Archaeological remains indicate the presence of man in the Ladakh region from Neolithic times. The first inhabitants appear to have been the Indo-Aryan Dards, whose concentration today is around Gilgit to the north west of Ladakh. Remnants, who adopted Islam, are available in the Dras valley to the west of Kargil while other Dardic migrants, following their own version of Buddhism, are now to be found in the Dah-Hanu villages to the south east of Kargil.
The next major incursion into Ladakh was of Tibetans from the east and they, today, form the predominant racial stock of Ladhakis, with a mix of Central Asian genes in the areas to the north, bordering Baltistan. Islamic influence came to this area across the Karakoram Range to the north and the Shia sect was propagated, peacefully enough, by missioneries. Presently, the population of Buddhists and Muslims is almost equal in Ladakh.
Colonel John Taylor, who was attached with the Ladakh Scouts from 1969 onwards has this interesting observation :
“Baigdandu (a Balti village in the lower Shyok valley, a little before Turtuk, and now called Bogdang) is a unique village. You suddenly find beautiful people – boys and girls with startling blue eyes, auburn hair and ruddy cheeks as against the typical mongoloid features of the Ladakhis. You wonder, have I lost my way ? The answer is no – they have. Local folklore has it that they were a Greek tribe who came in search for Jesus Christ’s tomb and settled there. Jesus was supposed to have died near Srinagar according to one theory and was buried somewhere between Dras and Kargil. Nobody knows…..”
Kids at Bogdang village
While the folklore and the Colonel’s hypothesis cannot be summarily brushed aside because Greeks were present in appreciable numbers in the Punjab and Kashmir area even before Christ, the more likely explanation for the non-mongoloid features (which is very much there) is that the local population is of Indo-Aryan origin. Dards, with similar origins, are also living not too far away from Bogdang village. The inhabitants of Bogdang have managed to retain their racial characteristics probably because of their relatively uncommon faith of Nurbakshi Shia sect. On our visit we did not find any “startling blue eyes” but auburn hair, Caucasian features and ruddy cheeks were very much apparent.
Besides racial preponderance of the Tibetan stock, though Buddhism reached Tibet through Ladakh, the Ladakhis themselves, for most of their history, looked to Tibet for religious and cultural inspiration. The Tibetan influence on language, architecture, social organisation and religion are omnipresent in Ladakh, including, though in a more muted form, in the Muslim dominated areas also.