IndiaZanskar Map

   

Geography

   

Zanskar is located next to Ladakh in the Himalayan mountains of North-Western India, in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. 

Very high mountains and the harsh climate render Zanskar particularly inaccessible and isolated. At an altitude of 11,900 feet (3,600m) it is one of the highest inhabited regions in the world. It is also one of the coldest, with winter temperatures ranging from -4 to -35ºF (-20 to -35ºC).

In July-August temperatures can reach 86 to 95ºF (30 to 35 °C) during the day while rarely dropping below 41ºF (5ºC) at night. It is a dry and tree-less region with annual precipitations of only 8 to 10 inches (200 to 250mm) collecting water from glacier melt and the aquafer.

As early as November, roads are no longer passable and during 8 months or two-thirds of the year Zanskar becomes shrouded in ice-cold silence and solitude.

 

Its only town Padum, population 1,500, is the center of its tiny economy. Yet its administrative and political center resides in faraway Kargil where Urdu, a different language and a different alphabet dominates, as in the rest of the 11 million people strong state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). Tibetan-based Bodhi is the language of the 15,000 people of Zanskar.

Zanskaris are a minority of only 0.1% of the state of J&K. 90% of them are dispersed in 25 tiny hamlets of only a few houses each. Its small density of population (5 persons per square mile) is the result of extreme climatic and topographic conditions.

As sedantary farmers and craftsmen, Zanskaris live from agriculture (barley, peas, alfalfa) and animals (sheep, yak and goats).

There are no fruit trees in Zanskar. Fruits in Padum stores are few ; all are trucked-in from Ladakh and Kashmir. The scarcity of both water and land suitable for farming has forced the development of a complex irrigation system and a non-mechanized form of agriculture. Barley is best suited to the poor soil conditions and is therefore the principal culture. Its flour, tsampa, is the basis for nutrition.

 

Zanskar is also the name of the main river, starting at the confluence of two main rivers near our school near Padum. The Zanskar River is a tributary to the major Indus River in Ladakh as it flows toward Pakistan. When frozen for a 3-4 weeks in Winter, the Zanskar becomes « tchadar » (ice road), the only communication route to and from Ladakh on 3 to 5 days difficult journey.

Zanskar is a very remote part of the state of Jammu & Kashmir sandwiched between Pakistan, China and the rest of India. It opened to tourism in 1974, at the same time as Ladakh.

Historically Zanskar was a small kingdom founded in 930. It was annexed to Ladakh in the 17th century. For a long time it was governed by two kings from the royal family of Ladakh, one in Zangla, the other in Padum. The state of Jammu & Kashmir was created in 1947 when India became independent from Great Britain.

 

 

 

 

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