Changthang meaning: Large northern plains
Durbuk: flourishing village in the valley
Tang ste: higher ground
The difference in the landscape as one exits the Chang La is immediately palpable. For this region consists of the western fringes of the Changthang plateau, which is itself, an extension of the enormous Tibetan plateau that runs thousands of miles to the east.
In ancient times, one would now be treading through Tibet itself. Of course, today it is a part of the Indian mainland and the Indo Chinese border separates it from it’s parent.
The Changthang is noticeably colder than the other regions of Ladakh due to it’s higher elevation. It’s winters are referred to using the adjective ‘Arctic’ in many places, indeed this is the place where one can be afflicted with frostbite and sun burns on the same day.
Another major difference is the total absence of trees that are usually present in abundance in the valleys to the west of the Chang La.
The locals here, more Tibetan than the Ladakhi populace back in Leh, used to be, and even now in some cases, are Nomads, called as the Chang Pa. Tashi, our driver, points out a nomadic hut on the plains – the tent is apparently made of Yak skin and can withstand the fierce cold here.
Closer to the pass, a lot of snow-melt irrigates the land and hence, serves as ideal grazing grounds for a variety of wild life. One comes across wild horses, the ubiquitous Yak as well as hordes of domesticated Pashmina sheep on these pastures. From time to time, mormots, some of them accustomed to the presence of human beings and the food they carry, also scurry out of the ground to greet tourists.
As one exits TangSte, the landscape grows even more desolate but not dis-interesting. For the roads now become better and run close to the base of the mountains with gorgeous green patches of grassland flanking it on both sides. The shadow of the mountains means that the temperature is substantially lower here, and sunlight reaches the ground for only a brief period during the day. Hence, the resulting chill in the atmosphere is even more evident, but the beauty of the landscape somehow alleviates the discomfort a fair bit.
Not far from the marshlands, one can spot the surreal colors of the Pangong Tso, a destination in itself for much of the tourist population. The road climbs up and descends through some rough patches here, but is perhaps the last hurdle for almost all visitors, since the welcoming waters of the lake are an indicator of shelter and rest after the trials and tribulations of travel through the Chang La and the Changthang pleateau.
For some spine chilling photos of the Changthang, visit this Nat Geo photo feature by Sankar Sridhar.