How It Feels To Live With The Changpas of Ladakh: FIND OUT

I had spent 3 days with the Changpas in the most rustic setup in their tents in Tuchik village of Ladakh to experience their life like a local. It was the most exclusive and exotic experience. In this article, I am going to share everything about this semi nomadic tribe of Ladakh, their lifestyle, daily life, food habits, source of income, the future, etc.

READ ON……

Who are the Changpas?

 

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

A Changpa woman during milking time in Tuchik village, Ladakh

Changpas of Ladakh are semi nomadic tribe; mostly reside in the desolate highlands of the north and eastern parts of Ladakh. Roughly at 16,000-plus feet above sea level, in the trans-Himalayan Changthang region of Ladakh, is where the Changpas live. Living in minus temperatures in their tents, made of yak hair with minimum source of food, the Changpas lifestyle is beyond fascinating. Followers of Buddhism, the Changpas are the perfect example of how a community is living and thriving at an age of climatic change and still producing the finest wool, called the Cashmere and also known as Pashmina.

Also Read: Nubra Valley: 3 Day Itinerary and Travel Guide for Sightseeing

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

Changpa Kids with the herd

Far away from the concrete world and the modern lifestyle, the Changpas of Ladakh know how to live peacefully in harmony with nature. They might not be aware of everything happening in the outside world, but they are the people who know exactly the way the wind blows, about the lengthening shadows on a cliff, and changing colors of the grass.The sensory power of the Changpa nomads make them decide when to move and where. The accuracy is not achieved overnight. A century old tradition of living and observing make them aware of the tiny changes in nature which goes unnoticed by normal people.

Whether it is wandering from one place to another for greener pasture, pitching their tent, taking care of herd of pashmina sheep, yaks and horses, surviving on the limited resources and yet following the traditions of their forefather of living a nomadic life in the most rugged terrain and producing the finest quality of pashmina wool, the Changpas of Ladakh are beyond fascinating.

Meeting with the Changpas of Ladakh

 

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

Portrait of a Changapa Man

Ever since I had read about them, I had been fascinated by everything about the Changpas. I always wanted to observe their life from close quarters but never had the opportunity to do so. My curiosity reached its pinnacle when I actually saw a few tents in the higher altitude of Ladakh on my last visit. Due to lack of time and no proper planning, I couldn’t meet them. But, I knew for a fact that I would return to Ladakh only to meet and spend a few days with the Changpas of Ladakh soon.

Also Read: Experience Ladakh with The Grand Dragon Ladakh: The Finest Luxury Hotel in Leh

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

A changpa woman in front of her tent. Photo Courtesy: Prabhu B Doss from Flickr

Exactly after one year, I had returned to Ladakh. This time, I was there to meet the Changpas. Almost 20 km away from the main Leh City, there is a village called Tuchik. I was told that 6 Changpa families are living there with their herd of sheep in their nomadic tents. All thanks to the local travel company of Ladakh named Tendrel, which had facilitated my stay and gave me the most authentic and exclusive experience with Changpas recently.

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

Deserted road that leads to Tuchik village, Ladakh

After more than half an hour drive from the city, I had landed at the most awe-inspiring location, which looked like a completely different world to me. Encircled by the gigantic mountains, wild flower beds on the ground, and the sound of water stream, it was nothing less than an exotic painting coming alive.

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

Road to Tuchik Village near Leh City

The landscape in Tuchik Village

Giant mountains of Ladakh

The white tents of the Changpas were vaguely visible from far. As there was no sight of any other human being in that most exclusive location, I was welcomed by the most adorable Changpa kids in the main premises. The tents were scattered in that deserted land. Each tent had a designated adjoined barricaded space for their sheep and goats. There were a few wild dogs seen on the road which belonged to the Changpas. Apparently, the wild dogs protect the herd from snow leopards and other wild animals.

Also Read: Share Your Smile With The Sami: The Indigenous People of Europe

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

Me with the Changpa Kids

My guide Tenzin, had a brief conversation with a Changpa woman of one of the tents, whom he gave a carton full of food, later. The area looked very peaceful as the Changpas had already left with the herd to the mountains in search of grass. Only a few Changpa women and the kids were at their tents, busy doing their daily chore.

