ICON, Summer 2006
Few regions of the world have so enchanted the explorer as the High Himalaya with its rich spiritual traditions and extraordinary, yet forbidding, landscape, the product of great geological forces, which have been at work for millions of years. Strategically sited between the formidable empires of Britain and Czarist Russia during the heady years of the Great Game, most of the region remained closed to the outside world well into the twentieth century. For the once-independent kingdom of Ladakh (see page 22), limited access resulted in the preservation of age-old ways, many of which have endured to the present day. But this is changing rapidly.
Now a semiautonomous region within the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh first opened its doors to the outside world in 1974. Since then, access to the area has become increasingly commonplace, made all the easier by daily flights into the Ladakhi capital of Leh throughout the June to September trekking season. While Ladakh's visitor numbers—which topped 23,000 in 2005—may seem modest when compared to those of destinations in Europe, Latin America, and Southeast Asia, they are growing steadily with tourism rather than trade goods fueling the local economy. As visitor numbers increase, however, so does the toll exacted on this wondrous and fragile landscape and its resources. Ladakh is at a crossroads with much to gain and much to lose. Our hope is that by managing resources wisely, Ladakh will be able to ensure that any increase in visitation will improve its capacity to care for its extraordinary cultural heritage. For those of you wishing to visit Ladakh and other destinations mentioned in this issue, we have added a new section to the magazine, an Insider's Guide (see page 44), in hopes that you will journey to see WMF's work in the field first-hand.