Well Worth the Trip: Trek to Keep Tibetan Culture Alive in Journey from Zanskar


Everything documented in Frederick Marx’s Journey from Zanskar is fraught with the potential for sensationalist and/or inspirational hokum. After all, the film traces the grueling two-week trek across the Himalayas taken by a pair of dedicated monks and a handful of children aged 4–12 in a desperate attempt to keep Tibetan culture alive in an area of northern India where it seems to be threatened. Guiding the youngsters from impoverished Zanskar to the schools and monasteries of distant Manali, the monks negotiate high altitudes, low temperatures, impassable passes and surly, drunken horsemen—yes, all the elements of an overcoming-the-odds narrative are in place. But although Marx doesn’t avoid shaping his film along these lines, he deliberately eschews any unnecessary rhetoric in favor of a rough-hewn, nose-to-the-ground documentation. When the extraordinary moments inevitably pop up (a near-fatal attempt to cross a snow-caked mountain, a bus ride over icy, cliff-hugging roads), we have no trouble grasping their significance. Although the film might be forced to rely rather heavily on Richard Gere’s narration simply to situate the Western viewer, the actor does unify a bumptious collection of material that, taken together, relates what has to be admitted is a remarkable story.