Soon, I was invited by Dolma, the Changpa host of mine, to come to her tent for a cup of butter tea. It was for the very first time I had met and interacted with a Changpa. Dolma could barely understand Hindi and neither could I understand the Tibetan language. It was Tenzin, my guide, who became the translator between us.

Living with the Changpas: How it feels to live with the Changpas of Ladakh

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

Me after reaching Tuchik village

Living with the Changpas has to be the most exotic experience of my travel life till date. Nothing can surpass the exclusive experience of meeting them and spending 3 days with the Changpas of Ladakh.

Seeing the Changpas doing their daily chores like taking the herd for grazing, milking the sheep, cooking their local food, playing with the kids and other daily duties, the life of Changpas is very different. They have a unique way of living with limited resources. Sharing space with them in their tent allowed me to get a rare glimpse of their nomadic lifestyle and it was totally priceless.

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

Changpa Woman after milking the goats & sheep

As the sun was about to hide behind those humongous mountains, I could see a huge herd of sheep making their way down the mountain. The shepherd was making a few sounds to direct the herd back to the tent. Dolma hurried to open the gate for the herd as they descended from the mountain. Like a curious soul, I stood there to observe the real life of Changpas from close proximity.

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

The herd making their way from the mountains

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

The herd making its way to their home

While Dolma was busy helping her husband in the daily chore, Tenzin introduced me to Waze, the shepherd. I was amazed by everything I was observing. I felt quite privileged to be able to see the life of a Changpa from such close proximity.

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

Changpa Kids with the herd

It was windy. I was asked to step inside the tent. Dolma was preparing butter tea for her husband and offered me as well. The central fire place was lit which made it quite warm inside the tent. Traditionally, the Changpas used to make their food on the central Bukhari only. But I was surprised to see a gas strove inside the tent. With changing time, they are also adopting elements from the modern life. It was during my conversation, I got to know that the children of Changpa couple are studying in school and they occasionally visit them.

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

Thenthuk ( A Tibetan Dish) in making

As I was busy knowing everything about their lifestyle, I had several questions to ask to Wase. While I was completely engrossed in the conversation, Dolma & Tenzin started preparing the meal. Even though I failed to understand anything they spoke in Tibetan language, I was completely floored by their hospitality.

Living with the Changpas

Thenthuk (Tibetan Dish)

I also tried my hands in making the traditional Tibetan dish named Thenthuk that night. I was amazed how easily they allowed me to be a part of their daily lifestyle and accepted me as a guest.

Lifestyle of Changpas: Daily Life

Unlike any other dwellers, the Changpas of Ladakh live a hard life. The Semi nomadic community is attuned to live in challenging climate where people would not even dare to visit. The Changthang valley of Ladakh sees minus temperature in the winter with snowfall which makes the terrain one of the coldest region to live. The daily life of Changpas of Ladakh becomes even tougher during the winter months.

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

Beginning of a new day

I visited the Changpas of Ladakh in the summer. Their daily life revolves around the sheep, goats, yaks, cattle and horses. As the sun rises announcing the day, the very first thing they do is to release the herd from their barricaded camps. The smoke from the tent of Changpas indicate that they are awake and making their first meal of the day. They normally start their day with a hot cup of butter tea and some Tibetan snacks.

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

Early morning scene from Tuchik village

Soon after that, the calves are separated from the herd and the sheep are tied down together to milk them. Both Dolma and Waze get busy milking them before the Changpa take them out in the mountain to graze. It was quite interesting to see them doing their daily chore. I liked the way they instruct and direct the herd by making some sounds and whistles. The best part is that the herd responds and understands the sound language as well.

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

Changpa Man counting his goats and sheep

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

Changpa man milking them early in the morning

I had decided to follow Waze, the shepherd, one of the days to the mountains with the herd. It was one of the highlights of my Changpa experience. I wanted to see the life of a shepherd and how he spends his day with the herd. As the herd started ascending the mountain, Waze was constantly directing them by whistling and making some sounds. The pace of the shepherd was too fast to even catch up. It was one of the toughest jobs to manage the herd on those mountainous routes.

