Ladakh, Zanskar in Ladakh

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Information about Zanskar
About 20 kms. south of Rangdum stands the Pazila watershed across which lies Zanskar, the most isolated of all the trans Himalayan Valleys. The Zanskar Valley has been a recent and welcome addition to the area of Ladakh. Zanskar is a sub region of Ladakh and a remote area contained by the Zanskar mountain range to the North and the Great Himalayas to the South. The Zanskar river flows along the valley from Padum to Zangla, then makes its way through the Zanskar range in a series of impressive 


gorges to join the Indus. The main valley is approximately 300 km long and ringed by mountains. Access to it is therefore over one of the high passes. The Zanskar valley is noted for its high ranges, fine gompas and happy people. The Panzila Top (4401 m) is the picturesque tableland adorned with two small alpine lakes and surrounded by snow covered peaks. As the Zanskar road winds down the steep slopes of the watershed to the head of the Stod Valley, one of Zanskar's main tributary valleys, the majestic Drang-Drung glacier looms into full view. The Drang-Drung glacier is perhaps the largest glacier in Ladakh, outside the Siachen formation. It is from the cliff-like snout of this extensive glacier that the Stod or Doda River, the main tributary of river Zanskar, rises. Zanskar comprises of a tri-armed valley system lying between the Great Himalayan Range and the Zanskar mountain. The three arms radiate like star towards the west, north and south from a wide central expanse where the region's two principal drainage meet to form the main Zanskar River. It is mainly along the course of this valley that about 10,000 strong, mainly Buddhists lives here. Spread over an estimated geographical area of 5000 square kms, high rise mountains and deep gorges surround Zanskar. The area remains inaccessible for nearly 8 months a year due to heavy snowfall resulting in closure of all the access passes, including the Penzi-la. Today, Zanskar is one of the last few surviving cultural center of Tibet. The Zanskar valley used to be most isolated of all Himalayan valleys and inaccessible for 8 months in a year. But in recent years, it has become a popular destination with trekkers and visitors. There are two subsidiary rivers, the Stod (Doda Chu) and the Linak (Tsarap Chu) that meet below Padum at Zanskar to form the Zanskar Rivers. Padam is the main habitation and the headquarters of the area. Close to the Padam town are a set of ancient rock carvings and two picturesque monasteries. A two hour trek from Padum takes one to Karsha which is the largest and most wealthy gompa in the region. The local monastery dates back to the 16th century. Other interesting monasteries include the gompa at Sani and Stongdey. various river rafting options are available on the Zanskar river. Earlier, the villagers only provide the accommodation to the tourists but now various small hotels and tourist complexes are coming up to cater the demand of the tourists.


People & Society of Zanskar
The Zanskaris are of the same stock as the Ladakhis and because of the isolation of their homeland they were able to preserve their Buddhist culture against the influence of Islam. With some exceptions of the old Muslim families in Padum the Zanskar valley is dominated by Buddhism. Traditional Ladakhi and Zanskari life offers even today to some extent of an independent society of India. Each society 

Zanskar Monastery, Ladakh

is self-sufficient and everyone plays an important part in the society with no crime and discrimination with regard to caste or religion and disparities in wealth. Padum is a low population mainly Buddhist settlement with the minority of Sunni Muslim.


An almost total lack of rainfall has meant that cultivation of the soil depends on the irrigation. To use the water of rivers in the landscape of Ladakh is a difficult task but the only possibility to get the needed water is from the irrigation channels. The irrigation channels can be seen all along the fields. Barley is the most suitable crop as it is grows even well with poor soils and can be roasted to form the staple ngamphe (tsampa) which can be eaten without cooking. This kind of food reserves are very useful especially in winter when fuel is scarce. Animal husbandry is an additional activity with agriculture. Mostly in the area of Zanskar valley only one crop per year is achieved. Sheep and goats are taken to high meadows during the summer so that they can graze.

The Sani Monastery of the 11th century is recognized as the first monastery of Zanskar. Phugyal and Karsha Monasteries also date from the same period. The development in the religion has been same as in Ladakh. The Delgupta order was established in the 15th century and monasteries at Karsha, Linshet and Mune belong to this. The Drukpa sect had set up monasteries at Bardan and Zangla and they also occupied that first Monastery at Sani. The Drukpas had relations with Stakna near Leh and and also with Namgyal whose three sons became later the rulers of Ladakh, Guge and Zanskar/Spiti. Their rule collapsed after Ladakh’s war with Tibet and as a result, the Zanskar royal house was divided in two parts, one part administering Padum, and the other controlling Zangla which fell under the Dogras, who took the most of the control over the people, local economy and the monasteries.


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