Experiencing the severe Himalayan winter in the Zangskar region shows Man’s negative impact on Nature

Every little element in front of my eyes looked like scenes from a fantasyland. A deep blue blanket studded with white clouds was high above me in the form of the sky.

The ‘young’ rocks forming the sides of the gorge showed an incredible number of patterns in many shades of brown. The Himalayan Ibex, a mountain goat species, grazed through the bed of snow spotted with frostbitten shrubs. Water that once dripped through metal ceilings of native huts froze into icicles.

The carcass of a Himalayan red fox was preserved perfectly in the snow with its soft fur intact. I felt like a speck in this vast microcosm of the frozen universe around me, looking at a huge wall of ice, which was once a waterfall.

This meditative state made me forget everything around for a few minutes. This was the perfect opportunity for me to conceive and capture images close to my heart. But I was left with limited time to do so, as I had to move on with the team to our next campsite.

The severity of the Himalayan winter dawned upon us, with its ambivalent weather changes.

Coming from the southern Part of India, this was my first exposure to the Himalayas. Opportunity to document this wonder knocked my doors when my friend and well-wisher asked me if I could join him on an expedition to explore these vast mountains.

I immediately agreed despite not having trekked before for more than a couple of weeks at a stretch and my lack of exposure to severe winters. The expedition involved walking on the frozen Zangskar River for over a hundred kilometers. When the temperature plummets to -30 degrees, the Zangskar River, originating from the Himalayan glaciers, freezes.

The people of this region, particularly from the village of Padum use this frozen river to reach Leh for medical help, emergency and trade. The fragility of nature and how scores of people are dependent on it, surfaces at such places. In Zangskar, people depend on the perpetual snow in the mountains for water. When the temperatures are high, the river does not freeze and people are stranded in their villages.

Warming climate patterns and rampant development are creating disasters of mammoth consequences, like in the case of a cloudburst that occurred a few years ago in the Ladakh region and the recent floods in Kedarnath. These lead to serious complications leaving human lives at stake.

The Himalayan glaciers and the rivers that originate from them are the lifelines for people living there. They must be protected. Climate change and global warming can be felt in fragile ecosystems like the Zangskar region and hearing survival stories from people native to these regions. It is time we acted on the warning signals sounded to us by Nature.

(The author is an award-winning nature photographer and co-founder of the Youth for Conservation. In this monthly column he talks about his passion for nature, photography and conservation.)