Zanskar – The Road to Emptiness
A few years ago, I had to cancel my trip in Ladakh for family reasons, just after arriving in Leh. Since then, I kept somewhere in my mind the idea of coming back to “the land of the high passes” and learn more about the people that inhabit this unwelcoming landscape. Ladakh being quite vast, I had to decide which place I would dedicate my trekking month to. After discussing about it with Zanskari friends, Zanskar it became!
The adventure starts in the Muslim town of Kargil where I meet Tashi, a young student from Zanskar without any trekking nor guiding experience, willing to be my guide and interpret for this trip in order to finance his studies. This year I wanted to work with a guide/interpret for every trek. The experience is so much more interesting when you can communicate with the people you meet and learn about their culture and the events that will happen in the area!
Zanskar has changed quite a lot since it was opened to tourism in 1974, but somehow remained the same — “same same but different” as the Nepali say. Schools and roads have been built but Zanskaris are still stuck in the valley for the whole winter because of the snow — the only ways out being by helicopter or by walking on a frozen river for days, the Chadar — which may be one of the reasons the traditions here are still so vibrant.
Thanks to Tashi, I get a deep insight of the Zanskari culture. I don’t know if I am lucky or if my perseverance pays off, but I am spoilt almost every single day of this trek. From place to place we walk and in every village I have the chance to experience a new event that is part of the daily life in these Himalayan villages: the killing of sheeps by a wolf, traces of a bear that climbed on the first floor of a house to find food, meeting with descendants of the royal family, a traditional Tibetan doctor at work with his patient, the exorcism of a haunted house, … the most memorable of them being a wedding, a crazy 2-days celebration with good quantities of alcohol and food and only a couple of hours of sleep here and there.
Despite the extreme fatigue after more than 3 months of trekking in the Himalayas, I carry on this enriching adventure but my body screams in pain: “leave me in peace now! I’ve worked too much, now is the time for me to rest”. I have no other choice but to sign a deal with it: “you keep on carrying me until the end of this trek and in exchange I will hire a porter for the difficult sections”. I’m glad I did it as even with a small backpack, the last days of this adventure were strenuous.
Walking in this desert landscape, most of the time over 4000m, burnt by the sun all day long, crossing dubious suspended bridges over unrelenting rivers, can sometimes feel like trekking to hell. Hopefully, great wild landscapes give some food for thought to the photographer in me and makes me forget the pain endured until, after crossing a dodgy snow bridge, we finally reach the road that will lead us back to Leh. This is probably the first time of my life I am happy to see one of these human-made mountain scars with a Jeep on it!