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History of Leh

Leh, a district and city of Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir State, holds an important place in political and economical maps of India. Leh has witnessed many rulers of the past. It was an important place for trade and business centuries ago. Leh is primarily inhabited by Buddhists, Muslims, and Sikhs.

History of Leh

In this article, you will get enriched with the history of this spectacular city and district of Jammu & Kashmir. Though trade route via Ladakh was known in 1st century AD and also during the reign of Tang Dynasty in China, the history of Leh before 10th century is not known in detail.

Origin of Leh

It is a popular belief that Ladakh Region was under water thousands of years ago. Dha Chomba Nomegung, a Buddhist saint from Kashmir came to this area and prayed continuously to save human beings. As the result of his prayers, water level receded and valleys and mountains were seen. Three different races came into existence who settled in different parts of Ladakh Region. These races were Tibetans, Brokpa and Mon. The location of Leh is about 10 KM from River Indus on the fertile part of the valley. In the ancient period, Leh used to be part of greater Ladakh Region that was spread from Kailash Mansarovar to Dardistan or Swaat. Leh and its surrounding areas have been mentioned in the histories of China, Arab and Mongolia.

Early History of Leh

During 1st century AD, Leh and its adjoining areas were ruled by the Kushana kings. The Arabs ruled the area during 8th century AD and as a result the entire area was under the influence of Islam by 9th Century AD. As the Arabs from Central Asia used to invade this region continuously, it got weakened in every aspect. As a result the region got divided into two kingdoms.

Shanti Stupa in Leh

One was upper Ladakh under the rule of King Takbumbe who was from Shey and Leh, and the other one was under the rule of Takpabum from Temisgam and Basgo. Another Basgo King, Bhagan, overthrew the ruler of Leh and reunited Ladakh Region. He founded a new dynasty, Namgyal dynasty which is still present. The meaning of Namgyal is “Victorious”.

Leh in 16th Centur AD

During the rule of Jamyang Namgyal, many Buddhist artifacts were destroyed with an aim to convert the kingdom into an Islamic one. During the rule of Sengge Namgyal from 1616-1642, many efforts were made to bring back the old glory of Leh. Many Buddhist monasteries and shrines were rebuilt during his rule. One of them was the Hemis Monastery. During his rule, the king’s headquarters was replaced to Leh Palace from Shey Palace. He expanded his kingdom up to Spiti and Zanskar. Sengge Namgyal was also known as the ‘Lion King’.

About the History of Leh

Delegs Namgyal was the ruler of Ladakh region from 1660 AD to 1685 AD. Kashmir used to be under the rule of Mughals at that time and the Nawab of Kashmir helped Delegs Namgyal to keep the Mongolian Army out of Ladakh. Nawab of Kashmir made many demands in lieu of his help offered to Delegs Namgyal. The Nawab wanted Namgyal to construct a huge mosque for the Sunni Muslims at the upper part of Leh Bazaar just beneath the royal palace. The mosque had the architecture that is blending of Tibetan and Islamic architecture and could accommodate about five hundred people at a time.  The royal residence was built by Tashi Namgyal who ruled the region during the last quarter of 16th century AD.  

Leh in 19th Century

In the early 19th Century, Rajput rulers ruled Dogra region of Jammu though a major part of Kashmir and whole of Punjab was under the control of Sikh rulers. Ladakh was invaded by Zorawar Singh, general of Maharaja Gulab Singh, the Rajput Ruler of Jammu. After this invasion, the then kind Tshespal Namgyal got defeated and he took shelter in Stok. Leh came under the rule of Dogra Rulers and the entire Ladakh Region became part of Jammu and Kashmir in the year 1846. After independence of India when Jammu and Kashmir became part of India and Leh lost its importance as an important trading area as partition of India happened.

Leh Palace in Leh

After Manali-Leh Highway got constructed, Leh has become one of the most happening tourist spots of India. After the war of Kargil in 1999, Leh has become an important base for Indian Army. As the infrastructure of Leh developed over the years, it has again regained its position as important trading center. After the construction of LAHDC (Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council) in 1993, Leh became one of the most significant cities of Ladakh.

Business History of Leh

Leh used to be an important center for trade and was part of many important trade routes in past. The famous ‘Silk Route’ of yesteryears passed via Leh. In all the trade routes like China-India route, Kashmir-western region, and Tibet-eastern India, Leh was a very important stop-over. The important items that got carried through these routes were pashm wool, cannabis, silk yarn, indigo, grain, salt and Banaras brocade.

There are indications that show that China-Ladakh trade route was known to the Chinese people during the reign of Kushanas. Kushanas ruled the area from 1st AD -  3rd AD. After the Kargil war and development of highways and other infrastructures in this area, Leh has regained its old position and has developed into an important hub for trade and is playing important role in the trade, tourism and safety of our country.

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