Changpas of Ladakh

The herd making their way back

While on the trek to the mountain in search of grassland for the herd, I learnt that the Changpas prefer different routes and grassland for their herd to avoid mixing the sheep and goats with other Changpa family. They always go to different directions for the same reason. While the herd grazes on the grassland, the shepherd spends his time by making tea, singing songs or just relaxing there. They also constantly have to keep an eye on the herd so that they don’t go out of the sight and mix with the other herd. The Changpas use a sling named Yurdo to hurl rock over the animal heads. They do it to scare the animals, not to hurt them.

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

Towering mountains of Ladakh

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

It was impossible to keep pace with the Shepherd. I was left way behind while trekking with them.

While Waze was away up in the mountains with the herd, Dolma got busy with her daily chores. Apart from cooking food for them, she also prepared special food for the dogs. They need these wild dogs as they protect the Pashmina sheep, goats and cattle from snow leopards in the night. The Changpa ladies also collect the dung of the sheep and goats and lay it out on the ground to dry it properly. They collect and store it as it serves their purpose of fueling the fire.  They keep a good stock of it for the winter months. The Changpas also sell the dry dung to the villagers in the lower valley to earn some extra money.

Living with the Changpas has to be the most exotic experience of my travel life till date. Nothing can surpass the exclusive experience of meeting them and spending 3 days with the Changpas of Ladakh.

Dolma, the Changpa woman working

The Changpa women also keep themselves busy by making traditional carpets in the summer months during the daytime. Not just that, they also make butter from curd by applying a very interesting process. It is a long and tedious process of making butter from curd. They put the curd in a bag, made of goat’s skin and shake it rigorously to separate the butter from curd. This is a lengthy process. The curd needs to be warm, for which they constantly check the temperature and put hot water into the bag and shake it again until they separate the butter from the curd. They also make cheese which they dry and store for months.

The Changpas are Buddhist people who follow the Dalai Lama. Therefore, in their tent, you will see a corner with Dalai Lama’s photo and butter lamps. They always pray to him and light the lamp daily.

Living with the Changpas has to be the most exotic experience of my travel life till date. Nothing can surpass the exclusive experience of meeting them and spending 3 days with the Changpas of Ladakh.

The herd in their barricaded camps

The evening is the busiest time of the day. As the shepherds make their way back to the tent with the herd, the Changpa women get ready to help their family. I was amazed to see how the herd know their designated space so well that they themselves go to their tents. The young calves are released to feed milk from their mothers. Soon after, the calves are separated from the mothers and the Changpas start milking.

This is pretty much how the Changpas of Ladakh spend their daily life in the toughest terrain with great ease.

Food of Changpas

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

Momo prepared by my guide Tenzin during my stay in Tuchik

The Changpa’s diet mainly centres on Yak’s butter, cheese and meat. Due to the harsh weather condition, they prefer to have food that produces heat in the body. Butter tea and other Tibetan snacks like Tingmo and Khambir are common in their morning routine. The food mainly consists of soup based dishes like Thenthuk, Chu-Tagir, dried meat, etc. During my stay, I had the best mutton cooked by my Changpa host, Dolma. I also relished momos in their tent. You will not be surprised to see them having Churpi, the home-made cheese in their leisure time.

Source of Income

The main source of income for the Changpas is the Pashmina wool that they have been shepherding from centuries. They have been producing world–class Pashmina wool from generations. It is a false notion that Pashmina belongs to Kashmir. It is the Changpas who are responsible for herding the sheep in harsh weather conditions to produce the expensive Pashmina wool that is sold to the Kashmiri artisans who make those soft woolen shawls, popularly known as Pashmina. Apart from that, the Changpas earn by selling traditional hand-woven carpets as well. Not just that, they also sell dried dung of the sheep and goat which they first dry in the sun and then sell it to the villagers in the lower valleys. It works as a daily essential for villagers, especially in the winter months in Ladakh.

