On a lake outside the monastery at Sani is a new statue of Padmasambhava, Guru Rinpoche
Zanskar is a mountainous region on the southern edge of Ladakh, which itself is at the northern tip of India between Kashmir and Tibet-China. The small triangular plain of the Zanskar river valley near the town of Padum is home to the two large monasteries of Karsha and Stongde and the nunnery of Zangla. There are many other Buddhist monasteries and nunneries in the region including Bardan and Muney. More about Karsha monastery.
Until recently Zanskar was totally cut off for half the year by winter snow; the only driveable track was along the Suru valley that leads northwest to Kargil - a rough journey that takes you past glaciers and the wonderful but cold monastery of Rangdum. Even 25 years ago this journey could only be made on foot. To the east and south from Padum a new dirt road is replacing the old trekking route to Keylong. This route takes you near the rockface monastery of Phuktal.
Two years ago another new dirt track replaced the old trekking route north from Padum to Lamayuru - a journey we made on foot over 8 days in 2008. In autumn '22 we drove along this new road; it defied possibility as it plummeted down to the Zanskar river but is testimony and determination of the Indian road builders.
These new roads open up the interior of Ladakh and Zanskar and bring change, some welcome, some not. But the main reason is to provide alternate routes for the Indian army to supply forces to the border areas of dispute - with Pakistan to the north west and China to the east, both regarded as volatile flash points and threats to stability in the region.
This whole area is associated with the 8th century sage Padmasambhava who meditated in caves near here. Padmasambhava was instumental in bringing Buddhism to Tibet where, like here, he's known as Guru Rinpoche, holy precious teacher. Both a historical and mythical figure, Padmasambhava is regarded by the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism as the second Buddha; his name means Lotus Born.
Sani monastery is on the route to the west at the beginning of the Suru valley. It houses the oldest stupa in Ladakh and Zanskar and just outside the monastery is a huge Padmasambhava statue in the middle of a lake.
On the opposite hillside in the photo above you can make out a rough white triangle with black holes - these are meditation caves still in use by the Sani villagers; either for periods of solitary meditatioin but apparently there is space for about a dozen people gathering for the annual Padmasambhava festival.