As you drive towards Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri, you enter Changthang Eco Zone. It is an extension of Changthang, the Northern Tibetan Plateau, and covers about 15,000 square km. The elevation varies from 13,000 – 23,000 feet and the region is dotted by wide valleys amidst rolling hills and the occasional mountain lake. It’s a cold desert that gets very little rainfall and very high solar radiation. Summer temperatures range from 0 °C to 30 °C but the winter is hostile, with the land freezing over at -20 °C to -40 °C.
The region is strikingly beautiful but very desolate too. You wouldn’t want to be stranded here. There are few permanent human settlements. What motivates people to lead such meagre lives in these harsh conditions, virtually cut off from the world? And still be happy? The only other people you see are the nomadic Changpas who pitch tents wherever their livestock find pastures.
In Changthang’s wetlands live many vulnerable and endangered animals such as the kiang (Tibetan wild ass), Tibetan argali, blue sheep, snow leopard, Tibetan wolf and lynx. They are the only breeding site for the bar-headed geese in India, and the only region outside China where the highly endangered black-necked cranes breed.
Of course, you’ll need a lot of perseverance to spot these creatures.
Read many more such features in Ajay Jain’s pictorial travelogue, Postcards from Ladakh.