There is little information on Ladakh before the birth of the kingdom i.e.10th century. Rock carvings found in various parts of Ladakh, show that the area has been inhabited from the Neolithic times. The Indo-Aryan population of Mons and Dards, who were Ladakh’s earliest inhabitants, find mention in the works of Herodotus, Nearchus, Megasthenes, Pliny, Ptolemy, and the geographical lists of the Puranas.

Around the 1st century, Ladakh was a part of the Kushana Empire. Buddhism came to western Ladakh via Kashmir in the 2nd century when much of eastern Ladakh and western Tibet was still practising the Bon religion. The 7th century Buddhist traveler Hsuan-tsang also describes the region in his accounts.

In the 8th century, Ladakh was involved in the clash between Tibetan expansion pressing from the East and Chinese influence exerted from Central Asia through the passes, and suzerainty over Ladakh frequently changed hands between China and Tibet. In 842 Nyima-Gon, a Tibetan royal representative annexed Ladakh for himself after the break-up of the Tibetan empire, and founded a separate Ladakh dynasty. During this period Ladakh underwent Tibetanization resulting in a predominantly Tibetan population. The dynasty spearheaded the “Second Spreading of Buddhism” importing religious ideas from north-west India, particularly from Kashmir.

The earliest records suggest that, around the 10th century, the Thi Dynasty was ruling Ladakh. The Thi rulers had their capital at Shey and built many forts. Around the same time, Tibetan Buddhism invaded Ladakh and this period saw a surge of construction. Around 100 Gompas were built. In 1533, the Great King Soyang Namgyal united and strengthened Ladakh and founded the Namgyal dynasty and built his capital at Leh.The Namgyals repelled most Central Asian raiders and temporarily extended the kingdom as far as Nepal, in the face of concerted attempts to convert the region to Islam and destroy Buddhist artifacts. In the early 17th century efforts were made to restore destroyed artifacts and gompas, and the kingdom expanded into Zanskar and Spiti.

To ward off a Mongol invasion, King Delegs Namgyal turned to the Mughal governor of Kashmir for help. The Mughal Governor of Kashmir sent troops to help the king of Leh. The Mongols were defeated but the king had to pay a regular tribute to the Mughals and construct a mosque. Ladakh therefore became an extension of the Mughal Empire. In 1834, the Dogras under Zorawar Singh, a general of Ranjit Singh invaded and annexed Ladakh. A Ladakhi rebellion in 1842 was crushed and Ladakh was incorporated into the Dogra state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Namgyal family was given the jagir of Stok, which it nominally retains to this day. Starting from the 1850s, European influence increased in Ladakh — geologists, sportsmen and tourists started exploring Ladakh. In 1885, Leh became the headquarters of a mission of the Moravian Church.

In 1948, Pakistani raiders invaded the region and occupied Kargil and Zanskar, reaching within 30 km (19 miles) of Leh.The Indian government sent troops into the princely state after the ruler signed the Instrument of Accession making the state a part of the Union of India.The region was bifurcated into Kargil and Leh districts in 1979. In 1989, there were violent riots between Buddhists and Muslims. Demands were made for autonomy from the Kashmiri dominated state government. In October 1993, the Indian government and the State government agreed to grant Ladakh the status of Autonomous Hill Council. In 1995, the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council was created.