In summer, visitors throng Leh. Hindus from New Delhi and elsewhere in India come to soak up the cool dry air. Buddhists from all over Asia come to explore and to pray at the region's 16th- and 17th-century Tibetan-Buddhist monasteries, called gompas. Western tourists come to trek across some of the best hiking terrain in the world.
"Leh is a great place to make a base for treks into the Himalayas," says English trekker Kevin Davison. "The people around town are so friendly and down-to-earth."
History of Conflict
The problems in Kashmir date back to 1947 when Britain separated its Indian empire into India and Pakistan, largely by Hindu and Muslim population densities.
Within months of the division, India and Pakistan went to war over Kashmir.
In 1949 the United Nations directed that the Kashmiri people hold a plebiscite to determine the state's future. The state of Jammu and Kashmir, including the region of Ladakh, has remained in Indian hands. Pakistan holds Azad Kashmir, a small section in southwestern Kashmir, and the Northern Areas, home of the famous K2.
No plebiscite has taken place.
During the last 14 years, the fighting between India and Pakistan has intensified, against the backdrop of Muslim terrorists waging jihad against the Indian government and its troops in Kashmir.
But Leh and the Ladakh region remain an oasis. "I think the Buddhist perspective of tolerance and kindness is part of the reason things are so stable in this region of Kashmir," says Alex Gillespie, a doctoral candidate in psychology and anthropology at the University of Cambridge who has researched the interaction of tourists and native people in Ladakh.
Geography and climate also help keep the peace. Ladakh is remote and poor in natural resources. The lush and heavily populated Kashmir Valley makes a likelier target.
Winters in Leh are so fierce that they enforce isolation. Snow normally closes the roads to the outside world for six months.
"Leh is one of the safest places to be in Kashmir," says one Indian soldier who wasn't allowed to give his name. "When you're on the front lines, you dream of a place like Leh."
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