One way to logically string a tour together in Zanskar is to watch for monastery festivals. If you’re that type. Basically, monastery festivals are heavily gatecrashed by foreign tourists with cameras. And also Indians, but we know by now this is the only part on earth where foreigners could outnumber locals.
5-6 kms from Padum is the Sani gompa. The one conservatively built monastery in the entire area. It is at ground level. They probably built it on a mountain, and brought everything around it to its level.
Sani has a festival in July, just like Karsha and Zongkul (the only one I couldn’t visit). Annoyingly, pretty much everyone in and around Padum wants to be there. Obnoxious photography is a killjoy and when you see people from all around the world hounding locals for pictures, it is best to think before planning for this. Strangely, the visitors look seasoned, as if they’ve practically lived in Zanskar all their lives. Yet, they find the rather mundane cultural event interesting enough to turn up as an ass. Some do a customary jooley and stuff lenses up monks’ and old women’s faces. Some climb monastery walls to get a better photograph. Unless they are professionals wishing to sell these it makes no sense why anyone would go to such ridiculous levels to take pictures. Anyway, the cultural event involves some people dancing with masks on. If that works for you…
Let’s get to the most interesting aspect of Padum this summer. There was a communal disturbance that lasted few days. Padum is a Buddhist-dominated place with a small part of Muslims thrown in. As you might imagine, there is harmony in the air for most of the time, when the ice sets in and nobody gets out of their homes. Of the other four months, it appears, they spend a month fighting each other. Last year the town was shut for 20 days after, in newspaper parlance, some members of one community converted to become members of the other community. This year, they found another reason to shut shop… and break it.
After a Buddhist girl eloped with a Muslim boy to Srinagar, some hell broke loose. A procession started in Padum (led ironically by the monk from Stongde who’d explained the significance of the elephant, monkey, rabbit and bird story). Most of Padum was there, including a baker who reminds you of a young Danny Denzongpa. It fizzled out the first day after some random hai hai’s aimed at the administration. The next day, proper hell broke loose.
The girl was brought back to Padum. After some rather tedious negotiation attempts when it became clear that there was no law which supported their circumstance, it was time to start breaking loose. If your views aren’t backed by solid legal points, better get hold of stones. Window panes were the first obvious casualties. A new restaurant called Potala was hammered beyond recognition. Some cars had their windscreen smashed. It must have been good fun, until the police came in.
One newspaper reported that some policemen were kept hostage by the mob. Maybe that explains why they opened fire and injured a guy. And also imposed curfew in Padum. The curfew just went on for couple of more days. Everything would be shut until about 6 in the evening when the impending iftar relaxed the town a bit. And then it was back to the quiet. Last heard, the girl agreed to stay back and not jump religions.
For a place which only has four months in a year for social contacts, they spend an awful amount of time squabbling. Outside this mountainworld, in your mainland, you may not have read this news anywhere, but Kargil was abuzz thanks to the scandal. Everyone wanted to know what the situation was. Strange, as hardly anyone goes to Zanskar.