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The Changpas – Nomadic Life in Ladakh

The Changpa are semi-nomadic, high altitude (5328 m) Tibetan pastoralists found mainly in the Changtang region of Ladakh. Changpa means “northerners” in Tibetan. Unlike many other nomadic groups the Changpa are not under any pressure from settled farmers because the vast majority of land is too inhospitable for farming.

These nomads raise mainly yaks and goats. Pashmina goats grow a thick, warm fleece and are able to survive the winter where the temperatures can go as low as minus 35 degrees C. These goats provide the wool for the famous Pashmina shawls. Rice, grain and other basics are bought in trade.

Usually the nomads stay in one place for three to four months. They set up their tents, which are surprisingly cozy, and always have a Buddhist altar. The permanent stone walls give shelter to their livestock. Young goats are kept underground for warmth and to keep them safe.

Most nomad children usually go to boarding school. The parents seem happy with this education because they believe their children can have a better life. The older Changpas are proud of their traditions but realize that the new generations may not follow in their footsteps.

It is quite a drive to get to this part of Ladakh but well worth the long trip. Lake Tsomoriri was still frozen in early May. You need to be very well prepared to visit this area. Even in spring and summer you need a warm sleeping bag!

When I was there it was down to -25 degrees C at night. I was cold but also very happy I had this opportunity to visit with these amazing people.


The Changpa are semi-nomadic, high altitude (5328 m) Tibetan pastoralists found mainly in the Changtang region of Ladakh. Changpa means “northerners” in Tibetan. Unlike many other nomadic groups the Changpa are not under any pressure from settled farmers because the vast majority of land is too inhospitable for farming.

These nomads raise mainly yaks and goats. Pashmina goats grow a thick, warm fleece and are able to survive the winter where the temperatures can go as low as minus 35 degrees C. These goats provide the wool for the famous Pashmina shawls. Rice, grain and other basics are bought in trade.

Usually the nomads stay in one place for three to four months. They set up their tents, which are surprisingly cozy, and always have a Buddhist altar. The permanent stone walls give shelter to their livestock. Young goats are kept underground for warmth and to keep them safe.

Most nomad children usually go to boarding school. The parents seem happy with this education because they believe their children can have a better life. The older Changpas are proud of their traditions but realize that the new generations may not follow in their footsteps.

It is quite a drive to get to this part of Ladakh but well worth the long trip. Lake Tsomoriri was still frozen in early May. You need to be very well prepared to visit this area. Even in spring and summer you need a warm sleeping bag!

When I was there it was down to -25 degrees C at night. I was cold but also very happy I had this opportunity to visit with these amazing people.

#Changpas #Ladakh

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© 2020 by Michele Zousmer Photography