Ladakh translates to Land of the High Passes, and it certainly merits this name with its multitude of towering mountain ranges, river valleys and high plateaus. The Karakoram Range isolates the northern border and contains the highest peak in Ladakh, Saser Kangri at 7672 meters (25,164 ft). The Himalayan Range along the southern and eastern border contains two 7000-meter peaks, Nun and Kun. Popular trekking peaks are Stok Kangri (6121 m) in the Stok Range and Kang Yatse (6401 m) in the Zanskar Range.
Routes over the high passes of Ladakh were established centuries ago by the caravan traders and by the local people. Some of these routes have been developed into motorable roads. The road from Srinagar to Leh via Kargil crosses the Himalayas over the Zoji La (pass) at 3530 m, and then over the Namika La at 3719 m and the Fotu La at 4094 m before descending by the Lamayuru Monastery and down into the Indus Valley. The road from Manali must cross the Lachlung la at 5060 m and the Taglang La at 5328 m. The world’s highest motorable road from Leh to the Nubra Valley crosses the Kardung La at 5602 m (18,375 ft). The road from Kargil to Padum in the Zanskar Valley must pass over the Fentse La at 4450 m.
Several major river systems flow through Ladakh. The mighty Indus River enters Ladakh in the east, from its origin near Mt. Kailas in Tibet, and flows to the western side into northern Pakistan, where it then flows south to Arabian Sea near Karachi. The Indus forms a broad valley about 10 kilometers wide between the Ladakh and Stok Ranges near Leh. In Zanskar, located between the Zanskar and Himalayan Ranges, the Stod and Tsarap Rivers join to form the Zanskar River, which eventually cuts through deep gorges in the Zanskar Range and flows into the Indus River at Nimoo. The Shyok River flows south from its origin in the disputed area of Aksai Chin (now under Chinese control) and then turns northwest, flowing between the Ladakh and Karakoram Ranges. Its tributary, the Nubra River, originates in the Saichen glacier and gives its name to the valley. The Suru River flows in western Ladakh before joining with the Drass River at Kargil and flowing into Kashmir.
The high plains of eastern Ladakh contain several large brackish lakes. The largest is Pangong Tso (lake), which extends into Tibet. The Rupshu plains to the south contain the lakes of Tso Moriri Lake and Tso Kar Lake.