Bordering Ladakh, Again: From Ecological Flows to Cartographic Competition

Ruth Gamble, Alexander Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


In August 2019, the Indian government dissolved the state of Jammu and Kashmir, designating its Northern region as the Union Territory of Ladakh. Two months later, it released a new Political Map of India on which Ladakh was drawn as one of India’s largest territories. Like most representations of territory on political maps, the claims made were simplified. India’s rendering did not acknowledge that Pakistan and China administered much of Ladakh’s territory; nor did it represent the region’s intricate, multi-ethnic population, topography, or ecosystems. This article approaches the construction of this political map historically. Rather than using regional history to bolster any state’s claims, we argue that the confusion over the map reflects a disconnect between the abstractions of state territory and the realities of high-altitude socio-ecologies. We compare the socio-ecologically and climatically embedded bordering practices of pre-territorial Tibetan–Ladakhi states outlined in local language sources with the abstract understanding of territorialised borders that the new map represents. The Tibetan–Ladakhi approach, which concentrated on pathways and mountain-pass checkpoints, allowed for social and ecological flows around and through these checkpoints. By contrast, the current bordering regimes have bifurcated communities, demanded fixedness, and required three large armies to defend arbitrary borders.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-199
Number of pages21
JournalAsian Studies Review
Issue number1
Early online date15 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2024


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