The first traces of
human activity in Zanskar seem to go back as far as the Bronze-age.
Petroglyphs attributed to that period suggest that their creators
were steppe hunters of central Asia living between Kazakstan and
China. It is then suspected that an Indo-European population known
as the «Mon» might have lived in this region before
being fused with, or replaced by, the next settlers, the Dards.
Early Buddhism coming from Kashmir spread it's influence in Zanskar
maybe as early as 200 BC. The earliest monuments date from the
Kushan period (100 BC - 500 AD). After this eastward propagation
of Buddhism, Zanskar and a large part of Western Himalaya were
overrun in the 7 th century by the Tibetan who imposed their then
animistic «Bon» religion.
its influence over Zanskar in the 8th century when Tibet was also
converted to this religion. Between the 10th and 11th centuries,
two Royal Houses were founded in Zanskar and the monasteries of
Karsha and Phugtal (fig 1.8) were erected. Until the 15th century
Zanskar existed as a more or less independent Buddhist Kingdom
ruled by between two and four related royal families. Since the
15th century Zanskar however became subordinated to Ladakh, sharing
its fortunes and misfortunes. In 1822, a coalition from Kulu,
Lahoul and Kinnaur invaded Zanskar, plundering the country and
destroying the Royal palace at Padum. From 1842 onward Zanskar
and Ladakh became part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
In the mid-20th century,
border conflicts between India, Pakistan and China caused Ladakh
and Zanskar to be closed to foreigners. During these wars Ladakh
lost two thirds of its original territory, leaving Baltistan to
Pakistan and the Askai Chin to China. Ladakh and Zanskar, despite
a tumultuous history of internal wars and external aggressions,
never lost their cultural and religious heritage since the 8th
century. Thanks to its adherence to the Indian Union, it is also
one of the rare regions in the Himalaya where the traditional
Tibetan culture, society and buildings survived the Chinese Cultural
Revolution. In the last 20 years, the opening of a road and the
massive influx of tourists and researchers however caused many
changes in the traditionnal social organisation of Zanskar.