Sunday, March 10, 2013

Zanskar: Soul of Tibet

Monasteries perched on a rock, The sacred place where the Zanskar meets the Indus, Ladakh is a part of Tibet was for political reasons in Indian territory, a valley located about 3,500 meters above sea level that is difficult to access by land. Buddhist tradition is still intact and the harsh mountain life has not changed much over the centuries. The journey is centered on the visit of the main and remote monasteries of the capital Leh and some villages at high altitudes. We can breathe the profound spirituality of the people and bring us closer to fascinating legends handed down over the centuries in a geological context of rare beauty.

The step Penzi La  is dominated by the towering glacier Drang Drung  that, with its eternal snow wrapped in mist and surrounded by peaks and massifs, feeds the  Stod  and the  Lung Nak, waterways crossing a the valley of Zanskar and the other that of  Suru , giving these rugged lands a cloak made ​​of emerald and abundance.

It is a region of breathtaking beauty, but one of the least accessible of the country: for nine months a year in fact the two rivers freeze over and the road is buried under two feet of snow, thereby allowing the visits only a small opening which lies between July and September. The step Penzi La  is the only access road carriageway but, alternatively, you can follow the perilous paths through treacherous mountains, bring in a week's journey to Darcha, in Himachal Pradesh . By specialists.

In the car, on the other hand, political tensions - to be reckoned with absolutely -permettendo, we start from Srinagar, Kashmir , and can be reached Kargil  along the beautiful mountain resort of Sonamarg , crossing the difficult step of Zojila and then the town of  Dras, which boasts of being the coldest inhabited place in the world, if we exclude the Siberia. Aside from Kargil, although in peacetime is an interesting place, we proceed to the Suru Valley through Sankhu and then Panikhar, where you can stop and dilapidated Guest House in the only existing, local government, for a couple of nights for acclimatize to the altitude, at the foot of the magnificent snow-capped peaks of Nun and Kun, surrounded by golden crops of barley ready for harvest in August.

Women in Panikhar and neighboring Tai Suru  are constantly engaged in various agricultural chores while, as often happens in India, men seem to wander without obligation and snotty kids smiling and posing for photos in front of the visitors. Suru is Shiite Muslim area and the village of Tai Suru it houses a mosque by the metal dome decorated with beautiful arabesques and an Imambara . Pastors air biblical accompany their goats pashmina -  changthangi - towards the houses that share after the day's grazing on the pastures. Other settlements in the area, which Tangol and Achambore offer scenic views where the Suru valley thundering rushes through gorges and cliffs.

The Suru Valley is probably the most verdant of Ladakh; its villages are located on the alluvial wedge formed between two massive, where the proportions thaw the water, channeled into unique channels in the region, mainly through the crops of barley and peas. Each settlement has a nullah, a canal that runs along the main road and proportioning running water to the inhabitants, where women wash clothes and dishes. Drinking water is instead collected from pristine streams that come directly from glaciers or from a pump installed in the country.

Once acclimated, you can continue to the glacier  Parkachik and the eponymous village below, to arrive at Rangdum , a small settlement located in one of the most desolate plains that flank the valley of Zanskar. Geographically, it still belongs to the Suru Valley, but culturally and socially Rangdum is much more akin to the Buddhist Zanskar.

The village of Julidok, near, is composed of a dozen houses in all and whose inhabitants are employed in mass to the local Gompa scenically built on top of the hill, against a backdrop of majestic mountains, characterized by layers of millions of years old, dating back to when the entire Himalayan range was the bottom of the Tethys Sea, before being projected into the sky; here is frequently found fossil shells and corals, an integral part, with turquoise jewelry traditional Ladakhi women.

Despite its size, Rangdum offers five or six workshops, almost all small bars that offer Gurgur chai tea salted butter but also Maggi noodles, instant noodles. After crossing the Passo La Penzi then you get to Padum, the largest village in the valley of Zanskar, which can be chosen as a base camp for exploring the region dotted by beautiful Gompa, nestled on the shores of massive embroidered by winding paths of access.

The sense of isolation from the world that we perceive in this area is considerable, even if the life of the inhabitants is greatly changed over the last years; ponies that once transported the goods along dangerous mountain trails have been replaced today by the truck, which during the three summer months leading to the valley supplies for the remaining nine months of isolation, but most of all comfort items necessary to meet the needs of the many European tourists who flock to the area for summer rafting down the Zanskar impetuous or hiking and camping everywhere. Tibetan cuisine eateries and shops are covered with offers and requests for steps towards Leh and Kargil. They are sold, one beside the other, toothpaste and thangkas , vegetables and delicious turquoise necklaces.

The Zongkul Gompa is hidden in the folds of the mountains and it is difficult to find a taxi driver who wants to take you up there, so much bumpy the road is dangerous and even by local standards, but we insist you do it. Along the way they meet water mills, which, when not grind corn, spin prayer wheels constantly. Then, if you have good legs and lungs better, you can walk down the steps cut into the rock to climb to the cave that houses the Gompa. The wind eventually survivor will be permanently cut off from the beauty of the landscape. Butter lamps lovingly prepared and delicious frescoes, with urgent need of restoration, welcome the pilgrim reached its destination.

The whole valley is dotted with Gompas precariously hanging at his sides, as the Karsha Gompa, attached to the coast from the top of a 5000 m. and whose ornamentation is no less remarkable for its location. Deep reds, ochres, golds and yellows stand out strikingly against the backdrop of saturated cobalt blue of the sky and the gray of the river that unfolds between the snow-capped peaks. Inside, a series of frescoes illustrating the jatakas, while a monaco welcomes pilgrims with a bowl of dried fruit tea and yak butter. From the windows of Gompa, the view opens out into a mosaic of land planted with barley. Or like the recently restored  Stongdey Gompa , less impressive in principle, as hidden from view during the journey, but no less improbable in its aerie by location and houses a precious library of manuscripts.

You can finally climb up to the ruins of  Zangla Fort, built in the eighteenth century by General Zorawar Singh Rajput, who came here from today's Himachal Pradesh along the river Suru at the head of 5,000 men to subdue the local chieftains. To maintain control of the area, built a strong leader, from which one can enjoy a spectacular view over the valley, but that is in such a state of disrepair that it seemed useless and any hypothetical future recovery attempt.

And the festival in Linshat Gompa, religious and cultural center of the area, and still the Gompa, the chorten and mani walls, also known as mendong, dry or cemented with mud, the surface of which is entirely composed of shale rock or pebbles on which were carved sacred figures or letters of the sacred mantra. Om Mani Padme Hum, the mantra of mantras. Or even our songs, strictly seventies, out of tune to the sky as we walked single file in the Zanskar valley.

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