The crazy, surreal wedding celebration that we witnessed, the old man who told us how people lived in this harsh places in the winter: Om mani padme hum

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Phugtal Monastery

27.07

Today we can barely walk, but we cook all the food food we had left and we head to Karsha Village. Two hours and a half later we reach it. There is only one shop in it and it is open which makes us really happy. We buy some lentils and pasta and find a place with no people where we can cook. The old man from the shop hasn’t obviously seen this kind of travelers  ever and is quite shocked that we go behind the shop to cook.

There is a big monastery at the village and in the late afternoon we go to see it. Alas, the main temple is closed. One small boy comes to us and leads us through some catacombs to another temple with a library which is being reconstructed. The monastery is sunk in decay, but they had started reconstructing it. From above we see a glade, hidden among the houses, with many locals gathered on it and we remember that the old man in the shop had told us that there is a wedding today.

We run down and we witness a wondrous celebration. The people in Zanskar region are much more traditional than those in Leh. Ninety five per cent of the multitude at the party are dressed in traditional clothes with the typical, for the area, violet mantle on top of their woolen cloaks, which they always wear, brown woolen hats and gigantic jewelry. Many of the old women wear woolen boot-socks. All the women have their hair in two long braids that are fastened together.

As I already mentioned everyone here likes to put on as many clothes as possible, regardless of the temperature outside. There are also a dozen of people dressed with some kind of  full dress with orange silk and enormous hats. I think they are musicians or dancers, but they also participate in other activities. We also see several Buddhist monks who we suppose are here to read sutras.

When we arrive at the ceremony, which usually continues for several hours, now is about to end. All the trousseau is exhibited in the center of the village, but they start gathering it. We manage to notice some blankets and tens of violet woolen robes. People have finished eating and there are leftovers everywhere. It is noisy and there are many drunk people. Suddenly we see the bride – she is dressed as an astronaut: wearing something huge that resembles cardboard box wrapped with white cloth, on her head.

The atmosphere becomes a little bit hysterical with some people crying. The bride is also crying and shaking and her relatives are trying to take her somewhere, pulling her. In seconds everyone is gone and we are alone on the glade. In the center of it there is a pile of flat bread and chang (Tibetan beer). The guy who is supposed to guard the food is very drunk. When he sees us he gives us 30 breads regardless of our protests. Then a woman gives us beer and we leave the celebration a little shocked by the experience.

It is getting dark, we are tipsy and we try to reach Padum walking on the asphalt road: we see it down around 10 kilometers from here. After a short while a car with two guys passes by and takes us two kilometers before Padum. We are in a village and here we see tens of drunk people who obviously come from a celebration and now go to their houses reeling about. It is quite windy and we hear “Om mani padme kum” that plays very loudly. In general the atmosphere is strange, almost unreal.

On the way to Padum there are crop fields and buildings everywhere and we can’t get our bearings in the dark. We find ourselves walking through a field and then we reach a nice glade with poplars and willows, surrounded by a stone fence. Trees here are a very valuable resource and are always surrounded by fences to protect them against the animals. There are houses here, but we don’t see anyone. We jump over the fence and plan to leave early tomorrow.

Normally there is electricity in Karsha Village but not today, so we couldn’t charge our camera and respectively make photos.

28.07

In the morning we get up early and start packing. At some point an old man shows and asks us who let us in. We say that we arrived in the dark and hid ourselves from the strong wind. The old man smiled and said we are his guests then and we could stay as long as we wanted. He said that  this is his land and is given to him by God so we can settle as we like it. It turns out he is from the muslim minority living in Padum. It is long time since we met such a hearty guy and it melts our hearts. We relax, pitch our tent again and we sleep till noon. Obviously our exhaustion is great.

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Bivouac at the glade of the old man

At noon we take our rucksacks and head downtown which turns out to be just two hundred meters away. We have no money left and we pray the only bank in the town to be open. We are lucky and we manage to draw some money. Then we leave our luggage in a hotel and we go around the town that is more like a big village.

There is not much to see here. Padum has one big main street with a few grocery stores in it, two-three shops, a few stores for clothes and cosmetics, several supermarkets and a few restaurants. There are only three-four hotels and the variety of things one can buy is not big. For example here they don’t sell white cheese and homemade jam – our main foods these days. There is only one Internet café that is working, but they tell us that now they only have satellite connection and it costs 120 rupees per hour (around 2 euro). This said, they add that we can’t actually use Internet because there is a technical problem which they can’t fix. We can’t charge our camer too because there is no electricity in the town for month and a half now and the generators are turned on only in the evening.

We then go to the end of the main street and reach the old part of the town. Most of the houses here are abandoned and falling apart. Finally we decide to go back to the glade of the old man.

29.07

Mr. Shushtari goes out to bring water and kerosene and is away long time. When he comes back he tells me that the old man invited him in his house. His son and his grandson spoke good English and told him about life in Zanskar. They said that a few tourists could imagine how the scenery here changes at the end of November. They described to Mr. Shushtari that all becomes snowy white and the temperatures fall below minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 Fahrenheit). Some of the people leave the area and go to Srinagar or Jammu where the weather is softer. There is also no traffic and goods for half a year.

