Ladakhis are Tibetan-Mongoloid in appearance although traces of Kashmiri Moslem influence can also be seen. It is most likely that early in its history, Ladakh was settled by the Mon and Dard groups of people.
The Mon, a term applied by Tibetan-speaking peoples to valley-dwellers, are probably the builders of many of the castles found in Ladakh, particularly those in the Zanskar Valley. The Mon were early Buddhists who derived their religion directly from India; thus, their form of Buddhism does not show the Chinese or Tibetan Tantric influences so prevalent in the later monasteries of Ladakh. Today the Mon are musicians in many Ladakhi villages, providing musical accompaniment to secular occasions such as social gatherings, parties or marriage ceremonies.
The Dards, also agriculturists like the Mon, similarly arrived in Ladakh sometime before the 7th century and settled primarily in the Dras Valley. Having converted to Islam in the 17th century, little remains of their prior religious practices. Traditionally, the men's dress is a goncha, a long maroon or brown gown of heavy wool tied with a bright pink sash slightly below the waist, although any men now wear western clothes.
Women do not wear western dress as frequently; their goncha is slightly more fitted than the men's version, gathered into small pleats near the waist and worn with a brocade or goatskin cape (fur side turned towards the wearer) on the back. Alternatively, women wear a buckoo, a sleeveless wrap-around dress, although this is more typical of Tibetans than Ladakhis.
Women usually wear their hair in two long braids and a Kantop, a sort of top hat with part of the front cut out. The Dard women of Baltistan wear distinctive head-dresses of orange ribbons curled to look like flowers, while Ladakhi women wear peroks - head-dresses with brown fur side flaps and a large band decorated with turquoise and coral reaching from their forehead to part way down their back.