Valid HTML 4.01!

1.4 History

The first traces of human activity in Zanskar seem to go back as far as the Bronze-age. Petroglyphs attributed to that period suggest that their creators were steppe hunters of central Asia living between Kazakstan and China. It is then suspected that an Indo-European population known as the «Mon» might have lived in this region before being fused with, or replaced by, the next settlers, the Dards. Early Buddhism coming from Kashmir spread it's influence in Zanskar maybe as early as 200 BC. The earliest monuments date from the Kushan period (100 BC - 500 AD). After this eastward propagation of Buddhism, Zanskar and a large part of Western Himalaya were overrun in the 7 th century by the Tibetan who imposed their then animistic «Bon» religion.

Buddhism regained its influence over Zanskar in the 8th century when Tibet was also converted to this religion. Between the 10th and 11th centuries, two Royal Houses were founded in Zanskar and the monasteries of Karsha and Phugtal (fig 1.8) were erected. Until the 15th century Zanskar existed as a more or less independent Buddhist Kingdom ruled by between two and four related royal families. Since the 15th century Zanskar however became subordinated to Ladakh, sharing its fortunes and misfortunes. In 1822, a coalition from Kulu, Lahoul and Kinnaur invaded Zanskar, plundering the country and destroying the Royal palace at Padum. From 1842 onward Zanskar and Ladakh became part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

In the mid-20th century, border conflicts between India, Pakistan and China caused Ladakh and Zanskar to be closed to foreigners. During these wars Ladakh lost two thirds of its original territory, leaving Baltistan to Pakistan and the Askai Chin to China. Ladakh and Zanskar, despite a tumultuous history of internal wars and external aggressions, never lost their cultural and religious heritage since the 8th century. Thanks to its adherence to the Indian Union, it is also one of the rare regions in the Himalaya where the traditional Tibetan culture, society and buildings survived the Chinese Cultural Revolution. In the last 20 years, the opening of a road and the massive influx of tourists and researchers however caused many changes in the traditionnal social organisation of Zanskar.


Royal Palace in Leh, Ladakh
Fig. 1.7: The Royal Palace of Leh, home of the king of Ladakh, now transformed into a museum.


previous page "Livestock" next page "Etymology and Toponymy" next

©Pierre Dèzes