Old TownLike any ancient town many countries, the Old Town of Leh is a delightfully historic place to visit. Around 450 years old, it is choc-a-bloc with mud-brick and timber structures, cheek-by-jowl, and thread-like alleys that form long skeins connecting its various sections. The town is large and, sadly, its structures are in various stages of dilapidation but conservation projects are underway to salvage its past.
Located behind Leh’s main market, the Old Town covers the southern slope of the hill with the Leh Palace at the top. It extends as far as the Polo Ground to the south, the Balti bakeries in Chute Rantak in the west and the road going up to the palace in the east.
The town’s natural evolution began when King Sengge Namgyal captured Leh in the early 17th century and built the Leh Palace. The residents in this section of Leh trace their lineage to the king’s ministers, horsemen, tailors, jewellers, musicians and artisans, amongst others, who lived here back in the day. The town also includes a bustling marketplace where traders conducted their business.
The Old Town thus played a vital role in the political, commercial and cultural life of the region. However, its decline began with the Dogra invasion of Ladakh by General Zorawar Singh in 1834. Shortly after Leh fell to the general’s forces, the royals vacated the Leh Palace and moved to Stok. The new powers tore down the wall that once enclosed the town and its four gates. Not only did the town lose its raison de etre, it also began to lose its soul.
As residents began to move out, their homes fell to neglect and ruin. Simultaneously, migrants from other parts of Jammu & Kashmir moved in. From a culturally rich settlement, the Old Town became a place of practical convenience. In 2008, the Old Town was declared an endangered site on the World Monuments Watch List.
Tip : A heritage walk in this historic neighbourhood is highly recommended. Using a professional guide will reveal details you’re likely to miss.