The most sparsely populated regions of Jammu & Kashmir state, Ladakh is a cold semi-arid desert known all over the world for its raw beauty. Stretching from the Kuen Lun mountain range in the north to the Great Himalayas to the south, the area is located on a plateau on the state' s eastern side at an elevation of 3500 m. Ladakh is home to one of the most intact Tantric Buddhist societies. Rugged snow-capped mountains and deep turquoise lakes help make Ladakh one of the most picturesque places on earth. It has long been on the map for backpackers, most of them staying in and around the town of Leh. Often referred to as Little Tibet, the whole of Ladakh is heavily influenced by Tibetan culture.
Ladakh is made up of two districts Leh on the east, and Kargil to the west. With an area of over 45,000 sq m, Leh is the second largest district in the country after Kutch. In its original geography, Ladakh was even bigger, incorporating the modern day Baltistan in the north-east, which is now part of the Pakistan occupied Kashmir, and Aksai Chin in the north-west, which is now administered by China. The independent kingdom of Ladakh was founded by Nyima-Gon a royal representative of Tibet in the ninth century. Since then the region was periodically subject to invasion by the armies from Tibet and Central Asia from the north, and by Muslim rulers from the south and south west. In 1834 Ladakh was annexed by Zorawar Singh, a Dogra General, and became part of the Sikh empire of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. After the Sikhs were defeated by the British, it became part of British India.
Ladakh is broadly divided into the five main regions of Leh, Nubra, Kargil, Zanskar and Drass. Leh the former capital of the Ladakh region is part of what is one of the coldest deserts in the world. It is located 430 km away from Srinagar and was built around 1553. The district has numerous trekking trails, valleys and picturesque lakes. The tourist circuit of Nubra Valley lies about 150 km north of Leh and separates Ladakh from the Karakoram Ranges. The well-known Siachen Glacier lies to the north of the valley. The second largest town in Ladakh, after Leh, Kargil shot to fame as the scene of the most recent armed conflict between Indian and Pakistani forces in 1999. It is located 230 km from Leh.