The Important Zanskar Archery Tournament in Padum

The Ibex Hotel is a standard hotel but it sure looked munificent to us after camping for 10 days. Our room had an ensuite bathroom with toilet that actually flushed. Cold water, one of the hardest beds imaginable, no towels, no toilet paper, no soap, no electricity. Stanzin #1 supplied the toilet paper. We cajoled the hotel out of two clean towels and I dug a small bar of soap out of the duffle. TIP: Travel with one of those small bars of soap hotels put in rooms; you never know when you’ll need it…like now.

Supposedly, electricity will go on some time after 6:00p for a few hours. I’m ready to go into panic mode since nothing has been recharged since Leh. How much longer could batteries hold out with two festivals going on? Let’s pray…

The Ibex Hotel rooms were built one-story around a central courtyard with tables and chairs. It also had a crowded restaurant with a big menu. Stanzin walked us over to an Internet Cafe that had a working computer via satellite with a reasonably fast connection. At 120 Rupees an hour, such a deal; especially when it was the only game in town….

aiming at the bulls-eye in Padum, Zanskar

archery competitor in Zanskar

preparing his bow and arrow, Zanskar Archery Competition


Done with e-mails, we headed over to where the yearly Zanskar Archery Tournament was in full swing. It was pure dumb luck to be present for this important competition. Don’t even think of planning your trip to coincide with this contest unless you know someone in the Government. It is held once a year, organized by the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council in Kargil, and the date is always in flux. No one ever knows when it is going to be held until an official announcement.

intense crowds at the archery competition in Padum

watching the different archery teams in Padum, Zanskar


Villages around Zanskar send a team to represent them. I thought Stanzin had said 52 teams. Steve’s understanding was 15 teams which sounded more logical. Each team is allowed 12 persons, four as alternates. Eight men on the team are allowed to shoot two arrows only, and the team with the highest number of points wins. There are four rounds in total and the third round was held today with one more round to go.


musicians excite the archery crowd in Padum, Zanskar

judge holding up scorecard at Archery Competition, Padum

picking up the arrows at the competition, Zanskar


Drums and oboes to excite teams as they prepared to shoot. Loud cheers when one man hit the bulls-eye dead center. It was exciting but would have been of more interest if we had never seen an archery competition before. Double good luck watching an impromptu contest during our walk through Phyang Valley last year. After each team shot, a point card was held up while men ran around the field picking up arrows.

Archery is one of the Ladakhi favorite past times. Archery festivals are serious, competitive events between villages and men dress in their traditional best. However, drink flows freely after the shooting takes place.

another Zanskari competitor at the contest, Padum


When we walked over to the campground for dinner, one Zanskari team was having a pre-celebration. They were in the lead with the most points and were dancing, drinking and drumming up a storm. What fun!

a pre-celebration by the archery team ahead in points, Padum


Hustling, bustling Padum also had the Karsha Festival taking place. Today was supposed to be Day 1 of the two day festival but Karsha Monastery changed the date! Tomorrow will be Day 1 since Buddhists always change festival dates if they don’t think the day is auspicious. We learned that the hard way on our first trip to Ladakh. Arrived and discovered the Hemis Festival had taken place two weeks prior! That’s when we learned, “Never plan around an event.” The Tibetan calendar is crazy; many times the same day repeats. For example, July 17 one day, July 17 the next day. Other times, there is a day missing and the Tibetan calendar leaps from July 17 to July 19 on the next day. ‘Tis a puzzlement for even the locals.


Electricity went on late at night and I jumped out of bed to recharge batteries. Five minutes later, the electricity went off. What to do? Leave everything plugged into the only socket over my headboard, wires draped over the pillow, hoping that it would go back on again (which it did), and go back to sleep. Improvisation is everything when traveling…

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