The Kashmir Ladakh Yarkand TransHimalayan Silk Route
The quite famous Double Humped or Bactrian Camels of the Nubra Valley which came into this region from Central Asia on the various trade routes that connected the two regions.
A large quantum of the trade was carried on through the classical trade route from Ladakh to Yarkand in the Tarim Basin in Turkestan of the old ( Xinjiang Province of China at present ). The traders from Ladakh took to Yarkand (which served as the gateway to Central Asia) items like Shawls, Indigo, Tea, Corals, Corals, Muslin etc. On the other from Yarkand into Ladakh (and further into Kashmir and North India) came in Silk, Precious Metals, Costumes, Jewellery and oddly Russian currency towards the end of the Nineteenth century.
The distance between Leh to Yarkand is just 475 kms as the crow flies but in those days this was a long and arduous trek which involved the crossing of atleast 5 major passes and crossing the Depsang Plains.
The great passes that had to be crossed in this great trasnverse starting from the Leh side included the now “world famous” Khardung La. From the head of the Nubra Valley started the descent into the second Pass, Sasser La,at 5411 m. From this pass the route descended into the Depsang Plains.
From the Depsang Plains, which are as desolate as any place on the planet with an average elevation of 5300 m the route headed over the Karakoram Pass which stood at 5540 m. The Karakoram Pass was/is totally bereft of any kind of vegetation and lot of the livestock just gave up. It is said that the path up the Pass is still strewn with hundreds of bones and skeletons of pack animals that just gave up and died. After crossing the the Karakoram Pass the route went towards the relatively easy Suget La.
After crossing the easiest pass on the route, Suget La, ~ 5500, which was in the Kun Lun mountains the route descended into the staging post of Shahidullah which offered some rough pastures for the load animals to refuel. It is interesting to know the British considered Shahidullah as the frontier of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and not the Karakoram Pass as some others assumed it to be.
After Shahidullah came the last pass before descending into the plains of Central Asia, the Sanju La at 5364 m. From this Pass the mountains gave way and the trade route made its way into the fabled city of Yarkand.
But this trade came to a gradual halt due to the complicated political situation in this area. Hopefully one day some people may fulfill their ultimate dream of following in the foot steps of the great caravans which connected North India with Central Asia.
PS : This pic was taken by me in July, 2004
Some inputs from John Keays : When Men and Mountains Meet