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A new bridge for a new year - Zanskar twig bridge finished!

By Mountain Kingdoms on 31 Jan 2014
Categories: India, Office news, Responsible Tourism

A new bridge for a new year - Zanskar twig bridge finished!

2014 has got off to a great start at Mountain Kingdoms - our twig bridge project in Zanskar is complete!

Over the past 5 years Mountain Kingdoms MD Steve Berry has raised £3000 to restore a traditional twig bridge in Padum and preserve an ancient culture. The project was overseen by the local King Punchok Dawa.

Zanskar is a small Tibetan Buddhist kingdom located in Ladakh, north west Indian Himalaya, and locked away from the outside world by snowed-up passes for all but a few months in the summer. Work has taken place on the bridge in winter when the river below is frozen and conditions can reach -30oC.

Now completed, it is an extraordinary structure which can be used by locals and trekkers alike. The twig bridge will form part of a new Mountain Kingdoms trek in Zanskar in September 2014. Kingdom of Zanskar Trek

Steve made the journey to Zanskar last year to check on the progress of  the bridge. He is thrilled to hear that his labour of love, linking  Wotton-under-Edge with remote northern India, has now been completed. He says:

“How amazing - I built a bridge of twigs with a king in a tiny Himalayan kingdom!!”

A family affair

Steve Berry, has had a long association with the Kingdom of Zanskar. In 1946 his father, Major Roy Berry, attempted to make the first ascent of the highest peak in Ladakh, Mount Nun (7,135m / 23,410 ft). At the end of the expedition Roy went exploring up to the Kingdom of Zanskar. He is seen here in a photo crossing a traditional bridge made of twigs.

In 1981 Steve Berry and his brother, Richard, together with some climbing friends from Bristol, went back and finished the job off, making the first British ascent of Nun. This was the first British expedition to visit the area since Steve’s father’s visit in 1946. At the end of their expedition, the two brothers also travelled up into Zanskar. Steve later on became friends with one of the Kings of the small kingdom, Gyalpo (precious ruler) Punchok Dawa.

Preserving an ancient skill

With the advent of a summer jeep track into the kingdom, and the introduction of electricity, slowly but surely the old traditional ways began to disappear.  Many of the traditional twig bridges were replaced by steel cable suspension bridges, or even metal girder bridges.  It has now reached a point where only three of these traditional bridges are still in existence and after crossing two of the most remote bridges on a trekking expedition Steve Berry realised they were in a very poor condition. As twig bridges have a lifetime of 12 to 15 years Steve realised it would not be long before they disappeared for good. Meeting up with his old friend Punchok Dawa, Steve discovered there are still old men with the knowledge and skills to rebuild the twig bridges.   
 
A plan began to emerge in which Steve offered to raise money, if Punchok could obtain the necessary permits. Punchok already owned the land on either side of one of the bridges in the main township of Padum. In fact the new bridge cross the Zanskar River 200 yards from Punchok’s house!


The Zanskar Bridge Project is complete

With permits granted and money raised, a completely traditional Zanskari bridge of interwoven twigs now crosses the river in Padum. It is hoped that this bridge will encourage the construction and restoration of other similar bridges in the kingdom.  
  

The bridge may be built, but the project is not over yet…
Longterm the aim is also to build a small visitor centre next to the bridge with pictures and narrative showing how the bridges are made, and giving historical background regarding the kingdom and the ancestry of Punchok Dawa, who is a direct descendent from the early kings of Tibet.


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Zanskar bridge 07.JPG
 


Zanskar bridge 11.jpg
 

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