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The regions of Ladakh and Zanskar
Forbidden to foreigners up until 1974, the high valleys of Ladakh and Zanskar are situated in the far north of India, between China and Pakistan, at altitudes from 3000 to 6000 meters, along the rivers Indus, Suru and Doda.
They are the highest inhabited valleys of the world.

The access to these valleys is very difficult in the summer and completely impossible in the winter. The climate is very dry with very strong winds and extremely harsh variations in temperature, going from oppressive heat in the short summer season to extreme cold (-30° to -40°) during the 8 months of winter.
The harshness of the climate is increased by the fact that the high summits of the Himalaya and the Karakoram range make a natural barrier to the monsoon. The level of precipitation is very low, streams are only fed by the melting of snow and glaciers.
This network of streams and rivers are the only source of irrigation for farm land.

The main routes of these valleys are near 4000 meters and one must frequently cross over passes between 5000 and 6000 meters. The villages, spread out over 300 km, completely isolated in the winter, are tucked in below imposing monasteries which have preserved their Buddhist traditions.

Under Indian administration since 1947, these two provinces make up a semi-autonomous district of the state of Jammu and Cashmere.
China took over part of the territory during the annexation of Tibet. Pakistan has taken another part.
This strained situation has obliged India to constantly station over 150'000 soldiers in the region.
The Ladakhis are Lamaist Buddhists for the majority. They have taken in numerous Tibetan refugees since the Chinese attack.
On the other hand, Islamic influence is spilling over from Cashmere. This cohabitation is the root of new tensions in the region of Kargil.

carte du Zanskar-Peuples-Himalaya

Population
There are approximately 150'000 inhabitants in these regions, spread out in villages of different sizes grouping from 1 to 25 families.
Child mortality is very high, the average life expectancy is 42 years.
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Way of life
The inhabitants have neither running water nor electricity.
They live in autarky, making the best of the 3 months favorable to farming to stock up enough for the survival of man and beast during the long winter.
This labor is mainly done by the women and children from an early age. At these high altitudes, an important part of farm work is carrying heavy loads. This brings on premature aging.
Only a few families own a few animals (yak, dzoo, sheep, goat)

Lack of hygiene and vitamin deficiency are the main causes of health problems.
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Economy
These people have no revenue. During the 3-4 months of summer, they farm and concentrate on the harvest. They do not produce anything that could bring them regular revenue. Only the annual sale of a few animals brings in the rare extra money.

Winter paralyzes communication between the villages. Under up to 9 meters of snow (2004/05) no activity is possible. The inhabitants can depend only on themselves, schools are closed, isolation is complete.

In the summer months, there is some tourism. Treks are organized by a few agencies in Leh, the capital of Ladakh, or in Delhi, proposing the crossing of Ladakh and Zanskar to Padum. Unfortunately, this activity only benefits a few and has very little positive influence on the local populations.

These provinces receive their budget from the states of Jammu and Cashmere whose population is more than 95% Muslim or Hindu. The most important positions are very rarely given to the Ladakhis or the Zanskaris, mostly Buddhists. They are considered a small minority.
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Education
Since 2001, the Indian government has launched a program to build schools, usally rough buildings without any equipment or furnishings. In practice, each village has a primary school, often an old dark building out of the way.
The school system is rudimentary. The students sit on the earth floor, the teachers have no supplies, no equipment, not even a table.

Secondary schools require a long trip to a boarding school. This extra difficulty does not help in raising the very low level of schooling.
In general, one child per family goes off to boarding school to continue in secondary school. For this child, an almost initiatory voyage begins that can take two weeks. Accompanied by the father and sometimes a friend, they can walk for 200 km through the snow and freezing weather to reach the school, which starts in March. The only way to cross these valleys at that time of the year is to follow the frozen river beds along their treacherous banks.
The children only return to their families once a year or every other year.

The lack of scholarships and the loss of farm labor for the families results in very few children continuing their studies past 14 years.

In addition, the families having no revenue, they cannot buy the minimum school supplies: books, notebooks, binders, school bags, uniforms.