Tues 29 July  Pishu to Karsha 
We say goodbye to Kisang. It’s late and already hot when we set off in the jeeps. After less than a mile we stop in the beautiful village of Pishu. A photographer’s dream for any enthusiast of vernacular architecture and we would like to have stayed longer. Numerous stupas, houses built on flat ground with no discernable layout; animal paddocks and a dairy.
The drive along the rough track to Karsha takes an hour. The large, 11th century Gelupga monastery comes into view clinging to the steep rocky hillside. The valley opens wide opposite Padum, oval fields are ripening into different colours, snow capped Zanskar mountains behind. It turns out that the festival, which we’d timed our trip around, has been put back until tomorrow. We camp next to a shop in the centre of the village opposite the main prayer whtibetan mask festival
eel and climb the long steep steps to the gompa. We walk through stupas sitting astride the path. Their ceilings are painted with mandalas. Large prayer wheels are housed in buildings just large enough to walk round. There are several rooms with fine paintings, statues and silk hangings. Young monks and old monks are hanging about with an air of expectancy. The walls of one balcony are painted a beautiful shade of blue, unusual for Zanskar. The top prayer rooms are very beautiful, they’ve been cleaned and carpeted, new butter sculptures stand in front of the glass cased Buddhas, yellow and marroon robes are piled in the centre of the room. We’re given delicious tsampa cakes flavoured with honey, ginger and cinnamon. In the lower prayer room we meet the Australian girl and the Zangla nuns, here for tomorrow’s festival.

Later in the afternoon we walk back up to the courtyard for the rehearsals for tomorrow’s masked dance festival. Tomorrow will be busy and more colourful, the monks will be wearing masks and costumes, but being here for rehearsals is in some ways better, we can see the monk’s expressions and there’s almost no-one else here. Two teenage boys blow the Dung Chen, the long Tibetan horns; on the opposite wall older monks sit in a row with drums and cymbals creating the profound and discordant sounds that appear to come from deep inside the earth and at the same time seem to challenge the earth’s existence. The slow, but periodically frenetic, dances around the central prayer flag in the centre of the courtyard are enacted to the rythym of the music. Ray and Odette arrive in the late afternoon, they’ll stay for tomorrow, we have to continue our journey.
In the evening we drive across the river to use the STD phone in Padum. What a shock after the quiet villages and landscapes of the last two weeks. Padum is a scruffy frontier town of trucks, drivers and grim provision shops. Maybe it looks better in daylight. Or maybe worse.
We hear music during the night, people are getting ready for the festival.

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Zanskar - Pishu to Karsha

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