by Karin Klinger
There was a journey to Zanskar... there was a journey to Zanskar and on the 5th day we finally reached our destination, long desired, exhausted and happy: RARU!
There had been missed flights, flooded, destroyed roads and houses in Kullu and Manali; heavy downpours had made it necessary to spontaneously reschedule our itinerary. Despite all these obstacles, everything went well... on the 4th day we reached Padum, the main town of Zanskar. As soon as we arrived we were greeted by a welcome reception delegation in the beautiful nature hostel of a former teacher of Jamyang Ling. First contact was still a cautious one, shy and a little strange. Next morning, the official colorful reception with drums and Zanskari flutes with many beautiful, laughing people in the large garden of the Padma Ling Hostel took place. The journey on the new "highway" to Raru was accompanied by constant drumming. This route can now be covered in less than 30 minutes by car (it used to take 1 day of trekking on foot years back!). For us, it took time... there were lots of little welcome stops in-between with many Julays (Zanskari greeting), food and drink, flowers and endless Kataks (white scarfs)!
Likewise the long reception line in Raru ... laughter and tears ... we were overwhelmed! Raru, so far away and yet immediately familiar again. We moved into a charming, lovingly prepared camp above the village and the school grounds, situated on a small lake for watering the fields, next to a small brook and a grove. Wild roses were blooming nearby on the stony terrain. We had been taking care by our cook Loden. Bernd and myself were thrilled, touched and grateful to be here.
The first day began with a full program. Picked up by Stanzin Lobzang, the headmaster, we went down to the school, visited all the classes there, greeted teachers, students and hostel staff. Employees of Jamyang Ling. Everything was very familiar and we were happy to see that the school project was running - even though we had not been here for 4 years!!!
There was an overall good impression, great motivation, despite quite difficult circumstances
regarding weather, altitude (3.500m), lack of comfort and privacy. Even during the long period of Corona, there was an intensive, supportive contact between teachers and students. Teachers visited the families in the accessible villages and provided their kids with teaching materials. One teacher reported that she had appreciated these visits so much, as they brought her close to the parents and children in their familiar surroundings.
The program during the 10 days of our stay was varied. A daily rhythm developed, very active, yet
relaxed. Each day brought many meetings, school visits, discussions and contacts with teachers, pupils and parents from the village. In the afternoon, there were various private visits from school and village people, ex-studentss who came from distant villages. There were many invitations, festivals (e.g. a big monastery festival in Padum, in honor of Kundeling Rinpoche, who had already visited the school in 2019, women's (respective women association) festivals in the villages of Mune and Raru.
Everything brought us closer together. Communication became more familiar, more open, so that difficulties and problems could also be exchanged, e.g. the climate change and its impact on the houses and school buildings, which were built by using traditional clay construction methods. The children's hostel, for example, had been damaged by massive rainfall and is now rebuilt with the admirable efforts of many participants and 11 Nepali workers.
We also noticed how dynamically and quickly the processes of change are taking place here. Ladakh- Zanskar is no longer subject to the state of Jammu & Kashmir, but has been independent since 2019, i.e. it is now directly subject to the Indian Government in Delhi. A lot of money is now being pumped into the previously neglected region, mainly for an enormous increase in road construction. Roads now criss-cross the landscape everywhere. 2019, still hiking, high above the Pensi-La, part of the former great Zanskar-Trek, everything is now accessible by car. The trekking routes have been largely destroyed, with hardly any hikers coming to Raru and passing by the school. The Lugnak
Valley is accessible from Padum to Manali via the Shingo-La, the high mountain pass that connects Ladakh with the state of Himachal Pradesh.
This is just one example of the rapidly expanding road network. In the main village of Padum, the
changes are particularly radical. The existing village road will soon be replaced by a 4-lane Expressway. All houses and stores on both sides will be taken down and we have already seen the beginnings. The people are apparently well paid for it.
We thought and talked a lot about this rapid change. There are certainly a number of positive aspects of the renewal, many advantages and easements for the population. Quick accessibility, more security in the event of illness etc... on the other hand, we have been asking ourselves what all this does to people, what kind of effects this development has on them. There is no doubt that this pace, these rapid changes increase pressure and stress on the individual. Many are now striving to acquire land along the coveted street in order to build houses, restaurants and stores. Meanwhile, the suicide rate in Ladakh and Zanskar is also rising at an alarming rate... This all has to be considered.
Hopefully the people will enjoy the easements of life, but remain alert and mindful of the things that are so progressive and preserve their special quality of heart.
With these rich impressions and experiences, we said goodbye early morning, setting out on the road above the school towards Leh. Everybody was present for welcome. We hugged, laughed, cried, were quiet and kept eye contact for as long as we could... The really good thing is that the school is running well. Everyone has become independent, responsible and competent. Julay... see you at ????