Hidden in the Himalayas History & Culture

The life of the Changpas of Ladakh

The harsh weather conditions or their nomadic lifestyle do not stop the Changpas from making the finest pashmina wool

‘Life is not a problem to be solved, but an experience to be lived’ preaches the Buddha…..

The rivers had dried and the grass was fast disappearing from the green pastures. There was no food or water for the yaks and sheep here anymore. It was time for the Changpa caravan to move on to their next destination, another green grassland. The nomadic Changpa convoy does not fear the cold and icy winds, the unsympathetic shower of snow or the harsh terrain of the Trans Himalaya that they encounter while migrating from one pasture to another. Their possessions are all that their animals can carry.

The life of the Changpas of Ladakh

These Changpas, a hardly nomadic community, followed the silk route trail over the high passes and the meandering rivers of the Changthang plains of the Tibetan Plateau to settle in the high altitude lake regions of Ladakh in the valleys of Rupshu, Kharnak and the Tsomoriri somewhere in the Eighth Century. They transmigrated with the hope of finding better pastures for their livestock, to trade salt and butter and to find a market for their pashmina wool.

Their octagonal tent, known as the Robu is a warm and welcome shelter. There is a special altar for Dalai Lama, where a butter lamp keeps flickering all through the day. A chimney that protrudes from the tent spouts out the smoke keeping the living space free from smog.

The life of the Changpas of Ladakh

The Yak provides transport and shelter. Its fat is used as fuel and its meat, as food. The sheep yield pashmina wool, a valuable asset that brings in materialistic wealth.

Having their makeshift homes at unsympathetic altitudes between 12,000 and 16,000ft., the Changpas have learned to live in harmony with the unpredictable nature of the wild winds and heavy snow showers sharing space with the red fox, the kiangs, blue sheep, marmots, the Himalayan Hare and the high altitude birds and fowls. As they migrate four times a year, their lives preach frugality.

Dying rivers and sudden downpour due to climatic change, caused by global warming, have made their lives vulnerable. The Changpas contribute 40,000 kg of pashmina in a year and they supply wool, butter and meat for the Ladakh region.

The modern Changpa prefers to send his children to residential schools and settle down in concrete homes in the city.

The writers are ace photographers known for their travelogues

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Printable version | Mar 25, 2020 4:30:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/the-story-behind-paschmina-wool/article24581667.ece

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