Ladakh: Barrier or Entrepot?

An island in a sea of mountains, as Sarah Searight describes it, the Indian region of Ladakh was once a cosmopolitan centre of pilgrimage and trade.

The barren mountains and valleys of Ladakh lie across two of the oldest trade routes in the western Himalayas. One - the more important in earlier centuries - ran eight hundred miles from Yarkand in Sinkiang to Srinagar in Kashmir and thence to India, Afghanistan and even on to Persia.

This is thought to have been one of the routes - from India - by which Buddhism was carried to China and was certainly used by Chinese pilgrims coming to India to see Buddhism for themselves. The second major trade route, of particular significance to all Ladakh’s neighbours in the first half of the nineteenth century, ran from the shawl-wool producing areas of Western Tibet through the Ladakhi capital of Leh to Kashmir.

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