Zanskar : The Valley of Copper
Zanskar has an area exceeding 7000 sq km and a population estimated to be between 18000 to 20000. It is located bang in the middle of the Great Himalayas which separate it from Kishtwar and Lahaul in the South. In the East it touches Tibet almost and in the North is Ladakh and to the East is what used to be Baltistan but now better known as the Kargil area.
Zanskar gets its name from the Tibetan word for Copper "Zang" and Valley. So probably it was because of the Copper deposits it was called so. And the name stuck.
It used to be a part of the Tibetan Kingdom of Guge at a point of time. The Kingdom included Ladakh, Zanskar, Spiti and part of Western Tibet around the Holy Kailash Mountain. The Kingdom was split into separate Kingdoms at one point of time and Zanskar Spiti became an independent Kingdom under a King who was one of the sons of the last ruler of Guge. Even today the Royal lineage of Zanskar is help in great esteem as they are deemed the successors of the main Tibetan Royal family.
The Kingdom of Zanskar was further split later into Padum, Zangla and Kishtwar (yes Kishtwar was a part of the Zanskar kingdom) but at the same time it came under the influence of the powerful Ladakh kingdom.
Due to its land locked location Zanskar has always been pretty isolated and under the influence of Buddhism it has a distinct identity as in the people are generally very genial in nature and this has always been taken advantage of by outsiders.
Kashmiris, Chambyalis, Lahaulis, Dogras, Gujjars etc have all at different times invaded, plundered and looted this land.
Even in the 1800s it was first the Chamba forces which swept Zanskar and later a combined Kulu and Lahaul and Chamba force again plundered. And then again the Dogras under General Zorawar Singh swept through Zanskar on his way to capture Ladakh.
The thing was the usual way to Ladakh from Kashmir was up the Zoji La Pass but at the time of General Zorawar Singh the Governor of Kashmir, Mihan Singh was not well disposed towards Raja Gulab Singh and the Dogras. So he didnt permit any Dogra force into Kashmir. General Zorawar Singh had been the Governor of Kishtwar and knew of the way into Ladakh through Zanskar. Otherwise in probability Zanskar would have been left to its own devices but it became a victim of power sturggles within the Lahore Kingdom.
But the worst was still to come. In 1947 when the country got independence the Gilgit Scouts capitulated to Pakistan and they began their campaign to capture the whole of Ladakh region. They captured Kargil and a group of soldiers of the Gilgit Scouts made their way down to Padum in Zanskar. Even after the Indian forces re-captured Kargil and the Zoji La these Gilgit Scouts remained in Padam. This was probably the worst time the Zanskaris ever saw. Without going into the gruesome details let me just say that they were subjected to all kinds of deprivations by the Gilgit Scouts.
The Indian Forces were too busy consolidating and building their defences in the forward areas and really had no resources to focus on Zanskar. However a group of ex-soldiers from Lahaul did band up and went upto Padum to fight the Gilgit Scouts but they were beaten back by the Gilgit Scouts.
It was only after the ceasefire that the Indian troops came in and the Gilgit Scouts were escorted over the border. But they pretty much left a very deep mark on the local population and the inter relationship between the majority Buddhists and the minority Muslims.
The troubles didnt go away though. There were still ocassional raids by the Gujjars who used to descend the Zanskari pastures in the Summers. Worse still the Policemen deployed in Zanskar were usually outsiders and being in such an isolated place they took full advantage. Every household had to pay a tax to the cops failing which the cops would cook up false charges and the person would be dragged all the way to Kargil to face the local court and be put in Jail.
Also being clubbed with Kargil was another source of great concern for the Zanskarpa. Culturally and spiritually the Zanskarpa was much more closer to the Ladakhis than to the people from Kargil who followed a different religion and spoke a different language. Kargil was probably as alien to the Zanskarpa as Kishtwar or Kashmir.
The only Road link with the outside world also goes thorugh Kargil. Even when they have to go to Ladakh they have to take a circuitious Route via Kargil. Hence it has been a long standing demand of their to be connected directly with Ladakh via Road. The Road was promised to them around Independence but the said Road, now called the Chadar Road is still under construction. And on top of that their only life line connect with the outside world, over the forzen Zanskar is now over run with tourists which doesnt enable the Zanskar to get frozen properly.
The tale of Zanskar is one of constant broken promises made by the Government of India as well as the state Government. The Zanskarpa still continues to be neglected like no other. They dont even have an MLA of their own (another one of their demands) as they are clubbed together with Suru Valley and the representative in always someone from Suru.
Apparently its hoped now that one day the Road connecting it directly to Leh as well as the other one to Lahaul will become operational and for atleast 6 months they can enjoy the better connectivity and all the benefits it brings.
As for the winters please leave the Zanskar river alone. Its their only connecting lifeline. If cannot do anything to improve their condition atleast try not to worsen it. There are plenty of other frozen Rivers in Ladakh you can walk on. Say no to Chadar.