“Sometimes, you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes, in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself.”
We had only arrived halfway up the impressively steep path which wound up the monastery in our last village in the Zanskar valley before being ushered into a small house by a monk with a wonderful curly hat. He quickly made us ample tea and fed us biscuits while explaining that trekkers in the region need food since there are no shops or restaurants. While talking with him we discovered that he had lived in this seventy monk monastery for forty years, making him sixty years old now. He shared his small “house” with four young boys (age seven to fourteen) who lived upstairs, and seemed to be a bit of a grandpa to them. We later found out that every house has an older monk with a few youngsters who all live together in a multigenerational community.
“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”
Since we were unable to cycle through Zanskar a few weeks ago we decided instead to return with our backpacks in order to experience this completely isolated part of the world. Throughout eight months of the year, the one unpaved road leading onto the valley is snowed in and therefore completely inaccessible. This road was only built in the early 1980’s which reflects how new development and tourism to this area still is. During the winter, the only way out of the region is a long, dangerous, and treacherous trek out on the frozen river, an undertaking some of the children make in order to attend school in different regions. Parts of this valley are considered the coldest yearly inhabited areas in the world, and though there aren’t many left, there are still a few nomadic tribes who live in the area as well. The permanent settlements are still impressive in themselves as they are days away from any road, with passes ranging from 5,000m to 6,000m separating them from the rest of the world. There are also many famous monasteries in the region, literally in the middle of no where, carved into the rocks.