The Buddhist influence on Ladakh culture started as early as the 7th century. And now, this faith has gained dominance in this entire region. All over Ladakh, you will find ancient Buddhist rock engravings, even in the few areas dominated by Muslims. You will identify Buddhist villages by a distance, as Mani walls customarily mark the approach to these villages. These walls are long chest-high structures with engraved stones opposite them. The stones are inscribed with the mantra in mane paddle hum and by shorten, commemorative cairns, like stone pepper pots.
One of the major highlights of the culture of Leh Ladakh are the monasteries that you will find in almost every village. They may range from huge complexes consisting of a number of shrines, prayer halls, etc to a tiny hermitage housing a single image. The other dominant faith, that of Islam, finds a presence mainly in the western areas of Ladakh. The early conversion of the sub-rulers of Drass, Kargil and the Suru Valley led to the penetration of the Shia sect in Ladakh. In the areas dominated by the Muslims, you will mainly find mosques, ranging from the small unpretentious buildings to the huge Imambaras.
Rather than rest of the Indians, the Ladakhis look more like the residents of Tibet and Central Asia, be it their physique or their facial features. Even though the original population of Ladakh consisted of Dards, an Indo-Aryan race, but large-scale immigration from Tibet changed the cultural heritage of Ladakh. The only people that resemble the mainland Indians are the Muslims, residing mainly in the Leh area. Songs and poems for every occasion, as well as local versions of the Kesar Saga (the Tibetan national epic) also form a part of Ladakh culture.
Ladakhis are known for their cheerful disposition and most of their festivals fall in winters, which serve as an excuse for social and convivial gatherings. In summers, archery competitions and native version of polo are quite common and especially among the Buddhists, these competitions are often a local ball where folk songs and dances add to the jovial atmosphere and ‘Chang’, the local barley beer is amply used. The rich collection of oral literature of the region is full of occasion-special songs and poems and includes the localized versions of the Tibetan epic, ‘Kesar Saga’.