The Zanskar Odyssey - Exploring Padum
Hope you have read all the previous posts of Zanskar trip right from Day 1. Yesterday (on day 4) we finally reached Padum, the capital of Zanskar and our final destination of the trip. On Day 5, we were just too excited to explore this remote treasure. After breakfast, we drove towards Karsha monastery. Karsha monastery is the largest and most important monastery of the Zanskar region. We drove on the narrow roads crossing the Stod River which originated from Drang Drung Glacier which we saw yesterday. We stopped on the bridge over the river for clicking photographs. Karsha monastery can be seen from the bridge as it is grafted on the foot of a himalayan mountain with Karsha village on the base. The white houses look like a toe of an enormous brown bare foot like mountain.
Driving towards the monastery, we stopped in Karsha village and walked across to explore the place, people and culture. The village was surrounded by green fields full of corn and wheat. The houses in Zanskar are generally two storeyed with a very different roof. The construction of houses involve many glass windows and high stairs to climb up from outside. Though there is vast amount of empty space in the region, the houses are small and compact primarily to keep the room warm. The village has number of fresh water streams flowing through it coming from melting snow of mountain peaks. We saw number of children going to school, some accompanied by a hurrying mother, others casually walking with their friends. Some older women were headed to fields to harvest the crop. Some happily posed for us, while others were too occupied to even care. The location of the village and the natural beauty around it mesmerized us. We spent a lot of time clicking photographs here.
We then headed to the Karsha monastery. Our car climbed up the mountain just half the way and left us at the monastery entrance gate. From here we had to climb a long pack of stairs up to the monastery. On our alight, we found small houses with beautifully decorated entrances and windows where Lamas of the monastery stay. Surrounding the stairs were trees on either side. A fantastic view of the landscape below with patches of all shades of green and mountains in the backdrop amazed us. We kept staring at the beauty; climbing, getting tired, sitting on the stairs and then again regaining energy trudged up. For visitors who are not used to being at such altitudes and breathing thin air, even little effort makes them breathless. We met a few Lamas on our way upstairs that had come to visit Padum from as far as Bylakuppe near Coorg in Karnataka. A small greeting “Juley” brightened up their smile and they started talking explaining us their culture. Monks and nuns are expected to fulfill a variety of roles in the Buddhist community. First and foremost, they are expected to preserve the doctrine and discipline now known as Buddhism. They spend their entire life studying and preaching. Everything basic from food to clothing to shelter is provided to them from the funds that monastery collects. They lead a life of celibacy and are forbidden from using any form of entertainment; though we observed many of them having a cell phone.
Reaching the top, we came across a central verandah with a two-storeyed monastery. The Lamas were having tea and biscuits sitting in the verandah. We saw many kid monks dressed in their red robes playing with each other. As we were the only visitors at that time, they were very excited to get their selfies clicked with us. After a few sessions of selfie clicking we entered a big prayer hall. The prayers were just over and the Lamas were seen to be leaving the place. A huge photo frame of Dalai Lama was hanging in the center and a few stairs from the sides led us to the main idol. The big idol was enclosed in glass cabinet. An idol of Lord Buddha with jewelled crown was also enclosed in one of the glass cabinets. There was a strange silence of peace in the entire setting. The colourful flags hung all over giving it a complete look.
Outside the prayer hall, we climbed a few steps to reach the first floor. The unparalleled views of the village and the austere beauty of the stark landscape cannot be defined here. We started playing with the kid monks and had lots of fun with them. They posed for us, did some summersaults and clicked lots of photographs with us. Their innocence and naughtiness made the day for us. It was soon lunch time and a child monk blowed the holy conch loudly as a signal to rest of the village. The kids ran to collect their plates. A few men carrying big vessels of food started distributing momos and food to them and we realised it was time for us to leave.
We made a long and slow descent to our vehicles. It was not tiring physically but our minds kept wandering back to the lives of all the kids we just met and the lamas we talked. The houses carved out of rocky himalayas, away from hustle and bustle of cities, surrounded by small streams of fresh water running through narrow streets in a village where almost everyone would know you by name. So different and yet so interesting. We left Karsha in amusement.
After lunch we headed to Bardhan monastery. The monastery is very scenically located on a huge rock next to the Tsarap River. To our surprise the monastery was locked and empty. The security personnel informed us that all the Lamas have gone to a village nearby to bless the couple in a wedding. We grabbed this opportunity to attend a Zanskari wedding and drove towards the village. The car stopped at a dead end of the road from which we had to descend down, cross a wooden bridge over the Tsarap River, climb a hill and follow the path towards Pipcha village where the wedding was being held. All energetic we started for the trek towards the village. Buddhist wedding is a secular affair and is blessed by the monks from the local monasteries. The ceremonies which we attended were from the girl’s side. The groom was not a part of the celebrations here. The rituals were fascinating and very different from anything we had seen before. The wedding deserves a separate blog which we will be posting soon.
We soon started heading back to our hotel. On the way we stopped to see Gyalwarina Buddha statues. Many statues of Lord Buddha are carved on a magnificent curved rock on the banks of Stod River. In the night, we had to get on terrace of our hotel and capture some stars and night sky. It was yet another useful session trying to master night photography as our team of photographers kept attempting various settings and angles to get some perfect shots.
The serenity and hospitality of the lovely people we met today drove us to a peaceful sleep that night. The trip kept throwing amazing things at us each day which we never expected. On some days it was an unexpected festival (at Mulbekh), on some days spellbounding landscapes (from Kargil to Rangdum), on some days an unbelievable glacier (from Rangdum to Padum) and today the innocence and mischief of child monks and rituals of Zanskari wedding. What would be the unexpected thing we should expect tomorrow? Only time would tell.