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India: Ladakh, Asia’s Slice of the Moon

What images does the word ‘desert’ trigger in your brain? Presumably, you think of burning sand, stinging sun and mirages sparked by unrelenting heat that makes the air quiver.

Contrast that tropical image with India’s Ladakh Desert. Bucking the norm, the Ladakh Desert is distinctly chilly. In fact, the Ladakh Desert is said to be the world’s coldest desert.

Find out the nitty gritty side of this strange stretch and the wider Ladakh area imbued with the dreamy, mystical image that inspires lots of waffle. We give you the truth, which is stranger than fiction. Ladakh’s wildlife line-up includes a blue sheep.

Inside Ladakh: 10 curious facts about India’s lunar land

1. Much of Ladakh lies over 3000m above sea level, making it the highest plateau area in India.

2. Steeped in mystery, Ladakh is nicknamed Little Tibet, 'the last Shangri La' and ‘Moonland'.

3. Ladakh's landscape more resembles a lunar landscape than any other place on earth. In the frosty desert the wind, water from winter snows, and chemical reactions inside the rocks, have sculpted a barren twisted landscape reminiscent of the big rock in the sky.

4. Ladakh was documented by the voraciously curious Chinese Buddhist monk Fa-hian, who roved its inhospitable terrain in 399 AD, describing it as, 'the land where snow never melts and only corn ripens'.

5. Just like, of all places, North Korea, Ladakh is popularly known as the Hermit Kingdom.

6. Despite the cold, Ladakh's valleys abound in life. Its fertile valley floors are awash with a range of lush vegetation. Some extraordinary animals roam the land, too. Think yak (wild ox), nyan, the world’s largest sheep, the blue sheep bharal, and the smallest sheep in the world, urial. Ladakh can seem like another planet.

7. The cold desert’s main set out attraction is Hemis National Park: a high-altitude 600 square-kilometer conservation zone founded in 1981.

8. One of the few architectural icons in the wilderness zone is Leh Palace: a miniature version of the Potala Palace in Tibet’s capital, Lhasa. The nine-storey palace was built by the 17th century ruler of Ladakh, Sengge Namgyal. The striking ruin stands on a hill and commands a view of the main town, Leh.

9. Ladakh’s height and mountains make it a good spot for paragliding, mountaineering, trekking and even skiing. Visitors also go in for trekking, whitewater rafting, camel- and wildlife safaris. Edible without cooking, Tsampa or ngampe (roasted barley flour), makes good trekking food. 

10. Ladakhis are sporty, too, going in for archery contests and village polo. Ladakhi polo is played with furious vigor that raises the specter of Mongol horsemen. The Ladakh take on the game is light years from the diluted version played at commercial polo circuits.


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