CHANGTHANG: THE “PASHMINA” PLATEAU
Place: Changthang plateau
Location: Cold desert of Ladakh in India
Height: 14,600 meters above sea level
Climate: Harsh and unpredictable
Inhabitants: Changpa nomads
Main Occupation: Animal Husbandry
Speciality: Producing ‘Pashmina’, fine Cashmere wool
The Changthang region in the Indian Trans-Himalayan area of Ladakh represents the western extension of the Tibetan Plateau, an important highland grazing system. It is a cold desert, one of India’s five listed ‘bio-diversity’ regions, with a short summer and Arctic like winter, of sparse vegetation with a unique biotope.
Animal husbandry is a way of life, and the Changpas whole existence revolves around the migration of their flocks in search of pastures. Nomads raise mixed herds of sheep and goats for animals and animal products, and domesticate yaks, horses etc. for their products as well as for transportation of goods and human beings. They barter animals and animal products for grain and other necessities of life.
The most important animal of the Changpa herd is Changra (pashmina) goat, the products of which provide the main subsistence. Changra is a small goat of long haired species. These goats produce a double fleece that consists of a fine, soft undercoat of hair mingled with a straighter and much coarser outer coating of hair called as ‘guard hair’. The ‘lena’ wool from which the beautiful ‘Pashmina’ scarves, shawls, etc are made is the soft, silky undergrowth. To obtain this, it must be de-haired. De-hairing is a mechanical process that separates the coarse hairs from the fine hair. After de-hairing, the resulting "cashmere" is ready to be dyed and converted into textile yarn, fabrics and garments.
There are only two seasons in Changthang, as in rest of Ladakh; a short torrid summer and a long icy winter. The winter, which lasts from September to May is, devoted to spinning and weaving and in summer season, Changpas are busy combing pashmina, cutting sheep wool, spinning and weaving.
In Changthang, as in other parts of Ladakh, every adult male and female, if he or she is physically fit, participates in economic activities. Men and women both contribute towards household economy participating in herding, processing the animal products, milking, combing of pashmina and wool, spinning and weaving.