The high altitude plains of Changthang, Eastern Ladakh, are home to the Changpas, a nomadic pastoralist tribe. For generations, they have lived in complete harmony with their land – a cold desert plateau with an average altitude of over 3700 metres, too inhospitable for farming and which remains under snow for seven months a year. Their traditional pastoral system is centred around their livestock; the Changpas rear yaks, sheep and horses, in addition to the famous ‘pashmina’ goats (whose soft wool is well-known throughout the world). The ancestral way of life have been the key to the survival of the Changpas, who have used their indigenous knowledge system to optimise the use of rangeland vegetation, where the grazing of yaks, goats, sheep and horses are regulated through a well-planned migration in a land that has a fragile eco-system.
Predominantly Buddhists, the Changpas also have shreds of animism in their religious beliefs, which can be traced back to their herding tradition : for a Changpa nomad, his sheep are intrinsically sacred creatures bestowed upon him by the gods of the valley.
Changthang is home to a few brackish lakes and the most important of them are Tso Moriri and Pangong Tso. It was on the banks of Pangong Tso that the Sino Indian war of 1962 reached a fierce climax and since remained a bone of contention between India and China. The ongoing dispute has posed a considerable threat to the fragile ecology of the area and consequently on the lives of the nomadic tribe. The increasing attractions of alternative livelihood, an influx of tourism in the area and some significant climate changes like unnaturally heavy snowfall resulting in deaths of livestock in recent years have further added to the threat for the sustainable future of the socio-economic and environmental life of the Changpas.
Photo documentary by Sugato Mukherjee (Hits: 9237)
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