An independent kingdom of the 10th century, Ladakh was continuously pestered by the periodical attacks of the Kashmiri Muslims in the 16th century until it was finally annexed to their state in the mid 19th century. One can see distinct influences of the different visitors on the culture of Ladakh. Indo-Aryan monks coming across the Himalayas brought with them the North-Indian Buddhism to the Ladakhi highlands. Darads hailing from the remote western parts of the Himalayas and Baltis of the lower Indus Valley introduced the concept of farming in the region while the wandering nomads from Tibet brought the skills of herding to Ladakh. The proximity to the valleys of Kashmir, Kishtwar and Kulu resulted in the mutual influence on the culture and ethno types of Ladakh and these regions.
The golden era of Ladakh started in the early 17th century, when trade flourished under the wise rule of the famous king, Sengge Namgyal. His empire stretched across Spiti and western Tibet all the way to the Mayumla situated beyond Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar. It was during this period that Ladakh gained fame as the most popular and best trade route between Punjab and Central Asia. The merchants traveling through these routes frequently dealt in textiles, spices, raw silks, carpets, dyed stuffs and narcotics, and Leh served as halfway rest house for them. The popular means of transport was on foot or on horsebacks. The modern vehicles were introduced in the region in 1960s, after the final construction of the Srinagar-Leh motor-road.
However, the most lucrative trade of the region remained the manufacturing of the world-famous pashmina (better known as cashmere) shawls known for their exceptional softness, delicacy and warmth. These were produced in the high altitudes of eastern Ladakh and western Tibet and were transported to Srinagar via Leh. The irony is that it is this very trade that attracted the greedy eyes of Gulab Singh, Jammu’s ruler, to this independent kingdom resulting in a decade long war and turmoil. With the ascent of the British, Ladakh, along with neighboring Baltistan, became a part of Jammu and Kashmir. After the partition in 1947, Baltistan became a part of Pakistan whereas Ladakh remained under Indian governance as part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.