Just a handful of Zanskar’s widely scattered gompas and settlements lie within striking distance of the road. The rest are hidden away in remote valleys, only reachable after days or weeks of walking. Improved communications, especially planned roads from Ladakh and Lahaul that are already under construction, may yet turn out to be a mixed blessing for Zanskar. While the existing road has undoubtedly brought a degree of prosperity to Padum, it has also forced significant changes upon the valley – most noticeably a sharp increase in tourist traffic – whose long-term impact on the region’s fragile ecology and traditional culture has yet to be fully realized. Increased tourism has, in fact, done little to benefit the locals financially, with agencies in Leh, Manali, Srinagar and even Delhi pocketing the money paid by trekking groups. Zanskaris, weary of seeing their region come second to Kargil, have been campaigning for years for sub-Hill Development Council status with more control over development. Buddhist concerns have also been heightened in the face of state government mismanagement and occasional communal tensions with their Muslim neighbours. There has been some outside aid emerging – one excellent initiative is the Dutch-based foundation, which equips some of the impoverished state and monastery schools.

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