India (July-August 2018, August 2019): Monasteries and Cheese Making around Padum


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Between the two legs of my 2018 trek I spent two days in the Padum area visiting several monasteries, as well as a small cheese-making facility owned by Sonam Dawa (the organizer of my trek). Most of the following photos have been taken then.


In 2019, I added a few photos of pre-Tibetan Buddhist statues in Sani taken after my 2019 trek.


Karsha gompa:

Located 9km north of Padum above the village of Karsha, this Buddhist monastery is the largest in Zanskar and under the control of the younger brother of the Dalai Lama. Its oldest sections date back to the 11th century. A nunnery, the Chuchik Jal nunnery, stands on the opposite side of the canyon (see below).







Oldest building at the top of the monastery.



View over the lower part of the monastery and the Karsha village from the upper part of the monastery.


View over the Padum valley from the upper part of the monastery, with Padum visible at the center-left of the photo below the mountain range in the background.


Zoom on the mountain range above Padum.


Inside the main prayer hall of the monastery.


Shakamuni Buddha

Maitreva Buddha


In the oldest rooms of the monastery.









Kitchen of the monastery.


Chuchik Jal nunnery:

Young nuns.


View over some structures of the Karsha gompa, with elements of the nunnery in the forefront.


View from the top of the nunnery.


The most interesting part of the nunnery is an 11th-century block consisting of a chorten (with bas-relief scultures) and a small gompa.






Sani gompa:

The Sani gompa is built on flat terrain, next to the village of Sani (9km northwest of Padum). It consists of a large prayer hall surrounded by a rectangular corridor of prayer wheels, built in the 17th century. The oldest structure of the gompa is the Kanika chorten believed to date back from the 2nd century (during the Kushan empire); it stands behind the prayer hall building.


Entrance of the gompa.


Immediately after entering the building, the visitor is greeted by this suggestive carving hanging from the roof.


Surrounding corridor of prayer wheels.


Door opening into the prayer hall with wall paintings on its sides.


In the prayer hall.







Hats for Cham dance (a.k.a. Black Hat dance).


Left and center: Old Kanika chorten in the back of the gompa. Right: Carved stone (~100kg) that strong Buddhists carry on their backs while circumambulating the stupa. The shorten is believed to belong to the early Kushan period, before Buddhism reached Tibet.


Old Buddhist statues in Sani (photos taken in 2019):

Traveling in Ladakh-Zanskar, one would easily believe that Buddhism arrived to the region from Tibet. In fact, most of the local Buddhist Ladakis and Zanskaris believe so. But there are quite a few remains (including the above Kanika chorten) that show that Buddhism was present in the region much earlier, before it even reached Tibet. During my 2019 trip I met a French archeologist in Padum, who told me there were pre-Tibetan Buddhist statues next to the Sani gompa. So, at the end of my trip I stopped there to see them.






Cheese making in Shagar:

On my way to Zongkhul gompa, I stopped in the village of Shagar (~15km northwest of Padum) where Sonam Dawa owns a house with a small cheese-making facility. Once formed, the cheese tomes are kept for up to 2 years in an underground structure.



Tommes in the underground structure. As they get older tommes turn from white to yellowish.


Two-year old tommes.


Zongkhul gompa:

Located some 22km northwest of Padum this gompa was founded in the 11th century and built under a large cliff in the valley of the Malung Togpo (river). I started the second leg of my 2018 trek (the crossing of Umasi La) from this gompa. My support team and I spent the night before the trek in the small guesthouse attached to the gompa.





In the cave where the gompa′s founder is believed to have meditated.



In the prayer hall.




Young monk bringing back yak dung from the valley.


Chortens in the gompa complex.


Smaller structure nested into the cliff above the gompa, used for meditation.




One of the rooms in this structure hosts old beautiful mural paintings and statues.


Views over the valley of the Malung Togpo, the beginning of our trek on the next day.





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