Zanskar

The hidden Himalayas

Zanskar

The hidden Himalayas

Zanskar is a remote valley in the Indian Himalayas.
About 12’000 inhabitants live on a surface area of about 7000km2. The villages are at an elevation between 3500 and 4500m and the hight mountain peaks range up to 7000m. Politically Zanskar is part of Kargil District, Ladakh Region and Jammu and Kashmir State in India.
Living conditions are harsh since the area is classified as high altitude semi-desert with temperatures varying from 30°C in summer to -40° in winter.
Nearly all Zanskari practice Tibetan Buddhism with exception of some Muslims in Padum – the capital of Zanskar.
Most of the population are farmers and were up to some years ago self-sustainable. There are also many army men and seasonal workers in Zanskar. For few years there has been a growing number of young Zanskari men leaving the tradition agricultural lifestyle and joining the Indian army or working in tourism. Some young Zanskarie people have now also the opportunity to get higher educational level by studying in Indian Universities.
Zanskari people live in simple and comfortable mud brick houses. Some have solar or hydro-energy. Water is taken from the river. Most cook on gas or a stove but in remote villages they still rely on open fire cooking and heating. Traditional food include mainly barley and pea dishes as well as butter and cheese. Now they also get rice, sugar, salt and wheat supply from the Indian government.
There is no organized waste system since Zanskari didn’t produce waste with their traditional lifestyle. Now with the import of plastic and packed food this has changed. Some villages took the initiative to dig holes and bury/burn the non-reusable waste. Human waste products end up in the dry toilet.
Most villages are accessible by road but in Lugnak valley there are still some villages only reachable by a 3 days walk. There is a rudimentary public transport system. Most of the people walk or hitchhike to reach other places.
Zanskari cherish important community and family bonds especially in winter when the are disconnected by earth way from the rest of the world for 7 months.
Children can go to public or private schools run by foreign NGOs up to 12th class. For further studies they have to leave Zanskar, which is often a financial problem for the families. Very remote villages have even to send away their children for primary school, which is not affordable by every family so that still some children don’t get any education. These same remote villages have no access to mobile network either and didn’t get any village satellite telephones from government.
The medical system in Zanskar is pluralistic and composed of tradition Tibetan medicine, allopathic medicine, shamans and punctual NGO services. To know more about this system you can read on the respective sections of the webpage.

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