Changthang: Large northern plains

Durbuk: flourishing village in the valley

Tang ste: higher ground

Take a look at this image to get an idea of the scale of this plateau. At an average elevation of 10-15000 feet, it rightfully deserves the moniker ‘roof of the world‘. It is also the life-blood of the Asian subcontinent as all of Asia’s major rivers – the Indus, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Irrawaddy and the Yangtze originate here. Courtesy: http://www.thelandofsnows.com/faqs-on-travel-in-tibet/

The difference in the landscape as one exits the Chang La is immediately palpable. For this region consists of the western fringes of the Chang Thang 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 Chang Thang 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.

Frozen ponds Chang La
Frozen ponds dot the descent from Chang La to the plateau.
Melted ponds Chang Thang
The roads lead past numerous such scenes – towering snow peaks benevolently feeding snow-melt and watching over the grasslands.

Beautiful sights Chang Thang
Sky blue , snow white, rocky brown, and grassy green – numerous colors lend an artsy feel to the landscape here. What is more, the beautiful reflections lend the impression that one is viewing a painting drawn by mother nature herself.

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Durbuk from a distance
A brief interlude of barren landscape later, one can spot the village of Durbuk. It is here, that the road from Agham (near Khalsar) meets us after departing from the Shyok up north. Durbuk also serves as a resting spot for numerous tourists.
Tang Ste
Onwards, one is greeted by the sights of green fields and beautiful canals dotting the tiny town of Tang Ste (pronounced ‘Tang Say’, as per Tashi). It is the closest town to Pangong Tso and most needs, including medical facilities, can be fulfilled here.

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.

Marshy areas Changthang
Marshlands dot the lower reaches of the plateau, this sight presents itself just before the road climbs up to the Pangong Tso

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 Chang Thang pleateau.

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2 thoughts on “The Chang Thang Plateau – Doorsteps of Tibet

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