Letters from the Bronze Age

A postman from Ladakhs Zanskar region shares his fascination with its ancient treasure petroglyphs dating back thousands of years
Near the hamlet of Zamthang in Zanskar, the petroglyphs carry Tibetan inscriptions
Near the hamlet of Zamthang in Zanskar, the petroglyphs carry Tibetan inscriptions

My job as a postman takes me from village to village in the mountainous Lungnak Valley of Zanskar. It gives me the freedom to roam about, connect with my community and explore my fascination for petroglyphs &ndash ancient stones carved with inscriptions, dating as far back as the Bronze Age

Zanskar derives its name from the ancient Tibetan language, literally meaning &lsquorelated to copper&rsquo. Located on the shores of the mighty Zanskar River, it is only accessible by road in summer, after an 18-hour journey from Leh, with an overnight stop in Kargil Enroute lie the Penzi La Pass at 14,436 feet, and the magnificent Drang Drung Glacier.

It won&rsquot be wrong to say that Zanskar &ndash with its beautiful rivers, streams, untouched mountains and marmots &ndash is one of the least explored places on earth. Perhaps that&rsquos why it still holds many secrets behind the evolution of humans.

Since childhood, I&rsquove been fascinated with the history of mankind. The fossils and petroglyphs in my area have only escalated my curiosity. On the trekking route from my village Purne, petroglyphs can be found on the path and arranged at the entrance of each village. We consider these stones sacred. We believe they keep the evil energy away us.

Many petroglyphs tell a story. Some are engraved with local animal figures &ndash ibex, yak, blue sheep, horse and deer &ndash or scenes of hunting and horse riding. Some have been carved by travellers of yore, with different symbols, in different languages, depicting different religions.

Near the hamlet of Zamthang in Zanskar, the petroglyphs carry Tibetan inscriptions. One of them reads dge ouar bcu nang la ci Perhaps referring to the first of the ten Buddhist principles One should not kill any living being. Through petroglyphs, I&rsquove also developed a gradual interest in ancient Tibetan to understand these scriptures.

Even though the petroglyphs have survived centuries of wind and water erosion, they are not formally preserved as heritage sites. Many have already been lost to negligence or ignorance. Some have been buried due to road construction. Some are being used for advertisements

Tourism has slowly spread awareness about the hamlet of Zamthang and its Tibetan-inscribed petroglyphs. Some individuals and NGOs have initiated research and awareness campaigns too, to preserve this important part of human history.

Infact, it is said that this entire region was below the sea, millions of years ago. I learnt from a visitor that the unusual rock formations are evidence of the same. Ever since, I&rsquove been trying to find dissimilarities in the rock formations and communicate with him to understand the subject better. But to find an internet connection to interact with the outside world, I must walk for hours or ride a horse to reach the nearest road point to get a taxi for Padum, the small capital city of Zanskar

If the rock formations really reflect millions of years of history, then Zanskar is truly a living museum of the natural history of humans. As I distribute letters across the valley, I always wonder what else I&rsquoll discover along the way.

&nbspAbout the Storyteller

Choejor grew up in Zanskar's Purne village and dropped out of high school due to family responsibilities. He is an avid learner of renewable energy and related technology. He is a regular trekker, and loves to study and discover petroglyphs of the region. He likes to spend time farming and with family while not at work. He dreams of setting up his business in Zanskar.

Submitted by - Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE)

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