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Do British Doings in Ladkah at the Turn of the 20th Century Matter Today?

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Kyle Gardner has given us what is easily the best and most variegated account of the British discovery of Ladakh and their failed attempt to impose imperial “scientific” or “natural” frontiers on it.

The central thesis of the book, The Frontier Complex, is that of the Westphalian reshaping of borders (which Gardner uses as synonymous with boundaries), in a region unsuited to them. Ladakh, the “crossroads of high Asia” in Janet Rizvi’s phrase, was converted into a frontier by the British attempt to enclose it within linear borders. Gardner thus uses ‘complex’ in both senses of the term, as meaning complicated, and as emotionally charged ideas that often lead to abnormal behaviour (p. 21). As a result, Ladakh, which long served as a gateway to the plains of India and Central Asia, was turned into a “fractured and disputed borderland.” This is a process that has been carried further by the post-colonial state, introducing a…

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