if you buy only ONE book to get to know Ladakh, let it be this one..
This book provides a wonderful introduction for anyone looking to learn more about Ladakh. Its author, Janet Rizvi, lived in Ladakh for a few years during the late 1970's. In a few hundred pages she provides a wealth of information derived from her own experience of the place and from her research on Buddhist literature and from various accounts of early travelers and traders who passed through this region.
I found the entire book to be lucid and rather enjoyable to read. I read this book after having been to Ladakh a couple of times and spending over 2 months traveling across the region. The book was last edited in 1996 but i could still see the similarities in the lifestyle of the people as described in the book and what is there today.
The book's description of the geography of the region finally gave me a handle on the various mountain ranges that i encountered during my travels. Before reading the book, i could never say for sure where the Ladakh range was, where the Zanskar range was and what the mountains surrounding the Pangong Lake were called. Now i know..
The other bits of information from the book i found fascinating were...
- The description of the ancient trade routes which passed through Ladakh and how it shaped the history and culture of the place to this date.
- The description of the local's ingenuity in coping with the challenges posed by the extreme environment they live in and the limited resources they have to work with. Even practices like polyandry were designed to minimize the stress on the resources posed by the threat of over population.
- And about the peaceful coexistence of both Muslims and Buddhists living together in this region for close to a thousand years. Even though wars were frequently fought, the book's claim that conversions were generally peaceful and voluntary was incredible to believe.