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The World's Rooftop, Ladakh
By Gregg - 29 Dec, 1999

Page 2 of 4

The airport in Chandigarh is tiny. When the rickshaw driver dropped us off at the small, dilapidated building at 7:00AM the place was practically deserted. Slowly things picked up a bit—we were able to check our packs. Security was tight—we were headed for a sensitive region. Ladakh forms India's northeast border with China and part of its border with Pakistan. Both these borders are amongst the world's most contentious.

The dispute with Pakistan dates back to India's independence and the horrendous partition that created modern day India and Pakistan. In other words, this border has never existed as such. Or has it? There is a so-called "line of control". Although neither Pakistan nor India is content with its particulars this line is the de facto border. Last winter, Pakistan made military advances across the line of control and full-blown war ensued near the northern Indian city of Kargil. These actions and subsequent world reaction played a significant role in October's military coup in Pakistan.

We might have considered trying to reach Ladakh by road form Kashmir if it wasn't for this very volatile situation. As it was, we didn't even consider it. After all, the road takes one through Kargil and the journey usually requires an overnight there.

Since last winter—when fighting erupted in earnest—we'd followed the events in this part of the world closely. We knew at some point we'd have some decisions to make about travel in the region. The same can't be said about some other travelers that we met after reaching Leh. An Israeli couple had come via Kargil. A German guy was heading to Kargil and on to Kashmir as soon as the road reopened following a snowstorm. These folks were either oblivious to or unconcerned about the fighting or the recent coup.

Ladakh on the other hand is peaceful. Making up the eastern half of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, the border here is with China. Rather than a contentious line-of-control drawn down the middle of the disputed area—as is the case with Pakistan—on this side, China controls the disputed area.

In both cases Indian maps show the disputed areas to be part of India. It is illegal to bring a map into India that shows it any other way.

We found it curious that our Lonely Planet guidebook for the Middle East carried a disclaimer on a regional map which included India. The disclaimer read, "The external boundaries of India on this map have not been authenticated and may not be accurate."

Once we got our Lonely Planet for India the situation was spelled out. In 1995 imported atlases and copies of Encyclopedia Britannica were banned from India by the Indian government. Lonely Planet faced the same problem. Not only did the Indian government require that all maps showing India include the disputed northern regions but the disclaimer was required as well. Failure to adhere would mean risking banishment of the book from bookstore shelves throughout India and travelers risking confiscation of the book upon entry into the country.




The World's Rooftop, Ladakh

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