Future of Changpas of Ladakh

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

Tenzin, the adorable Changpa kid I met in Tuchik Village

The very first thing that I noticed in Tuchik village was that the encampment was totally bereft of teenagers and young people. There were hardly anyone except a few kids and Changpa women during day time. After I inquired about their adult kids, I was told that most of them are staying in Leh and a few have decided to settle in the city, embracing the modern lifestyle. The children do visit their parents occasionally.

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

Changpa Kids

There is clearly a lack of interest in the children of Changpas to carry forward the age old tradition of herding and living a nomadic life. Modernization has also touched their lives and it was quite obvious. They are under the spell of modern lifestyle and don’t mind incorporating a few changes to live a more comfortable life with amenities, even in their tents.

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

Me with Changpa Kids

The Changpas who used to solely depend on their Bokhari to cook or make the tent warm, are having gas stoves. Where you will not expect electricity or mobile phone, the Changpas are running their tent with bulbs with the help of battery.  Yak and Horse are no longer the mode of transportation for them. Now, the Changpas are having cars and bikes to commute.

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

The Herd in Tuchik village

With the cheap synthetic wool made in China, widely available in the market, it has become a tough competition for the world’s finest Pashmina wool. As a result, the Changpas of Ladakh are facing the wrath of the situation. They are not getting the sufficient amount against their produce and have been compromising on the value. It is not the shepherd alone, but the entire family of the shepherd is involved in the whole process from feeding, taking them out for grazing, milking and even rearing.

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

This is the Changpa Couple with whom I spent 3 days in Tuchik village

With the rapid effects of modernization and more and more of the young generation going away from herding and following their age-old traditional occupation and way of life, the future of Changpas is on the edge. It would not be wrong to state that the Changpas of Ladakh are the fast disappearing nomadic people in the days to come and so is the art of producing world-class Pashmina.


Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

This is the tent in the middle of nowhere where I spent 3 days in Tuchik Village

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

Me with the Changpa kids inside the tent. I used to spend the entire day with these two kids.

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

This is the landscape I used to wake up each day in Tuchik village


Disclaimer :

The  reproduction of any of the content, including the photographs without prior consent/permission of the writer, is strictly prohibited and a violation of the same will attract legal action.

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

Living with the Changpas of Ladakh

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25 Comments

  1. Sheetal kapoor

    Such A amazing post keeps posting like this !! Thanks Its good to know about Ladakh. I love this blog so much.

    Reply
  2. Devesh

    I really like your post..

    Reply
  3. Tania

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Reply
  4. Devesh

    I really like your post!

    Reply
  5. Arif Ansari

    Congrats for this superb blog. I thought that it was exceptionally instructive and intriguing as well. I have bookmarked your blog and will return later on. I need to urge you to proceed with that grand work, have an extraordinary daytime!

    Reply
  6. daniel

    Great post!! I have never been to Ladakh nor have heard about Changpas either, but it sure seems like something I will if I travel to Bhutan. India is indeed truly incredible when you see people of all kinds. Life seems really different and pretty harsh yet really rewarding too. I would love to travel there so save this post for future reference.

    Reply
  7. Joe Ankenbauer

    Such a great and inspiring article! I’ve always wanted to spend time with a tribe like the Changpas. Reading about your experiences makes me want to do it even more! I’m fascinated on how they’re able to survive without many modern conveniences. The good thing(for me) is the food looked delicious! I’m willing to do almost anything for good food haha! I hope your article eases light on how to keep tribes like these and help with them diminishing like they have.

    Reply
  8. Amrita

    This is such an interesting read about the Changpas. I am now quite fascinated by them. It was good to know about their simple and uncluttered life. And it was equally sad to know that they are now one of the fastest disappearing nomadic tribe. And it would be really sad if the finest pashmina is no longer available. The insights into the life of these nomadic people were quite interesting to know, especially the little details you gave about the life of Dolma and Tenzin.

