Pensi La remains open!

Although the Srinagar Leh highway closed several weeks ago the road to Padum from Kargil remains open! 'Cloudy weather' is reported and at this time of year a snowfall would probably close the pass until next spring. However, if the snow-free conditions remain the chaddar will not be the only route in and out of Zangskar this winter! Potential chaddar-trekkers not wanting to retrace their route should be aware as this will be much cheaper than chartering a helicopter!

Apologies to anyone on the RSS feed - news from Zangskar is increasingly sporadic so I will make a decision on continuing this news feature in the new year.

J&K Police summit on Nun and the IMF arrive in Leh.

A small article in the Daily Excelsior claims that J&K Police have recently summited on Nun, one of Zangskar's two 7000m peaks. The team summited several days before the IMF (Indian Mountaineering Foundation) announced the opening of a branch office in Leh. Reported in Magpie, the office is arriving in Leh to make it easier for local agencies to apply for permissions for Stok Kangri (although personally I think the office is designed to capture revenue as the majority of foreigners that climb Stok Kangri usually do so without permission). However, the IMF have made the refreshing move (that's the second one documented on these news pages) to reduce the fee for Stok Kangri to Rs2000 per head. Perhaps of more interest for budding mountaineers who do not want to queue, is that the IMF has also announced the opening of 100 new peaks for mountaineering expeditions in Ladakh. I suspect however the red-tape will be the usual turn-off for all but the most determined and wealthy teams, although I would love to be proved wrong.

Zanskar's locusts are on the decline?

After a drought in communication I received a snippet of information yesterday. Good news for most of Zanskar's farmers! There are reports that the locust infestation in Zanskar is nowhere near as severe as last year. Many farmers are expecting to have a good harvest having benefited from favourable conditions this summer. The only village where the harvest is expected to be poor is Kumi, which in recent years has also suffered from unreliable irrigation water. It is not clear whether Kumi's expected poor crop is due to locust or poor water. Many Zanskaris are attributing the decline of the locust to the pujas carried out last year by monasteries and prominent religious figures.

A little clarification on Zanskar's additional Kargil LAHDC seats

From informal discussions with several friends in Zanskar it appears that the recent decision to award additional seats on Kargil LAHDC results from the continued refusal of Zanskari Councillors to integrate fully with the workings of the Hill Development Council. Two of the additional (electoral) seats for Zanskar were apparently agreed some time ago and had not been instated, the third seat, which has only recently been confirmed, will be awarded to Zanskar's Sunni Muslim minority (that constitutes the majority in Zanskar's administrative capital Padum). The candidate for this seat will be decided amongst the Sunni community and will not be open to competition (from Zanskar's Buddhists) through the usual electoral process.

The good news for Zanskar is that three additional Councillors increases the investment in the Sub-Division. Each Councillor has an annual budget of 18 Lakh Rupees at their disposal; combined with the 20 Crore of the Development Authority, Zanskar has the potential to further expand their development activities. Lets hope this money is invested wisely...

Increased representation for Zanskar on Kargil LAHDC

Zanskar has been awarded three more seats on Kargil LAHDC, bringing their total to 6 (although with the inclusion of Executive Councillor, Tourism and Industries, Sonam Namgyal, Zanskar will have a total of seven representatives on the LAHDC Kargil). Reported in a number of publications, including T Morup's excellent 'The Magpie', the granting of three additional seats caused so much dissatisfaction amongst Kargil District's Muslim majority that a general strike was called last Sunday (13th May). The bone of contention is that more populated areas of Kargil District were overlooked in favour of (Buddhist majority) Zanskar Sub-Division.

Although I would generally support Zanskar's corner (Kargil administration more often that not gives Zanskar a rough ride), I do have a degree of sympathy for Kargil's disgruntled majority. In a District of around 120,000 people, Zanskaris constitute just over 12,000. Yet, per capita, Zanskaris now command approximately twice as many Councillor seats than any other Kargil Block. To give credit to Zanskar there are many people on the ground who have been fighting for more representation since the granting of LAHDC status to Kargil in 2003. The realist in me wonders why Kargil has made this seemingly generous political move. Perhaps word on the ground will shed more light on this - I'm heading out to Zanskar in a weeks time.

Signing off until July.