Neil Howard’s Research on Ladakhi History and Military Architecture: an Appreciation

By John Bray

Neil and Kath Howard with Erberto Lo Bue (left), Rome 2007.

Neil Howard, who passed away in January 2023, was an independent researcher
specialising in the study of the military and architectural history of Ladakh.

Neil came late to the study of Ladakh and by chance. In the course of a trek through
Ladakh in the early 1980s, he and his wife Kath noticed the many ruined forts above
the region’s villages. Finding that little had been written about them, he decided to do
the research himself. His first major publication was an article on the development of
Ladakh’s military architecture, which appeared in the Italian journal East and West in
1989, and this is still an important reference source. His initial work on forts led
naturally to further study on military campaigns in Ladakh, notably the invasion by
Mirza Haider Dughlat in the 1530s and the Dogra invasion three centuries later. He
also extended his geographical range to include Lahul and Kangra.

All Neil’s work shows the same qualities. Perhaps most importantly, his architectural
and archaeological studies were based on careful on-the-ground observation. He
weighed up the evidence as he saw it, and pushed his analysis as far as he reasonably
could, but no further. Later, he worked with other colleagues, notably Philip
Denwood of the School of Oriental and African Studies (London), to assess the
written sources that might shed further light on his chosen themes.

I myself retain a happy memory of an occasion when I was able to perform a service
as Neil’s research assistant. In 2005, together with our colleagues Abdul Ghani
Sheikh and Ken Macdonald, I made an excursion to photograph the chortens and
castle ruins of Gya. These later contributed to Neil and Kath’s article on Gya that
appeared in 2014 (see bibliography).

Although Neil did most of the writing and much of the talking, he worked with Kath
as a husband-and-wife team both on mountain treks and, later, on the conference
circuit. Always forthright in his views on life’s ironies, he was generous and
supportive in his friendships. In later years, he took pleasure in the publications of
younger scholars who have deepened and extended his own research findings. His
own carefully calibrated pioneering work remains an example to follow.


1984. “Castles of the Himalayas.” Popular Archaeology, April 1984, pp. 12-19.
Hemel Hempstead.

1987. “Royal Fortresses of Ladakh.” Archaeology Today, May 1987, pp. 29-35.
Frome, England.

1989. “The Development of the Fortresses of Ladakh c.9501650 AD.” East and West
39, Nos. 14, pp. 217-288. Rome: Istituto per il medio ed estremo oriente.

1990. “Inscriptions at Balukhar and Char Zampa and General Archaeological
Observations on Balukhar Fort and its Environs.” With Philip Denwood. In
Indo-Tibetan Studies: Papers in honour and appreciation of Professor David
L. Snellgrove’s contribution to Indo-Tibetan Studies
, pp. 81-88. Edited by
Tadeusz Skorupski. Tring: Institute of Tibetan Studies.

1992. “The Dogra Forts in Greater Ladakh, North-west India.” Fort 20, pp. 7186.

1994. “The Trekking Route up the Tsarap River, Zangskar.” Ladakh Studies 7, pp. 9-

1995 (a). “The Fortified Places of Zanskar.” In Recent Research on Ladakh 4 & 5, pp.
79-99. Edited by Henry Osmaston and Philip Denwood. London: School of
Oriental and African Studies; Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

1995 (b). “Military Aspects of the Dogra Conquest of Ladakh 18341839.” In Recent
Research on Ladakh 4 & 5
, pp. 349-361. Edited by Henry Osmaston and
Philip Denwood. London: School of Oriental and African Studies; Delhi:
Motilal Banarsidass.

1996 (a). “What Happened Between 1450 and 1550 AD? And Other Questions from
the History of Ladakh.” In Recent Research on Ladakh 6, pp. 121-138. Edited by Henry Osmaston and Nawang Tsering. Bristol: Bristol University Press; Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

1996 (b). “Chronology of the Travels of G.T. Vigne in the Western Himalaya, 1835-1839 Ladakh Studies 8, pp. 27-30.

1999. “Ancient Painted Pottery from Ladakh.” In Ladakh: Culture, History and
Development, between Himalaya and Karakoram
. Recent Research on Ladakh
, pp. 222-236. Edited by Martijn van Beek, Kristoffer Brix Bertelsen and
Poul Pedersen. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press,

2002. “The Political Geography of South-east Zanskar, and a Reconsideration of the
Royal Chronologies of Zanskar and Ladakh in the 15 th Century.” South Asian
18, pp. 91-108. London: Society for South Asian Studies.

2005 (a). “Sultan Zain-ul Abidin’s Raid into Ladakh.” In Ladakhi Histories. Local
and Regional Perspectives
, pp. 125-145. Edited by John Bray. Leiden: Brill.

2005 (b). “The Development of the Boundary between the State of Jammu & Kashmir
and British India, and its Representation on Maps of the Lingti Plain.” In
Ladakhi Histories. Local and Regional Perspectives, pp. 217-234. Leiden:

2007. Things to do in Leh. A jeu d’esprit. Self-published pamphlet for private

2009. “Prince Peter’s Journey from Manali to Ladakh, 5 th June–22 nd August 1938.” In
Recent Research on Ladakh 2009, pp. 55-71. With Poul Pedersen. Edited by
Monisha Ahmed & John Bray. Kargil & Leh: International Association of
Ladakh Studies.

2012. “The Tak House Maitreya and Some Corrections of the Later History of
Ladakh.” Ladakh Studies 28, pp. 36-38.

2014. “Historic Ruins in the Gya Valley, Eastern Ladakh, and a Consideration of
Their Relationship to the History of Ladakh and Maryul. With Kath Howard
and an Appendix on the War of Tsede (rTse lde) of Guge in 1083 CE by Philip
Denwood.” In Art and Architecture in Ladakh. Cross-Cultural Transmissions
in the Himalayas and Karakoram
pp. 68-99. Edited by Erberto Lo Bue and
John Bray. Leiden: Brill.

2016. “Castles and Defensive Architecture in Purig: an Introduction, Survey and
Preliminary Analysis.” In Visible Heritage. Essays on the Art and Architecture
of Greater Ladakh
, pp. 85-112. Edited by Rob Linrothe and Heinrich Pöll.
New Delhi: Studio Orientalia.

2020. “The defences of Basgo revisited.” Études mongoles et sibériennes,
centrasiatiques et tibétaines.
With Quentin Devers. Online publication :

Forthcoming. “The Portal of the Leh Palace.” With Gerald Kozicz. Awaiting