I've just received some news from Zanskar, in particular the details of a reasonably dramatic event that took place in the first week of December last year. Although a bit late I thought I would relay the general gist of the story here.
Every year, when the Pensi La first closes, there are always a number of Zanskaris gathered in Kargil trying to return home by road or infrequent helicopter service. This year was no different and by the first week of December there was quite a build-up of Zanskaris waiting for news on the latest travel conditions. Fortunately, because the snowfall had been relatively light there was a chance that the Pensi La might reopen allowing a brief window of opportunity for people to travel home by road. This indeed turned out to be the case and after hearing confirmation on local radio around 30 Tata Sumos, both hired and private, left Kargil crammed full of Zanskaris. I can picture the convoy; jackets and gonchas squashed against steamy glass, the smell of a leaking jerry can, and the incessant noise of Ladakhi pop music (try as I might I still can't stand most forms of Ladakhi music).
The road condition was however much worse than expected and the vehicles floundered on the pass. Many of the vehicles were still travelling in convoy and once stuck a number of groups left the vehicles and started walking. The Zanskaris spent what was described as a 'chilly' night on the pass with little equipment for such an adventure. Groups tried to shift the snow manually to get the vehicles through but the wind drifted snow back across the road as fast as it was removed.
Eventually those that walked across were met the following day by a 'rescue party' sent from the Zanskar side (I have no idea how this was coordinated, maybe by mobile phone, or the radio post at Rangdum?) and they finally arrived in Central Zanskar almost 48 hours after leaving Kargil. An epic journey by all accounts but no doubt taken in the stride of most Zanskaris involved.
Although not superhuman Zanskaris are generally tough and resourceful. Even in the worst situations they also manage to laugh. For example someone losing a glove in the wind, or falling over whilst trying to clear snow for a Sumo's wheel would have brought the house down!
Their journey home puts the recent snow chaos in the UK into perspective. Next time I look out of the window wondering if a gritter has gone by I'll spare a thought for dramas unfolding on the Pensi La!