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Changpa nomad
Changpa shepherd girl
Changpa nomadic family, Tibet

The Changpa or Champa[citation needed] are a semi-nomadic Tibetan people found mainly in the Changtang in Ladakh and in Jammu and Kashmir. A smaller number resides in the western regions of the Tibet Autonomous Region and were partially relocated for the establishment of the Changtang Nature Reserve. As of 1989 there were half a million nomads living in the Changtang area.[1]

Changpa of the Tibet Autonomous Region[edit]

The homeland of the Changpa is a high altitude plateau known as the Changtang, which forms a portion of western and northern Tibet extending into southeastern Ladakh, and Changpa means "northerners" in Tibetan.[2] Unlike many other nomadic groups in Tibet, the Changpa are not under pressure from settled farmers as the vast majority of land they inhabit is too inhospitable for farming.

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, and bigger than 197 countries. 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, Xinjiang and Qinghai in China[3]

Changpa of Jammu and Kashmir[edit]

The Changpa of Ladakh are high altitude pastoralists, raising mainly yaks and goats. Among the Ladakh Changpa, those who are still nomadic are known as Phalpa, and they take their herds from in the Hanley Valley to the village of Lato. Hanley is home to six isolated settlements, where the sedentary Changpa, the Fangpa reside. Despite their different lifestyles, both these groups intermarry. The Changpa speak Changskhat, a dialect of Tibetan, and practice Tibetan Buddhism.[4]

Only a small part of Changthang crosses the border into Ladakh, in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is, however, on a historically important route for travelers journeying from Ladakh to Lhasa, and now has many different characteristics due to being part of India. Historically, the Changpa of the Ladakh would migrate with their herds into Tibet, but with Chinese takeover of Tibet, this route has been closed.[5]

As of 2001, the Changpa were classified as a Scheduled Tribe under the Indian government's reservation program of affirmative action.[6]

Changpas and their goats[edit]

For many Changpas, rearing of animals, and consuming and selling their produce (milk and its products, hair and meat) is the only means of livelihood.

The Changpas rear the highly pedigreed and prized Changra goats (Capra Hircus) that yield the rare Pashmina fibre (Cashmere wool). The Cashmere goats (Changra goats) are not raised for their meat but for their fibre (pashm). The pashmina fibre (Pashm in Persian) is the finest fibre of all goat hair.[7][better source needed]

Pashmina or cashmere is one of the most expensive natural fabrics in the world, and yet the lives of those who produce this rare fibre are the toughest ones.

Traditionally, the Changpas made sheep wool plain and twill weave ‘nambu’ fabric for their local dress - . Ceremonial attire was made from trade textiles like brocade silk and velvet. Few readings suggest that traditionally, the Changpas only sold raw pashmina because they found working with it difficult and lacked craftsmanship.

Pashmina is a soft, fine and warm fibre and comes from an extremely high altitude region called Changthang in Ladakh. The place has a harsh climate. The people have adapted themselves to this place. The local people in Changthang have adapted themselves to move from one place to another, such as the Changpa tribe. The Changpa people graze sheepwhich are the main source of raw Pashmina. The Pashmina is combed off the sheep in the spring season. During winters the temperature drops to – 40 degree Celsius and hence the wool is allowed to grow on the sheep to protect it from the cold. Before summer the local people comb the wool off the sheepwith the help of a local comb specially designed for Pashmina wool known as Tat. This combing helps the sheep feel cool in summer. After the wool is cut it is sold to entrepreneurs coming from Srinagar and the All Changthang Pashmina Grower Co-operative Marketing Society (ACPGCMS). The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) in Leh has founded the ACPGCMS. A former member of ACPGCMS says, “This is an initiative by LAHDC to help raise the income of the Changpa tribe through the sale of Pashmina. Earlier entrepreneurs from outside would come and buy the Pashmina at lower prices.”[citation needed] The society also helps the people of Changthang when they require money in Winter and the people pay back through Pashmina wool in Summer.[citation needed] After the Pashmina is taken from the Changthang people it is made to go through the process of scouring and then exported to places such as Delhi and Srinagar. The Pashmina is also sold to local people who have shops and make products such as socks, gloves and shawls. But most of the raw Pashmina is exported to Srinagar where they use it to make full products such as Cashmere Shawls and Stoles which are then sold in Leh. Due to few facilities and industries in Leh, Pashmina is important for family businesses in Srinagar.[citation needed]

