|Literal meaning||Northern plateau|
|Alternative Chinese name|
|Literal meaning||North Tibet plateau|
The Changtang (alternatively spelled Changthang) is a high altitude plateau in western and northern Tibet extending into southeastern Ladakh, with vast highlands and giant lakes. From Eastern Ladakh Changtang stretches approximately 1600 km east into Tibet, as far as the state of Qinghai. All of it is geographically part of Tibetan Plateau. It is the home of the Changpa nomads.
The climate of Changtang is harsh and unpredictable. The summers are warm but short and thunder storms can occur at any time of year, often with hail. The winters are cold and Arctic-like, despite the latitude, due to the high elevation.
Changtang was once ruled by a culture known as the Zhangzhung, which later merged with Tibetan culture.
The people of the Changtang are nomadic pastoralists, they are known as 'Changpa', for 'northerners,' or 'Drukpa' for 'nomads' in Tibetan. As of 1989 there were half a million nomads living in Changtang. Unlike many other nomadic groups, the Changpa are not under pressure from settled farmers as the vast majority of land they inhabit is too inhospitable for farming.
The economy of the region is based around the livestock of the Changpa, and the most important resource is the plants the animals graze on. The transhumance of the Changpa over one year limits the impact that their animals have on the grazing lands, the grasses of which are dead for eight to nine months of the year, and provide poor fodder during that time. Unlike many other nomadic pastoralists, the Changpa do not move from one climatic region to another; this allows them to move shorter distances in many cases, in the range of about 10–40 miles. 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 for the part of the year they spend at that encampment.
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 while the weather is conducive to storage.
Trade has played an important role for the Changpa as they are not able to produce all the goods they consume. Salt, meat, live animals, wool, and unprocessed cashmere are traded for basics such as grain, cooking pots, and other metal implements, as well as more modern goods.
Most of the Tibetan Changtang is now protected nature reserves consisting of the Changtang Nature Reserve, the second-largest nature reserve in the world, and four new adjoining smaller reserves totalling 496,000 km2. (191,507 sq. miles) of connected Nature Reserves, which represents an area almost as large as Spain. Since the reserves have been established there has been a welcome increase in the numbers of endangered species. The protected areas stretch across parts of the Tibet Autonomous Region, the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, and Qinghai Province in China.
Only a small part of Changtang crosses the border into Ladakh, in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is, however, on a historically important route for travellers journeying from Ladakh to Lhasa, and now has many different characteristics due to being part of India.
As in the rest of Ladakh, Changtang has been experiencing many socio-economical developments since the late twentieth century. Ladakh is one of the regions most exposed to international mass tourism in India. Centuries-old cultural and social fabrics are now changing rapidly, influenced by consumerist and modern lifestyles. This is becoming a source of both concern and hope for the populace of the region. Another major influence in the region is Tibetan settlement at the behest of the Tibetan government-in-exile. The settlement was first established in 1963 with almost 3,000 residents but today it has more than 7,000 settlers. For administrative purposes, the Ladakh settlement is divided into two, Sonamling and Changtang.
The Changtang Wildlife Sanctuary is a home for many rare flora and fauna of Ladakh, which are well cared for in this wildlife sanctuary. The sanctuary is located at a high altitude in the Ladakh district of Jammu and Kashmir.
Tsomoriri is one of the huge mountain lakes in the southeastern part of Ladakh. Karzok Village is situated on the southwest bank of this lake. It is the world's highest inhabited village.
The Changtang Wildlife Sanctuary has natural grasslands and a wide variety of more than 200 species of wild plants grow in the higher pastures of this area, most of which is edible for animals.
Changtang hamlets were established when many Tibetan nomads, mostly from western Tibet, fled and settled down in the adjoining places of Ladakh. There are more than 3,500 Tibetan refugees residing in the Changtang region who depend primarily on livestock, with agriculture being their secondary occupation. These nomads were organized into the Tibetan refugee settlements in 1977 by the Central Tibetan Administration, Dharamsala, with help from Government of India and the state government at nine different places: Nyoma, Kagshung, Goyul, Hanley, Sumdho, Samedh, Karnag, Chushul and Churmur. These settlements are scattered across the high-altitude plateau with an average elevation of 4,700 meters. The temperature in the region varies from -5° Celsius to -35° Celsius in winter and up to a maximum of 30° Celsius in summer. Large areas of Changtang are semi-arid, with very little vegetation growth in the whole region. Agricultural lands and pastures are confined to limited areas along the riverbanks. The average snowfall is less than 10 mm and can be fatal to the livestock of the nomads during the months of December, January and February. Sometimes, goats and sheep cannot get access to the grass for grazing for period up to 15 days. This constitutes the most critical part of the year for the nomads.
Education in Ladakh is looked after entirely by the SOS Tibetan Children Village, one of the non-profit institutions providing education to the Tibetan children. There is a facility for crèche to tenth standard. Most of students attend day school, but there are also boarding facilities for very poor students and those from nomadic camps. Almost all children get a chance to go to school, and the general education level of the children is fairly good. The settlements have one modern allopathic hospital and one Tibetan medical and Astro clinic. There is also a bird sanctuary.
Changtang Wildlife Sanctuary
The Changtang Wildlife Sanctuary (or the Changtang Cold Desert Wildlife Sanctuary) is a high altitude wildlife sanctuary located in the Ladakhi adjunct of the Changtang plateau in the Leh District, Jammu and Kashmir. It is important as one of the few places in India with a population of the kiang or Tibetan wild ass, as well as the rare Black-necked Crane.
The Changtang Cold Desert Wildlife Sanctuary is part of the Hindu Kush Himalaya, the natural enchantress.
The altitude of the sanctuary varies from 14,000 to 19,000 feet, and the topography is formed of deep gorges and vast plateaus. There are around 11 lakes and 10 marshes in the Changtang Cold Desert Sanctuary, and the majestic River Indus dances through the sanctuary, dividing it into two parts.
The cold desert vegetation of this wildlife Sanctuary though quite sparse but the ecological marginal conditions have employed some remarkable characteristics in these vegetation, which has high medicinal properties. Seven rare and endangered medicinal plant species have been discovered by Prof. C.P. Kala from this sanctuary, of these three are vulnerable and one species is of endangered category as per IUCN red list. Arnebia euchroma, Geranium sibiricum, Lancea tibetica, Lloydia serotina, and Ephedra gerardiana are such threatened but medicinally important plants occur in this sanctuary.
Other geographic features
The Tso moriri is counted among the highest lakes in the world. Tsomoriri is spread over an area of 120 km2, with a maximum depth of 40 m and situated at an altitude of 4,000–5,000 m. In November 2002, the lake was designated as a Ramsar site.
The Pangong Tso is situated at a height of around 4,250 m. It covers an area of 134 km2 (from India to China). The water is salty, but in spite of that, during the winter the water freezes.
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- Namgail, T., Bhatnagar, Y.V., Mishra, C. & Bagchi, S. (2007) Pastoral nomads of the Indian Changthang: production system, land use and socioeconomic changes. Human Ecology 35, 497–504.
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- Kala, C.P. 2003. Medicinal Plants of Indian Trans Himalaya. Bishan Singh Mahendra Pal Singh, Dehradun, India http://www.saujanyabooks.com/details.aspx?id=14874
- Namgail, T., Bhatnagar, Y.V., Mishra, C., Bagchi, S. (2007). Pastoral nomads of the Indian changtang: production system, land use and socio-economic changes. Human Ecology, 35: 497-504.