Leh heritage trail: A journey through Kharyog, the historic Old Town of Leh
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The city of Leh was the capital of the Kingdom of Ladakh from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries. Over time, due to wars, politics, and isolation, the capital city fell into a state of disrepair soon after the royal family was exiled. An explosion in tourism over the last few decades has seen a revival in the local community but most of the benefits including generated tourism revenue have been directed towards development outside the historical boundary of Leh. The residents of what is now known as Leh Old Town suffer from poverty, lack of basic infrastructures such as drainage, and limited access to water. Additionally, Leh Old Town was also placed under World’s Monument Watch in 2008 due to issues related to low-scale modern construction and urgent need of repair for 55% of the historic buildings. Climate change has also been cited as a cause of concern due to issues related to faster melting glaciers and flash floods due to the lack of a drainage system. The main aim of this practicum is to study and demonstrate the role that landscape architects can play in the rehabilitation of historical alpine settlements that have been adversely affected by anthropological factors such as politics, climate change, and over-tourism. It does so by highlighting the cultural and architectural heritage of the Old Town of Leh, known as Kharyog in Ladakhi, and demonstrating the use of indigenous construction materials and methods that have been superseded by modern materials imported from other parts of the country. It also aims to study how the positive effects of tourism can be distributed equally throughout a community to improve the quality of life for the residents of Leh Old Town.