With no internet, no GPS, no other forms of worldly pleasures the himalayan nomads known as Changpas start their day with the red and less warm rays of the sun in the sky and end their day with multiple stars shining over their tents of yak-skin in Ladakh, the union territory in India. They may less know in the world but their goat wool is world popular to manufacture original piece of pashmina shawls.
Changpas nomads live in the valleys of Tso Moriri, Rupshu, Kharnak and Hanley, of Ladakh. They live on very high altitudes, where snowfall is a common site to witness even during the summers. They prefer to migrate from one place to another in search of green pastures for their herds of Changthangi goats (finest quality of cashmere wool) in short span of summers. They mostly believe in remaining at one place during the long lasting winters.
Tracing the culture of Changpas community
It is said that these Changpas have migrated themselves from Tibet to Hanla Valley in Ladakh in around 8th century AD. They were particularly known as the ancient people of the northern part as they hailed from the North of Lhasa. They are followers of Dalai Lama and practice Buddhism. They generally have many monasteries and festivals, in which they despite being nomadic participate in. In Korzok festival, women dressed in traditional phreak, (a type of headgear) dance and enjoy them to the fullest. It is a delight to watch the festival; the Changpas tribe is a great source of attraction there.
They practiced the barter system in earlier years where goods were exchanged for goods. The barter system is still in use by some people of the community. They were polyandrous i.e. multiple brothers married the same woman, but this practice is now no longer practiced. They speak in a tone which is somewhat a mixture of Tibetan and Ladakh.
About the routine, living and discipline of Changpas
The people of this tribe usually live together in a tent called ‘rebu.’ The rebu is made by the yak’s wool. For this the yak wool is spun by the families together, woven and then stitched. The rebuses are attached to the ground by the wooden posts. They protect the people from the extreme situations of cold, snowfall and icy winds.
The Changpas tribe also rear other animals like yak and sheep. The family divides the work in them. The elderly women usually do the milking and participate in the process of making diary products, the young girls usually take the herds for grazing in the field and men usually shear the animals and sell animal products.
After their busy day, the family sits together to have dinner sometimes that is also a luxury for them with fruits, some staples of barley and dried yak meat. With less food and more of hard work they are always seen satisfied, happy and in peace.
The Changpas tribe has a leader common to every four units of families, known as ‘goba.’ The goba is like the ‘surpanch’ in the panchayat. Goba must be wise, intellectual, experienced and being elderly is a necessary point. The goba is elected by the people.
Changpas Fighting the wild – Warriors of Himalayas
Living in the wild, in altitudes is a difficult task for people who usually live in normal terrain regions with all the comforts of life. The Changpas tribe therefore, have adapted to survive in the oddest conditions with temperature almost in minus degrees and animals which are hard to tame.
They survive all the wild winds, heavy snowfall, thunder currents and safe themselves from animals like red fox, kiangs, blue sheeps and all the kind of wild and high altitude birds and fowls. They have proven themselves as warriors in the Himalayan region and continue being the same by being happy, contented, and hard-working at the same time.
Source of Income for Changpas tribe
People living in these high altitude places make money mainly from various animals and their products. Yak, sheep and goats are the major source of income for the people there.
The Pashmina, a type of cashmere wool from which some of the finest shawls are produced comes from the Changthangi goats also known as ‘Pashmina goats.’ The Changpas pet these goats and by shearing them they become the main suppliers of greatest cashmere wool in India and also in world. Changpas approximately supply 40,000 kgs of Pashmina, tonnes of another variety of wools.
Pashmina is produced by the Changthangi goat’s undercoat. The soft undercoat grows in size in extreme winters and they are sheared in the early springs by the Changpas men.
The sheep and goats graze at an altitude of 4,500 meters. When they return after 5-6 hours of grazing, the females are separated and are milked. The milk and the milk products are other ways of income or barter for these Changpas, especially cheese.
Changpas coping with climate change
The pictures of Ladakh’s Nomads and the future of Pashmina Wool seems to be gloomy as climate change rolling down rapidly in the Himalayan region. This change is affecting the production of silky-soft and super-expensive Pashmina. Living at the altitude of 16,400 feet, life for them has become drier in summers and harsher in winters pushed them to leave their nature home and abandon their age old nomadic traditions.
It is believed that to get pure pashmina from the fine undercoat of a breed of Himalayan goat, the animals requires certain climatic atmosphere which is only found to be at Changpa’s homeland. Currently, due to less number of Changpas community is in the business, there is a huge shortage in the market making pashmina wool more expensive. This shortage has led to the fake Pashmina imports from Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and China.
Author: Anjali Lavania
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