The roads are under tons of snow and the passes are inaccessible. The only road in emergency cases is through the frozen river Zansakar, but that is a pretty dangerous adventure that continues for at least two-three days. Around April everyone is out of provisions.

In the winter people visit each other’s houses to bring live coal because many of them don’t even have matches left. Nowadays is a little bit better because a helicopter could always come but 20-30 years ago it was a real survivor series. There aren’t even any fruit trees in Zanskar because the soil lacks some important nutrient that they need to grow. People here bury potatoes and turnips which they excavate in critical April. I can’t imagine what it is to spend the winter here.

In the meantime all the neighbors come to meet us and speak to us. We are very happy that many people here speak English and we can ask them all the millions questions we have. During the day we go to wash our clothes at a spring near the mosque (here in Padum the Muslims are 40% of the population). There are five more women washing with us. Add to this all the people who came meanwhile to fill 20 tubes of water each and here we are waiting a lot. It turns out there is a problem with the water in the houses so everyone has to come here for clean water.

In several hours we manage to wash all and then we go to visit again Shafi Wani’s family. They treat us tea with milk and salt and traditional pan-cakes. They boy gives us a whole package of some strange popcorn made of some kind of cereal plant. In the evening electricity comes and we manage to charge our camera. We go back to our tent satisfied from the sweet talk we had.

30.07

Today we decide to visit the oldest known monastery in Zanskar – Phutagal Gompa. It is located two-three days up the Valley of Tsarap River. In fact Решихме да посетим най-стария и известен манастир в Занскар – Пугтал (Phugtal Gompa). In fact the rivers Tsarap and Stod come in together at Padum and form the Zanskar River which led to the formation of big flat space in the area. There are three big valleys that start here – one of them of River Znaskar, the other one of Tsarap which we take to go to the monastery and the third one is the Valley of Stod that continues to Cargil. The latter is the only one that has asphalt road and we plan to hitchhike on when we go back.

There is a dirt road next to Reru Village. We leave at noon and go out of Padum and a jeep passes by and stops. We decide to take it and save ourselves the walking, since we didn’t see private cars at the parking in the village. The price is 100 rupees (around 1,80 euro) per person which is high. In the middle of the road we stop to wait for two women who are coming from the nearby village where there was a celebration for a newborn. They were going to the villages up the river. They bring with them several bottles of beer and the men, together with the driver, start drinking immediately.

After waiting for half an hour (the village was pretty far up) we pack ourselves tightly in the jeep. After a while we meet four middle aged French men and women. By the way Zanskar is very popular among the French – all the foreigners we met are from there. The locals even speak a little bit the language.

Back to the group – they have horses and a local guide but it is unclear to us why they didn’t hire a car or a jeep from Reru. They are in a really bad shape – all red and puffing, looking like they are going to faint any moment – we got scared for them because they looked like they escaped from some mental institution. Obviously they were inexperienced in the mountain and good they had a guide with them because otherwise we would have worried for them. In addition they don’t speak any English. The two women hopped on in the jeep’s open carriage and the men continued walking. I advise people over 60 to not start treks in the Hymalays if they are not experienced. : )

Like this we arrive at Reru. On the path next to the village we see several drunken boys coming back from a party. We get off and walk for two-three more hours till the sunset. On the other side of the river we see a dirt road that is buried under a huge land slide right after Reru. The road crosses the river after the next village Ichar and we start walking on it. In the distance we see a black cloud so we decide to stay at a place we notice in the gully of a river. The place looked OK but when we get close to it we see it is not flat enough and is close to the river which could be dangerous.

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Ichar Village

It is getting dark and the rain seems to get closer so we decide to stay at an abandoned windmill. The ground is flat and we are protected by the wind. The drawbacks are that the windmill doesn’t have a roof and is so small that part of our tent is in a hole which we try to fill in with branches and rocks, but unsuccessfully. At the end the rain never came to us and we slept uncomfortably but it was OK.

31.07

We wake up in pretty bad physical shape and with a headache. We want to go to the monastery but everything hurts. It is hard to even prepare breakfast. When we think we have to walk again we feel like crying. Obviously our bodies needed rest. Like right now. We do some calculations and it results that for the last 30 days we have walked 20 of them, six-seven hours each day. The two days we spent in Padum were not enough to recuperate.

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Bivvy inside the windmill

In the morning a boy on a horse passes by us. This is the first local person we see in many days who doesn’t want us money for the tent. This makes us so happy that we treat him to tea. During the day we follow the dirt road which is destroyed or lacking here and there because of the river. The road ends at Anmu Village and from there the path continues through the rocks and is more interesting. The valley is beautiful, but not that impressive. On the other side there are almost no tourists – we met only three French guys.

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The pathway after Anmu Village

In the late afternoon we reach Cha Village and we build our bivouac at a quite nice place next to the river. We didn’t have enough live force to walk for two-three more hours to reach the monastery. At the end of the day it turns out that we walked again for six-seven hours, but our mood got better knowing that we have very little left.

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