    Reply
  9. Stephanie

    This is so, so, so amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I have such an affinity for learning about nomadic people (even semi nomadic in this case) and how they hold tight to their traditions and ways of living. I love that you just said, ” I want to learn more about the Changpas” and so went to visit them. I think you are shedding light on a very important part of humanity and it needs to be shared far and wide. Bravo!

    Reply
  10. Agnes

    It is a great article; your story and pictures have stolen my heart. I would love to see Ladakh; it is on my list. I like the idea you spent three days with the Changpas in the most rustic set up in their tents in Tuchik village to experience their life. People, their traditions, meals, simple living in rough climate. So impressive! You had a fantastic adventure!
    Agnes recently posted…Guide To Visiting Monument ValleyMy Profile

    Reply
  11. Lisa

    What an experience you had. I almost felt like I was also living with the Changpas after reading this! Their lives may not be the easiest, but they seem happy and very self-sufficient. I think it’s great they don’t rely on anyone else. I also never knew about the pashmina wool making; very cool!

    Reply
  12. Asif Qamar

    Very Nice Content.
    Full of Knowledge and give impressive .
    Outstanding post! Thanks for sharing your great experience through this effective

    Reply
  13. Padma

    Hi Parnashree,
    Thanks for the wonerful article about Ladakh!
    It’s very interesting how you described the Changpas’ way of life.

    Reply
  14. Swati

    Wow that is some experience spending three days with a nomadic tribe. I always thought that Pashmina was from Kashmir, thanks for enlightening me. We also visited Ladakh but it was during deep winters but missed out on this experience. Would love to revisit Ladakh. Beautiful pictures, as always. 🙂

    Reply
  15. Soumya Gayatri

    I always love reading your posts for the detailed insights that they provide me into new cultures and communities around the world. I had never heard of the Changpas of Ladakh. So, this is a very enlightening post for me. And I am glad to hear that I can actually go stay with them and have an authentic experience of living among the Changpas. That is the best way to experience local culture.

    Reply
  16. Niranjan R

    This is such a wonderful experience, Parna! I had met Chngpas near Tso Moriri. Never had a chance to interact so closely.

    Reply
  17. Clarice

    Your post reminded me about the song Colors of the Wind. 🙂

    I am happy to read about your experience and would love to do that as well in the future if given the chance. There are times that I just wish that I’d be less concerned about the modern world and be more in tuned with what truly matters like nature and life.

    Your post just inspired me to spend time with the Changpas someday.

    Reply
    • Lisa

      Yeah I agree with that. So interesting.

      Hope someday I could go somewhere like that. ____www.bicroom.com___

      Reply
  18. Melissa

    This sounds like such an amazing experience! I agree that getting to experience different, especially to the extent that you were able to, is priceless. Stepping outside of our comfort zones and seeing how diverse the world around us is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. It is sad to hear that the traditional way of life of the Changpas people is fading, it is such a unique way of life

    Reply
  19. Laura

    This was such an insightful read – I have never heard of Changpas but now I feel like I have lived through your words and discovered a whole new culture. It sounds like you had an experience of a life time, having the opportunity to live with a semi-nomadic tribe is not something that everyone can say they have done. You have really inspired me to seek a venture like this out! thank you so much

    Reply
  20. Subhashish Roy

    What a beautiful experience it must have been for you. Just reading and seeing the beautiful pictures made me feel I was actually there. Wish I too could undertake a similar trip sometime. Your post motivates.

    Reply
  21. Iuliana Marchian

    What an interesting read. I haven’t known that these inhabitants of Ladakh are called Changpas. It seems that they are very similar with the nomads I met in Morocco, the only difference is that yours have a different form of the eye. I would love to go and have a similar experience as yours. This is what usually I am looking for.

    Reply
  22. Jane Dempster-Smith

    It is sad to read that this semi-nomadic way of life may soon be a thing of the past, but I can understand why. What an experience for you and thanks for sharing this article. A fascinating read. Also thank you for highlighting the fact that cashmere and pashmina come from the Changpas. Just to spend a day with the herd and to experience the way of life, priceless. Your photos are excellent.

    Reply
  23. Manisha IOP

    Nice post.
    Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience with us. Loved your blog!

    Reply

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