A shopkeeper from Srinagar who has his shop in Leh says, “I have owned this shop since 1982 and my main source of income is from selling Pashmina products. The rawPashmina material is taken from the Changthang tribe and the process of spinning, weaving and knitting is done in Kashmir. Mostly, tourists are interested in buying Pashmina products.”[citation needed] On the other hand another shopkeeper from Srinagar who also sells Pashmina products says, “Pashmina is the finest and warmest wool. It is the king of all wools. People in Srinagar working in Pashmina mills are all above 50 years as the new generation are not interested in this work because they are not satisfied with the profits that are earned”.[citation needed] Earlier, due to lack of facilities in Leh all the raw materials used to be exported outside and the products would come in as Kashmiri products or with some other brand. The former Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Leh Prasanna Ramaswamy G and wife Abhilasha Bahuguna co-founded and strategised on a project known as Looms of Ladakh to help produce products from Pashmina in Ladakh itself. Ishey Dolma, a member of ‘Looms of Ladakh Women Cooperative’ says, “We have 7 groups of women from different villages in Ladakh who workon the makingof Pashmina products. We are given training where they teach us to make shawls, yardages and Designer knitwears. We hope to raise our income through this.”[citation needed] Illiterate women are mostly a part of this business because the new generations are busy with books and electrical gadgets.[citation needed] Those who wear branded Pashmina products don’t even know or realize that the people who make the product that they are wearing put their heart and soul into making it and therefore they need to popularize Pashmina products.[citation needed] In this hard work the Changpa tribe comes first and then the Kashmiri’s who help make the final product.[citation needed] Shepherds of the Changpa tribe take the herds in the morning and roam the area far and wide, while whistling and singing, in search of good pastures and water. In the evening before the sunsets the shepherds bring the herd back home. The herd is also fed food and put to sleep in a shed locally known as laka. The entire family is involved in taking care of the sheep and the herd. This ultimately helps in preparing the Pashmina, which is seen by outsiders only in the products that are finally produced. [8][9]


A documentary Riding Solo to the Top of the World was made by Gaurav Jani.

A documentary Looms of Ladakh was made by Lok Sabha TV. [10]


  1. ^ Goldstein, Melvyn; Beal, Cynthia (1990). Nomads of Western Tibet. Cerkeley, CA, USA: University of California Press. pp. 60. ISBN 0-520-07211-1.
  2. ^ Rizvi, Janet (1999). Trans-Himalayan Caravans. Oxford University Press. pp. 301. ISBN 0-19-564855-2.Rizvi, Janet (1999)
  3. ^ Goldstein, Melvyn; Beal, Cynthia (1990). Nomads of Western Tibet. Cerkeley, CA, USA: University of California Press. pp. 60. ISBN 0-520-07211-1.
  4. ^ Champa by B.R Rizvi in People of India Jammu and Kashmir Volume XXV edited by K.N Pandita, S.D.S Charak and B.R Rizvi pages 182 to 184 Manohar ISBN 8173041180
  5. ^ Rizvi, Janet (1999). Trans-Himalayan Caravans. Oxford University Press. pp. 301. ISBN 0-19-564855-2.
  6. ^ "List of Scheduled Tribes". Census of India: Government of India. 7 March 2007. Archived from the original on 5 June 2010. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 24 May 2019. Retrieved 24 May 2019.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ Bahuguna, Abhilasha; Ramaswamy, G. Prasanna (2019). "Highland to High Fashion: The Development of a Women Cooperative in Ladakh". Indian Journal of Public Administration. 65: 152–170. doi:10.1177/0019556118814653.
  10. ^