Amid the collossal but barren Greater Himalayan ranges surrounding the picturesque valley of Zanskar, at an elevation of approximately 14,000 feet, in the remote nunnery of Dorje Zong for novice Buddhist nuns who begin their journey very early in life to practice infinite compassion, away from their respective families and villages. Zanskar is the subdistrict of the hotly contested Kargil district in the eastern half of Jammu & Kashmir.
In a world where stereotypes are being shattered every day, my photo essay showcases how young girls – under the supervision of a caretaker nun – lead self-sustaining lives and follow stringent routines in harsh conditions and pristine environments high up in the Himalayas. Away from their families and villages from a young age, these precious, compassionate and diligent nuns are a symbol of strength and they’re diligence is inspirational to all regardless of gender.
Along with the neighboring region of Ladakh, Zanskar formerly belonged to Western Tibet or Guge. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has stressed on the fact that in areas of modern subjects, Tibetans lag behind. His Holiness further explains that these modern subjects are taught in English and even many Indians can’t specialise in any of the modern subjects like Science, Economics, Environmental Studies, unless they pursue it in English. Even though the nuns don’t necessarily specialise in any of the modern subjects, it’s important to note that even the basics of Science and Geography are all taught from textbooks inscribed in English and there aren’t textbooks in Bodhi/Ladakhi for this. Even if there are such textbooks, the nuns in remote monasteries and villages have no access to them. Hindi isn’t prominent too but its basics are taught. They are hungry to learn the ways of the world but are not able to due to the lack of a decent educational institute. Jamyang Foundation bridges this gap by sending in volunteers for a month.
Like Dorje Zong, are extremely remote and far away from villages, health centers and even simple grocery/vegetable markets. Volunteer teachers arrive sporadically, rarely one after the other, disrupting the progress the novice nuns make and this is without factoring in the harsh winters where temperatures fall below -30 degrees Celsius, blocking all the roads to and from Zanskar with a thick layer of snow and ice. (The infamous “Chadar Trek” happens on the frozen Zanskar River).
Undoubtedly, reaching Dorje Dzong is an adventure by itself. The only way to reach Padum by road is from Kargil, taking over 14 hours to travel around 240 kilometers on a road cutting across the mountains (running adjacent to the base of the insurmountable peaks of Nun & Kun) which was constructed around 4 decades ago thereby connecting Zanskar to the rest of the state. Despite it’s benefits, this road has caused a massive influx of tourists and researchers, and is arguably responsible for altering the relatively simple, peaceful and spiritual existence. From Padum, Dorje Dzong is another hour’s drive uphill. On the way lies the famous Karsha monastery which was established in the 11th Century.
This series provides a short-term narrative on the selfless, hardworking, humorous and precious novice nuns pursuing a spiritual journey, leading self-sustaining lifestyles and showing nothing but love to one-another and all in their path. Through these photos, I hope some viewers embark on an adventure, and go to such remote nunneries at such beautiful locations to help educate nuns to further empower them with knowledge.