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Changpas
About Changpas

The Changpa are a semi-nomadic Tibetan ethnic group mostly found in Zanskar region of Jammu and Kashmir. A smaller number are also found in the western regions of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The Changpas are a transhumant group moving vertically from one valley to another. They live in yak hair tents called Rebos, (pictured on the left). Each Rebos is occupied by an independent, generally polyandrous family and serves as the basic unit of Changpas society.

The Changpas are the only group in India that use the portable back strap loom for weaving. Each family has a loom, Thak, and since it is portable, it can be easily set up and used in any location. All weaving including saddle bags, back packs, yak hair panels for rebos, rugs, carpets and wide woolen panels used for clothing are woven with the Thak. Though the Changas women weave year round, most of the weaving is done during the summer months.

One of the more prized possessions of Changpas women is the Perak, their traditional head-dress. The Perak is a wide strip of leather that is covered with cloth to which are attached rows of rough-cut turquoise stones. Jeweled amulets and silver ornaments are also attached. The wide ear pieces are made of black lambskin. Starting when they were young girls, these women purchased and collected turquoise and corral stones to add to their Perak over the years. When worn, the Perak is an obvious display of wealth.

 
Changpa of Jammu and Kashmir

The Changpa of Ladakh are high altitude pastoralists, raising mainly goats and yaks. Among the Lasakh Changpa, those who are still nomadic are known as Phalpa, and they take their herds from in the Hanley Valley to the village of Lato. Hanley is home to six isolated settlements, where the sedentary Changpa, the Fangpa reside. In spite of their different lifestyles, both these groups intermarry. The Changpa speak Changskhat, which is a dialect of Tibetan, and practice Tibetan Buddhism.

Only a small part of Changtang crosses the border into Ladakh, in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is, however, on a historically important route for travellers journeying from Ladakh to Lhasa, and now has many different characteristics due to being part of India. Historically, the Changpa of the Ladakh would migrate with their groups into Tibet, but with Chinese occupation of Tibet, this route has been closed.

As of 2001, the Changpa were classified as a Scheduled Tribe under the Indian government's reservation program of positive discrimination.

 
Changpa of the Tibet Autonomous Region

The homeland of the Changpa is a high altitude plateau known as the Changtang, which forms a portion of western and northern Tibet extending into southeastern Ladakh, and Changpa means 'northerners' in Tibetan. Unlike many other nomadic groups in Tibet, the Changpa are not under pressure from settled farmers as the vast majority of land they inhabit is too inhospitable for farming.

Most of the Tibetan Changtang is now protected nature reserves consisting of the Changtang Nature Reserve, the second-largest nature reserve in the world, and four new adjoining smaller reserves totalling 496,000 km2. (191,507 sq. miles) of connected Nature Reserves, which represents an area almost as large as Spain, and bigger than 197 countries. Since the reserves have been established there has been a considerable increase in the numbers of endangered species. The protected areas extends across parts of the Tibet Autonomous Region, the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. and Qinghai Province in China.

Daily Activities of Changpas

Important to the Changpas are the skills that must be developed to accomplish routine activities such as spinning yak hair into thread. The spinning of wool and yak thread is essential to the production of carpets, rugs and clothes that are used for sitting and sleeping and of course the weaving of panels for their Rebos. Spinning yak hair into thread is an activity of Changpa womens, this activity consumes a great deal of leisure time. Portable Grinding Wheel is also used by changpas for their activities. During migration, a large portion of Changpas supplies, such as barley, are obtained from trading in villages and individual farm houses. Barley is parched and ground into flour called tsampa which is consumed with every meal.

The small village of Karzok (above) sets slightly above the grass lined shore of Lake Tsomori at an altitude of 16,000 feet. Once the center of central Asian trade, Karzok now points toward Karzok Fu, where the Changpas pitch their Rebos and tend their herds of yak, goats, sheep and horses. This area serves as the summer home for the Changpas because of the availability of pasture and snowmelt streams.

Livelihood of Changpas

The Changpas live on the desolate Changthang plateau in Ladakh, of which Rupshu is the highest inhabited part. The region has an extremely dry climate and living conditions are extremely difficult. The population density is very low.

Animal husbandry is the main source of income for the Changpas. Barley is raised over a limited area. Members of this community also collect salt from the impure deposits on the northern shore of the Tsokar Lake in Rupshu. This is sold all over Ladakh and in the past was sent even to the Kashmir Valley. The Changpas also engage in petty trade. They may also act as porters for the defence forces and various mountaineering expeditions.

 

 


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