The northernmost region of India is the ‘land of high passes,’ Ladakh. Shielded from South Asia’s wet and humid monsoon by the Greater Himalayan range that stretches to its south and curves west, this Trans-Himalayan region is a vast cold desert.
Starting here and yawning into the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China lies the Changthang plateau. At 4500 meters above sea level, this is home to Chang-pa herders, their long-haired goats famed for Pashmina (cashmere) wool. Dotted with multi-colored hills and vast grasslands, every moment here is pure drama. No two moments hold the same scene in Changthang. If the mountains supply the props, the clouds supply the lighting on this fabulous stage.
Richly biodiverse, Changthang is home to snow leopards, gray wolves, Eurasian lynxes, blue sheep, ibexes and the endangered Tibetan antelopes called the chiru. The sacred, highly-endangered black-necked crane flies in from China each summer to breed in the marshes of Changthang. By all counts, this is a precious landscape.
This region is also bearing the brunt of climate change. Having seen a full degree rise in temperature, glaciers have vanished or are in retreat, parching the valleys of melt water, vital for sustenance of both pastoralists and wildlife.
Having driven all day over high snowy passes and past a new-born Indus River snaking into India from China, I reached the easternmost part of Indian Changthang just as a shroud half-covered the summer sun. It got chilly fast. Not too many tourists came out this way, and the roads were empty. I stopped our jeep on a low rise of pasture. I trained my telephoto lens on two sacred black-necked cranes in the distance, that were keeping watch over their nest. Off to my right, a Chang-pa tent called a rebo, flapped in a wicked wind that had picked up. Turning away from the cranes, I looked out over the green and ochre hills. A gunmetal sky had begun to rain on them. I switched out my telephoto lens for a wide-angle lens and waited for the last vestiges of daylight to sculpt the hills.