Gallery - Past Exhibitions - 2001 - Zanskar
(Click image for slideshow)
In the late summer of 2001 I travelled with my brother and three other friends in a 300 kilometre trek into the heart of the Himalayan Mountains in North India. Here we spent a month exploring the ancient world of the Tibetan Buddhists in the isolated mountain enclave called Zanskar. Bounded by Pakistan and Tibet, this northern most region of India has become accessible to the outside world, only recently, as even the ancient trade routes didn't penetrate it's solitude.
The inhabitants of its small villages, at elevations of around 15,000 feet, engage in agricultural practices and live in a manner that could only accurately be described as biblical. Today a narrow footpath, which is passable for a brief period in the summer months is the only connection Zanskar has to the outside world. Blockading it from the rest of the world, is a fortress of three great mountain ranges; the Pir Panjal, the Great Himalayan and the Zanskar, which has cut the area off to such an extent that it has been called one of the most isolated, inhabited places on earth. (read Where Heaven and Mountains Meet, by Olivier Follmi, 1999, Thames and Hudson) Conversely, this fact has recently and rapidly propelled the area into one of the lesser travelled, premier adventure treks in the world.
In Zanskar the Tibetan Buddhists rich culture and beliefs is one of only three places where it still survives. Their religion is not an imposed dogma to control people's behaviour, rather it is a way of living which permeates all aspects of life. Symbols of this are seen every where, from glowing chortens (a large cairn holding the remains of holy men and prayer objects) that stud the mountain valleys, to hundreds of mani walls, containing thousands upon thousands of engraved prayer stones. Monasteries, built like wasp nests to mountain sides, thousands of prayer flags fluttering over mountain passes, monks on their journeys to enlightenment and prayer wheels spinning in the thin mountain air are all part of every day life.
This way of life is threatened in Zanskar, as in other Himalayan locations in part because of the Tibetan Buddhists belief in openness and compassion to others. Until now, probably only the area's extreme isolation has allowed them to retain their way of life.
Although the extraordinary Himalayan landscape is spectacular, it is the wisdom, customs and religious beliefs of the people who live there that have defined this "hidden kingdom" for a thousand years.
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