The history of Kargil has many facets. The reason is the oral history that has been passed on from ancient people. The most accurate and satisfactory history is curated with the effort of two eminent people and 20th-century historians, Moulvi Hashmat Ullah Khan and Kacho Sikandar Khan, which has been published in detail by Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Kargil (LAHDC-K).
Most of the present-day Kargil was earlier known as Purig. Purig region included the areas around Kargil town, the Suru Valley, Shagh(k)ar Chiktan, Pashkum, Bodh Kharbu, and Mulbekh. The name Purig has three theories about the derivation of its name. One theory says that it is derived from the Tibetan phrase, “pot reeks,” which means ‘of Tibetan origin.’ It probably dates back to the time when a Tibetan dynasty first had their government in maximum areas of Purig. Another interpretation is that Purig means ‘tube’ and refers to the tubular valleys that make up the inhabited parts of the region. Scholars like Francke feel that the word has been derived from ‘burig,’ which means ‘the brave race’; the ‘race’ in question is the Dards. The people of the Dard race inhabit Drass, and Zanskar has Ladakhi – Tibeto stock. The racial stocks of Kargilis are Aryans, Dard, Tibetans, and Mongoloids. Kargil is a place where people of multi-ethnic, multi-languish, multi-cultural are living in. The types of people are Brogpas, Baltis, Purik, Shinas, and Ladakhi. The languages spoken are Shina, Balti, Purig , Ladakhi, etc. As the Balti and Shina languages are written in Urdu script, Urdu is common in the area.
The name Kargil is derived from two words Khar and rKil. Khar means castle, and rKil means center; thus, a place between castles as the place lay between many kingdoms. In the views of many critics, the word Kargil has been derived from the words Gar and Khil. Gar in the local language means ‘Anywhere,’ and Khil means a central place where people could stay. This supports the fact that the area is equidistant from Srinagar, Skardo, Leh, and Padum with around 200 Kms. Over time, Khar rKil or Gar Khil became known as Kargil.
In his contribution to the book “Kargil Blunder, ” the present bureaucrat and historian Parvez Dewan reveals that a pioneer named Kargeel cleared the forests in Poyen and Shilikchay area before the advent of Thatha Khan to dwell in the area, and later the place assumed its name.
During the period of the kings, Shah Jahan, the Mughals defeated the Ladakhis, and in 1687 A.D, Ladakh became a part of the Mughal Empire in India.
In 1834, the Dogra king, Raja Gulab Singh, sent a massive army with General Zorawar Singh to attack Ladakh, and after that, Ladakh became a part of Jammu and Kashmir.
Kargil became a separate district in the Ladakh region during the year 1979 when it was bifurcated from the erstwhile Leh district. Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Kargil was commissioned in July 2003 in the District. The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council has 30 Councilors, out of which 26 Councilors are elected while the remaining four are nominated. In 2019, the Govt of India scrapped the special status of Jammu and Kashmir; Article 370 and 35A, and bifurcated the erstwhile state into two Union Territories and thus Ladakh became a Union Territory and came directly under the centre.
Kargil district according to 2011 census has a majority population of Muslim (76%) followed by Buddhist (14.29%), Hindu (7.34%), Sikh (0.83%), Christian (0.43%) and Others (1.11%).
Shia Muslims mainly inhabit Kargil. Islam came to Kargil in the 15th century. The chief of Baltistan embraced Islam first, and the Chiefs of Kargil later followed it. Mir Shams-ud-Din Iraqi, a scholar of Shia school of central Asia, visited Baltistan and Kargil with his missionaries to preach Islam. Before Mir Shams-ud-Din, Iraqi Khawaja Noorbaksh visited Kargil and did a lot of Islamic preaching. Thus Buddhism remained squeezed in Kargil to the places like Sapi, Phokar, Mulbekh, Wakha Bodh-Kharboo, Darchi, Garkon and Zanskar.
With a population of 1.25 lakhs, Kargil is scattered over an area of 14,086 sq. km. It is situated at a distance of 205 km from Srinagar towards Leh. The lowest pass to Ladakh is Zojila which is 11,500 feet (3505 m). The District is divided into four high-level natural Valleys: the Suru Valley, the Drass Valley, the Indus Valley, and the Upper Sindh Valley of Kanji Nallah Valley. Zojila and Fotulla pass situated at the height of 3,567 m and 4,192 meters above the mean sea level are called gateways for Kashmir Valley and Leh District for entry in Kargil District. High peaks of Namikala and Penzila are called the sky pillars of the District. The whole District is of high rocky terrain, desert arid, snowbound, and devoid of natural vegetation. It occupies a unique position because of its high altitude area in the country, ranging from 2,438.40 to 7,010.40 meters above the mean sea level.