Changthang is a compound word of 'changpa' translating to nomads and 'thang' - plains in Ladakhi. The Changthang Valley, also called the Rupshu valley, is a unique landscape.The Changthang plateau lies on the eastern side of Ladakh near Chinese border stretching approximately 150 t0 220 kilometers with the geographical setting bestowed with snow peaks, which are the source of various Lakes. The temperature in the region varies from -5o Celsius to -35o Celsius in winter and up to a maximum of 30o Celsius in summer.

NOMADS OF CHANGTHANG

The people of the Changthang are pastoralists, they are known as 'Changpa'.Unlike many other nomadic groups, the Changpas don't practice sedentary life and settled farming , as the vast majority of land they inhabit is too inhospitable for farming.The Changpas have been herding livestock and living in tents or seasonal camps known as Rebo since ages. These tents are used as shelter for at least 6 months in a year and are made up of purely black wool of matured Yaks, as it is believed that the use of even single white wool will shorten the lifespan of Rebo. After the collection of sufficient Yak wool, Onpo or local astrologer is consulted to fix a date to start the weaving of the same. Once the date is fixed a special skilled weaver with the help of 3-4 assistant weavers takes on the task of designing and preparing. The tent is designed in such a way that it can be separated in two parts, so that it is easier to carry on two horses when transporting it from one pasture to another. A good and strong Rebo may last for 20-25 years in-spite of its use in harsh climate and can effectively withstand heavy snowfall, rainfall and wind without allowing any leakage or seepage. On the two (sometimes four) corners, bunch of black Yak hair is tied to a stick and planted on the ground to ward off evil spirit.

Nomads of Changthang are devoted Buddhist, almost all the Rebo family have a separate space for keeping statues and pictures of deities and spiritual leader, Dalai lama being the most popular and , besides that seven offering cups of water can be seen. Annually they donate some small amount to the monasteries under which their particular family or community falls. In addition to that, there is a tradition that every family has to send one of their sons to the monastery to become a monk, which they regard as the highest offering to the Lord Buddha.

The economy of the region is based around the livestock , and the most important resource is the pastures upon which the animals graze on. So to preserve that resource the traditional transhumance is practiced depending on the season, which limits the impacts that their animals have on the grazing lands. Migratory routes are established and followed year after year, staying in the same encampments each year, often in camps that have stone walls for corrals and for sheltering the tents. Wealthier nomads may have buildings for storage and living in some cases.

In addition to changing pastures, there are numerous other techniques developed by the Changpa to even out the periods of surpluses and shortages. Dairy products are converted into less perishable forms (like butter and cheese) during the summer when the livestock are producing high levels of milk. Animals are slaughtered early in the winter, after fattening up in the summer and when the weather is conducive to storage. Trade mostly barter system, plays an important role for the Changpa as they are not able to produce all the goods they consume. Meat, live animals, wool, and unprocessed Pashmina are traded for basics products such as grain, cooking pots, and other metal implements, as well as for modern goods.

WILD LIFE SANCTUARY OF CHANGTHANG

The Changtang Wildlife Sanctuary is a home for many rare flora and fauna of Ladakh, which are well cared for in this wildlife sanctuary. Nomadic people prohibit hunting wild animal because of religious faith in Buddhism, it is believed that hunting or poaching around the lakes would displease the Holy Spirit which will bring wrath of the nature in the forms of heavy snowfall posing a great threat to their livestock for grazing on open pastures. As a result wildlife is well preserved in its natural state.

The Changtang Wildlife Sanctuary is surrounded by two large and world-famous fresh water lake , the Tsomoriri and the brackish water lake - the Pangong Lake.

LAKES OF CHANGTHANG

Pangong Lake, Tsomorri Lake, and Tso-kar are the one of the major lakes of the Chanthang region apart from other small lakes around Changthang plateau.

1. PANGONG LAKE

One of the most spectacular lakes in Ladakh is the PangongTso, which lies across the Changla Pass from Leh . It is a saltwater lake with long narrow basin of inland drainage, hardly 5 to 6 kms at its widest point, and over 135 kms long, and bisected by the international border between India and China . It presents a spectacular view of the mountains of the Chang-chenmo range to the north, their reflections shimmering in the ever-changing blues and greens of the lake's brackish waters and during winters, the Pangong Lake freezes completely and the Yaks, and other livestock walk over the frozen hard surface of the lake when they migrate from place to place.The farthest village of Pangong area is Spangmik located at 6-7 km along the southern shore up to which the foreign tourists are permitted. One can have a spectacular view of mountains of the Chang-Chenmo range to the north west of the Pangong Lake with its image reflecting in the lake's ever-changing blue and green water. Above Spangmik are the glaciers and snow-capped peaks of the Pangong range.

