Reports are coming through that the Pensi La has already received its first snowfall. I wonder if this heralds an early winter, or perhaps by claiming such a thing I am just getting carried away with unfounded media-type speculation! No doubt it made the last few die-hard migrant workers think, I suspect taxis were hurriedly commissioned by Biharis and Jharkandis heading for warmer climes.
Speaking of which I was fascinated and somewhat shocked to recently see that the summer population of Padum's Mane Ringmo is now dominated by migrant workers. Zanskaris were pretty much a minority in this area and in addition I am sure some Ladakh commentators would have been horrified by the number of leather jacket and sunglass toting youth. I must admit the condition of Mane Ringmo made me begin to agree with the descriptions that Padum often receives in guidebooks covering the area. The commercial end of Padum is now pretty bad, it's swamped by an inappropriate number of vehicles and concrete shops (many of which are permanently closed), not to mention the oversized and colourful pitched roofed guesthouses that would look more at home in Manali. Padum is in desperate need of a development plan, otherwise I fear it will make all the same mistakes that were made in Leh. Saying that at least in Leh most of the guest houses have been built along traditional lines. I understand that Zanskar might have a greater need for pitched roofs but do they really need to be bright green, and cannot a corrugated pitch be disguised beneath the parapet of a traditional flat roof?
I have just returned from Zanskar and having just rafted the Zanskar river I can report that progress on the chaddar road continues to be painfully slow. At the Zanskar end the road-head is now 1.5KM downriver of Tserac Do (the Oma Chu junction). At the Chilling end the road-head is around 1.5KM downriver of Tilad Do (the Kharnak river junction). This leaves around 50KM of gorge untouched and at the present rate of progress I would optimistically estimate a good ten to fifteen years before completion (probably more). Having rafted the river with a HIMANK crew in 2004 I recall watching their optimism drain out of the boat as rounding bend upon bend revealed either formidable cliffs or steep loose scree. The project is ambitious to say the least, I don't doubt that it will be completed at some point, but I wouldn't like to say when. The chaddar is however getting shorter, especially at the Chilling end where the road is already making the journey much easier/quicker.
A common belief in Zanskar is that relations with Pakistan have to deteriorate before construction speeds up. One must also remember that the current road plans were conceived under a BJP government and priorities have since changed.
Black topping 0.5KM downriver of Tserac Do
The true road-head 1.5 KM downriver of Tserac Do. You can see three yellow generators in the U-cut.