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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. Zanksar is the subdistrict of the hotly contested Kargil district in the eastern half of Jammu & Kashmir. 

Along with the neighboring region of Ladakh, Zanskar formerly belonged to Western Tibet or Guge. Quoted from His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama's speech on March 27, 2006 in Dharamsala, "In the area of modern knowledge, Tibetans have lagged extremely behind. There are many aspects of modern education. They include science, law, economics, environment, etc. But, leave alone Tibetans, even the Indians find it most difficult to gain expertise in specialised modern subjects without pursuing 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. 

Due to the lack of decent contemporary educational institutions; English, Mathematics, and other basic skills in modern subjects like Science and Geography are not taught well enough to the nuns. Jamyang Foundation tries to bridge this gap, especially for nuns (women), by bringing in volunteers to teach for month-long periods but it’s not the same for most monastic establishments. Some, 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. More importantly, this is a diary of my journey spiritually as I travel from a dark space, to a place disconnected from the world, to be a little more enlightened in the journey filled with the unconditional love of nuns who wanted me to stay 'for at least 3 more months’. Through these photographs, I'd like the viewers to delve deeper into the unknown and be motivated to take time from their busy and urbanised schedules and possibly go volunteer and visit other nunneries like Dorje Dzong.


Below: With the storm approaching, the nuns wrap up their mattresses and belongings in plastic and put down boxes of weight to hold them.

Copyright © 2021 Gautam Doshi


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