Land of High Passes – Ladakh

'Little Tibet' or, 'the moonland' or 'the last Shangri La' are all names that have been applied to Ladhak. It is an 'other-worldly' place with gompas perched on soaring hilltops, shattered looking landscapes splashed with small but brilliant patches of green and ancient palaces clinging to sheer rock walls. Leh at a height of 3,500 meters is the main entry point to this region. The Ladhak and Zanskar valleys are trekker's delight. The region has the highest motorable road in the world and getting there by road, from either Srinagar or Manali, provides one of the most exquisite views of the Himalayan range.

About 20 Kms. south-east of Rangdum stands the Pazila watershed across which lies Zanskar, the most isolated of all the trans-Himalayan valleys. The Penzila Top (4401 m) is a picturesque table land adorned with two small alpine lakes and surrounded by snow covered peaks. As the Zanskar road winds down the steep slopes of the watershed to the head of the Stod Valley, oneofZanskar's main tributory valleys, the majestic "Drang-Drung" glacier looms into full view. A long and winding river of ice and snow, the "Drang-Drung" is perhaps the largest glacier in Ladakh, outside the Siachen formation. It is from the cliff-like snout of this extensive glacierthatthe Stod or Doda River, the main tributary of River Zanskar, rises.

Zanskar comprises a tri-armed valley system lying between the Great Himalayan Range and the Zanskar mountains; the three arms radiate star-like towards the west, north and south from a wide central expanse where the region's two principal drainages meet to form the main Zanskar River. It is mainly along the course of this valley system that the region's 10,000 strong, mainly Buddhist population live.

Spread over an estimated geographical area of 5000 sq. kms., Zanskar is surrounded by high-rise mountains and deep gorges. The area remains inaccessible for nearly 8 months a year due to heavy snowfall resulting in closure of all the access passes, including the Penzi-la. This geographical isolation together with the esoteric nature of Buddhism practiced here has enabled its inhabitants to preserve and perpetuate their cultural identity. To-day, Zanskar has the distinction of being the least interfered with microcosms of Ladakh. and one of the last few surviving cultural satellites of Tibet. Closer observation of the living conditions evokes admiration for a people who have learnt to live in perfect harmony with the unique environment.

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