The lake is in the process of being identified under the Ramsar Convention as a wetland of international importance. This will be the first trans-boundary wetland in South Asia under the convention.

FLORA, FAUNA AND GEOGRAPHY OF PANGONG LAKE

The brackish water of the lake is devoid of any micro-vegetation. There is no fish or other aquatic life in the lake, except for some small crustaceans. However, visitors can see numerous ducks and gulls over and on the lake surface. There are some species of scrub and perennial herbs that grow in the marshes around the lake.

The lake acts as an important breeding ground for a variety of birds including a number of migratory birds. During summer, the Bar-headed goose and Brahmini ducks are commonly seen here. The region around the lake supports a number of species of wildlife including the skiang (wild ass ) and the Marmot.Formerly, Pangong Tso had an outlet to Shayok River, a tributary of Indus River, but it was closed off due to natural damming. Two streams feed the lake from the Indian side, forming marshes and wetlands at the edges. Strand lines above current lake level reveal a 5 m (16 ft) thick layer of mud and laminated sand, suggesting the lake has shrunken recently in geological scale. The lake is in the process of being identified under the Ramsar Convention as a wetland of international importance. This will be the first trans-boundary wetland in South Asia under the convention.

2. TSOMORRI LAKE

Tsomorri Lake is also an endorheic lake and one of the largest in the Ladakh region situated at an elevation of about 4,600m, it is about 10km long, stretching in the north-south direction with a width varying from 5 to 7km and a depth of more than 30 m at the deepest point.

The lake is probably a leftover from the Ice Age, formed by the melt waters of the ice masses left behind by the retreating glaciers. The waters from the surrounding areas drained into the lake. The huge amounts of water present in the beginning evaporated very fast in the desert-like atmosphere and what was fresh water became brackish and finally salty, unfit for human consumption and bereft of living organisms.

FLORA AND FAUNA AND GEOGRAPHY OF TSOMORRI LAKE

There does not appear to be any vegetation in the deeper parts of the lake, but in the shallow areas Potmogeton species, have been reported. The agriculture fields and nearby marshlands at the confluence of the lake and streams that flow into the lake from the villages side serve as important feeding habitats for the Bareheaded Goose in particular and of Brahmini Duck, Brown-headed Gull, Horned lark, Red-billed Chough, different species of Wagtails, Tibetan Snow finch, Crag Martin etc. Migratory birds arrive at the Lake in April. In May majority of them can be seen nesting on the islands. Mammals of the region include the sKiang, sNyan (Tibetan blue sheep), Bharal, Wolf, Red Fox, Lynx, and Marmots etc.The lake is fed by a number of small glacial streams from all directions particularly from the north and south of the lake and it has no external drainage.

3. TSO-KAR LAKE

Tso-kar Lake is situated in Changthang, nearly 240 kilometers Southeast of Leh. Tsokar is also a saline water lake. It is situates at an altitude of around 4500 meters. Lake is nearly 8 kilometers wide at its widest point and 28 kilometers long. This lake lies in the vicinity of Tso-morri Lake, at a distance of around fifty kilometers. The lake is surrounded by the marshlands that host amazing bird life. 22 km east from the Tsokar Lake lies the Puga Valley, which is famous for its borax and sulphur deposits and hot water springs. These hot water springs are considered to have several medicinal elements and the place is thronged with local visitors for medicinal benefits during summer.

FAUNA, FLORA AND GEOGRAPHY OF TSO-KAR LAKE

The Tso-kar Lake is also brackish lake and is devoid of any micro-vegetation. There is no fish or other aquatic life in the lake, except for some small crustaceans. Due to the handsome amount of salt that deposits at the banks of Tsokar, it is also called as White Lake. The lake is surrounded by the marshlands that host amazing bird life. Amongst the commonly seen birds here are Brahmni ducks, bar-headed geese and the great crested grebe. But the major attraction at Tsokar is that of black-necked cranes. Tsokar is one of the rare places in the world where these amazing but nearly extinct birds can still be seen and admired. Living in couples, they come here to lay their eggs. Tsokar is deemed to be the best place for Wild ass (sKiang) sightings. This wild, untamable mammal lives in large groups. They can run for long distances at an amazing speed. The widespread grasslands at the plains of Tsokar make an ideal habitat for the Kiangs. The hills and mountains around Tsokar are also home to ibex, snow foxes and snow leopards. Marmots are commonly found around the lakes. The lake is fed by a number of small spring water from all directions particularly from the north and south of the lake and it has no external drainage.