ladakh’s land-based economy: agriculture, and livestock husbandry. Due to longer winters, the agriculture season is very short and people have to stock up food grains and provisions for the harsh winters when they are completely cut off from the rest of the world. Earnings from tourism are similarly limited by the seasonality of the trade during the summer months.

With the growth of tourism in the last four decades, the limited infrastructure of Leh has been under great pressure due to the massive migration of youth from rural to urban areas looking for livelihood opportunities.

In addition, Ladakh’s fragile ecology has also seen adverse impacts in recent years, largely due pressures arising from aggressively marketed tourism, which plays an increasingly large role in the region’s economy. The successful ban on plastics in Leh has curtailed this damage to some extent with the support of local communities and civil society groups.

The remoteness of the Ladakh region, coupled with poor infrastructure, has restricted the development of the people, offering few opportunities for economic growth and sustainable empowerment of the communities scattered in remote villages. The literacy rate, for instance, is about 65% as per the Census of 2001, but this statistic does not reflect the poor quality of an education system that is not locally relevant to this culturally distinct part of the state of J&K.

The availability of information on development issues like education, health, livelihood opportunities and the impact of climate change on their land-based economy is severely limited, leaving the rural communities vulnerable to, and ill-prepared for, the social, cultural and economic changes expected in the coming years.




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