Padum, with its population of 1,000 people, is the major hub of activities in the entire valley. An excursion to Zangla, former capital of Ladakh was planned for tomorrow with Day 2 of the Karsha Festival today. Let’s change that to Zangla today, and Karsha tomorrow since today is now Day 1 of the Karsha Festival thanks to the usual auspicious, non-auspicious changes by the Karsha Monastery head Lama. We saw Day 1 of the Hemis Festival last year. (When you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all unless you are a devout Buddhist.)
Since a “road” was constructed in 1980 from Kargil across Penzi La to Padum, several hotels, restaurants, internet cafe, telephone booths, and post office now service locals as well as trekkers. This road is only open between July-September. After that time, Zanskar is completely snowed in and locals have to walk out on the frozen Zanskar River. The Government is in the process of building a road along the river into Zanskar but I wouldn’t hold my breath until that is finished.
Noisy tourists at the Ibex Hotel woke me at 3:00a preparing for their grueling ride back to Kargil; the same timing we’ll deal with in two days. All tourists have to work around this whether they travel by taxi, private 4×4 or local bus; that’s when all transportation leaves. I unplugged the camera and battery cords draped over the bed and glory be, everything was fully charged.
An early breakfast before heaidng towards Zangla, a short 35 kilometers/21 miles from Padum on a semi-decent road that still took 1-1/2 hours.
Zangla was the former capital of Zanskar and once had three Royal Palaces that belonged to the Kings of Zanskar. (There are 25 villages in Zanskar and each had two “Kings”; one each at Padum and Zangla. Each King ruled over six or seven villages while other villages weren’t under either King’s domain. The oldest palace that I’ll call Palace #1 is over 2,000 years old but is just one, big ruin. Palace #2 is a lesser ruin, 600-700 years old and on the hill. Palace #3 is 500 years old and this was the one we entered first to see the very sacred prayer hall; sacred because the Head Lama of Ladakh was born here twice. (I got so lost during the recitations of which Rinpoche, Lama, reincarnations, and who was born where.) The exact ages and dates of these palaces are also probably not correct since everyone I asked (including the Prince of Zanskar) gave me a different answer as to how old they were.
Inside the very beautiful prayer hall with old masks that had just been used by the Karsha Monastery monks 10 days ago when they performed the masked dance here. There was a statue of the younger brother of the Dalai Lama, Tanzin Choegyal, in his 6th incarnation (he is now on his 12th reincarnation). The 6th Dalai Lama was born in Zangla. Many of the statues were taken from the oldest palaces and can possibly be 2,000 years old.
Reincarnate lamas are identified at an early age. The latest reincarnation is a small boy in the Nubra Valley of Ladakh. From the prayer hall into a room that the current rinpoche uses as his living quarters. The 21 year old Prince of Zanskar happened to be here who proceeded to explain about his family and photographs; which Rinpoche was the 16th reincarnation, 31st reincarnation, all in the video. Perhaps you’ll understand what he was saying more than I since I got so lost during his explanations. Rinpoche or Rimpoche is an honorific used in Tibetan Buddhism that literally means “precious one.” It is used to address or describe reincarnated Tibetan lamas.
Zanskar lineage descends from the Kings of Tibet. With profuse thanks, we climbed back down the ladders, heading to Royal Palace #2 on the hilltop.