Conservation on the Roof of the World
The soft glow of butter lamps illuminates Lama Tsering as he blesses a bundle of prayer flags, aspersing them with rose water and grains of white rice. Clad in a saffron robe and enveloped in a cloud of juniper incense, he prays for the success of our mission, his rhythmic chant punctuated by the celestial chime of cymbals and the percussive strike of a small drum. Five hours ago our party was dropped off at Chiling—the road head—where we began our ten-kilometer trek to Sumda Chung, an 800-year-old monastery perched high on a hillside overlooking a snow-fed tributary of the Zanskar River in central Ladakh. Shortly after our arrival, conservators Mark Weber, Sanjay Dhar, and Sonam Wangchuk; photographer Tejbir Singh; and I presented offerings of prayer flags and incense at the main temple, removing our hiking boots before entering the sanctuary.