Ladakh is the largest province within the North Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, covering approximately 60,000 square miles (100,000 sq. km). It is surrounded and bisected by some of the highest mountain ranges in the world.
Running in a generally northwest to southeast direction through Ladakh, the great Himalayan Range separates the Vale of Kashmir from Ladakh. Further east, and running in the same direction, the Zanskar Mountains enclose the Zanskar River Valley. Still further east is the Ladakh Range, forming the Indus River Valley, while to the northeast the Karakorum Mountains for the eastern boundary of Nubra Valley. The height of these ranges prevents rain clouds from crossing into Ladakh and as a result, Ladakh receives only about 2 inches (5 cm) of rain per year. The aridity of the area is immediately apparent to the visitor, with Ladakh's long vistas of mountains without vegetation and valleys with only a few oases of green.
The Indus River runs through Ladakh and the 30-mile (50 km) stretch of the Indus River Valley between Spitok gompa (near Leh airport) and Hemis gompa is the heartland of Ladakh. Here are scattered some of the finest gompas in the region and here also is the town of Leh, the capital of Ladakh. The valley lies at an altitude of about 11,350 feet (3,500 m) and some of the surrounding peaks reach heights of 22,500 feet (7,000 m).