The Himalayas and the surrounding mountain ranges in the northern most part of India are geologically young fold mountains which continue to grow even today. The name is derived from the sanskrit word ‘Hima-laya’ meaning ‘Abode of Snow’. (‘Hima’ means snow and ‘a-laya’ means dwelling). Crossing the Himalayan range we moved into the trans-himalayan region where the experiences, interactions and the new explorations have literally and philosophically changed my life forever.
Ladakh – The land of natural wonders and historical enigma.
Ladakh (“land of high passes”) is a region in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir that currently extends from the Siachen Glacier in the Karakoram range to the main Great Himalayas in the south, inhabited by people of Indo-Aryan and Tibetan descent. It is one of the most sparsely populated regions in Jammu and Kashmir and its culture and history are closely related to that of Tibet.
Ladakh:Wildlife and Natural Heritage
Apart from the rich cultural heritage, scintillating experiences, historical monasteries and picturesque landscapes of the region, there is one more thing which seldom creates interest among the people and the media. The natural heritage and the wildlife of Ladakh.
Ladakh: Variety of Flora and Fauna
Ladakh is located in the trans-himalayan region and is home to many species of flora and fauna, many of which are unique to the region. Major species of plants include aconite, columbine, sea-buckthorn, common juniper, Himalayan may-apple and ratanjot. Major species of mammals include snow leopard, wolf, eurasian lynx, pallas’s cat, red fox, Tibetan argali, Asiatic ibex, Ladakh urial, blue sheep, Tibetan antelope, wild yak, Tibetan gazelle, Himalayan marmot, pika, hare, stoat and weasel. Apart from these, there are numerous avifauna species, reptilian species and invertebrates in this landscape.
Ladakh: Ecological Balance
It’s very surprising that such an arid landscape with such sparse vegetation can hold such unique biodiversity. There are lot of unique species of flora and fauna present in the Ladakh region and any alteration can cause a heavy impact on the survival of the ecosystem. For instance, while travelling from Pangong lake to Nubra Valley, we met with the Himalayan Marmots (phia) on the way. These are very important creatures as they regulate vegetation growth and plant diversity by consuming some species and avoiding others. They dig up the soil to maintain soil nutrition, texture and aeration hence finally looking after the health of the pastures. We also got glimpses of the wild mountainous horse and the wild yak who contribute towards maintaining the amount of pastures in the region. It was a treat to watch from the moving car, the white wild horse with a golden streak on its neck galloping through the valley, kicking off white dust behind it and stirring the air with its motion. In the same way the apex predators like the snow leopard act as a predator and prey upon its herbivorous victims to maintain a balance of herbivores so that the excess pasture doesn’t get removed in a short span of time.
But this diverse co-existence is under threat due to global warming, increased human encroachments and commercialisation of tourism to a great extent. Its the responsibility of tourists, travellers, government and non-government organisations to contribute towards maintaining a proper human-nature-wildlife interface.
Ladakh: Human Intrusion
The Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus) is a large, even-toed ungulate native to the steppes of Central Asia. The Bactrian camel has two humps on its back, in contrast to the single-humped dromedary camel. Its population of two million exists mainly in the domesticated form. Their name comes from the ancient historical region of Bactria.
A small number of feral Bactrian camels still roam in the Mangystau Province of southwest Kazakhastan and the Nubra Valley (Ladakh) in India.
An article in The Better India says “Though the locals organise camel rides for tourists in the Hunder region of the Nubra Valley, animal rights activists are furious by the apparent abuse these camels suffer. Controlled through ropes piercing their nose, these camels are at the mercy of caretakers (most of whom are not trained well enough to take care of this very unique animal), who often leave them bleeding, activists claim.
There are even accusations that these caretakers lash these creatures if they don’t behave. Moreover, during the peak tourist season (July-September) hundreds of people ride them hour after hour with little respite.”
Ladakh: Message for a Better Future
Humans consider themselves to be a superior race. We don’t realize the importance of the smallest species in the web. It’s high time we learn the basics and teach our society the value of our natural resources and wildlife. To save our mountains, we need to save its natural resources. We need to strictly avoid plastics in these regions and in our daily life as well. In Ladakh, Special care must be taken to uphold the balance of the ecosystem and understand the wildlife-human interface for effective conservation action. Hope to come up with new insights on wildlife, history, culture and the artistic wonders of this surreal experience called Ladakh. Till then, Go green! Make a small step towards sustainable living and travel.
2. The Natural Heritage of Ladakh – The Himalayan Heritage – Karma Sonam (Field Editor at NCF)
3. Ladakh – Wikipedia
6. Bactrian Camel – Wikipedia
Pictures: Gargi Chowdhury & Pritam Chowdhury