Kargil is a town, which serves as the headquarters of Kargil district of Ladakh in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India. It is the second largest town in Ladakh after Leh. It is located 60 km and 204 km from Drass and Srinagar to the west respectively, 234 km from Leh to the east, 240 km from Padum to the southeast and 1,047 km from Delhi to the south.
Kargil has an average elevation of 2,676 metres (8,780 feet), and is situated along the banks of the Suru River (Indus). The town of Kargil is located 205 km (127 mi) from Srinagar, facing the Northern Areas across the LOC. Like other areas in the Himalayas, Kargil has a temperate climate. Summers are hot with cool nights, while winters are long and chilly with temperatures often dropping to −48 °C (−54 °F).
An Indian national highway (NH 1D) connecting Srinagar to Leh cuts through Kargil, as well as an airport.
A famous all-weather road, the Kargil-Skardu road linked Kargil with Skardu, a city in Gilgit-Baltistan. Since the 1948 Kashmir War, the road has been closed. Whilst the Indian Government has been interested in opening the road as a humanitarian gesture, this has been refused by the Pakistani Government.
Present-day Kargil was not the natural capital of the region, or Purig as it was also known. Earlier, Purig consisted of a number of small but independent kingdoms, which included Chiktan, Phokhar, Sot and the Suru Valley. These tiny principalities would often fight among themselves over petty issues. Gasho “Thatha Khan”, an exiled prince in the 9th century AD, is perhaps the first ruler who brought together all the territories under a united administration. Another sultan of Purig extended his kingdom to include Zanskar Pashkum and Sodh, pretty much the territory of the present Kargil district. He is referred to as “the Purig Sultan”. His capital was based at Karpokhar in the Suru Valley. The other famous kings of Kargil were Boti Khan, Abdal Khan, Amrood Choo, Tsering Malik, Kunchok Sherab Stan and Thi Sultan.
It is said that it was the period of Ali Sher Khan Anchan, the famous ruler of Skardu, in the late 16th and early 17th centuries which had a great influence on the area. This prince from Baltistan conquered most of the principalities of Purig and introduced Balti culture in the Kargil district. Subsequently, it was the Dogras who united Baltistan, Purig, Zanskar and present-day Leh district in the first half of the 19th century under a single administrative unit, which lasted till 1947 when a new line of control was demarcated between India and Pakistan dividing Skardu and Kargil.
Before the Partition of India in 1947, Kargil was part of the Baltistan district of Ladakh, a sparsely populated region with diverse linguistic, ethnic and religious groups, living in isolated valleys separated by some of the world’s highest mountains. The First Kashmir War (1947–48) concluded with the LOC bisecting the Baltistan district, with the town and district of Kargil lying on the Indian side in the Ladakh subdivision of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. At the end of Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, the two nations signed the Simla Agreement promising not to engage in armed conflict with respect to that boundary.
In 1999 the area saw infiltration by Pakistani forces. They were repulsed by India in the Kargil War. The area that witnessed the infiltration and fighting is a 160 km long stretch of ridges overlooking this only road linking Srinagar and Leh. The military outposts on the ridges above the highway were generally around 5,000 metres (16,000 ft) high, with a few as high as 5,485 metres (18,000 ft).
As of the 2011 census, Kargil District had a population of 143,388 ( equal to 1.14% of the total population of jammu and kashmir) people. As per the 2011 census, the population had grown by 20.18% to 143,388 people (equal to 1.14% of the total population of Jammu and Kashmir), with children under 6 years constituting 10% of the population. The male-to-female sex ratio was 1,000:776; population density 10 persons/km2. Kargil had an average literacy rate of 74.49% (slightly more than the national average of 74.04%) – male literacy at 86.73% and female literacy at 58.05%.
People in Kargil are of mixed Dard and Tibetan descent. The inhabitants of Kargil were adherents of Tibetan Buddhism until the 14th-15th centuries when Muslim missionaries began to proselytise to the local people. Today, 90% of Kargil’s population are Shia Muslim, 5% Sunni and 5% Tibetan Buddhist. The architecture of older mosques in Kargil combines Tibetan and Iranian styles, while newer mosques architectural styles tend to follow those of modern Iranian and Arabic styles.