Chinese Yak Seen in Indian Territory, Indian Nomads Restricted, After Border Conflict

NEW  DELHI—Nomads in Ladakh on India’s border with China face uncanny situations after the last year’s bloody conflict between the two countries—while they sight nomads grazing their yaks from across the border, restrictions imposed by the Indian military keep them away from their traditional pastures. A Ladakhi public servant, Kunchok Stanzin, shared with The Epoch Times a 45-day-old picture of what he claimed are yaks belonging to Chinese nomads, grazing inside India in the Tharsang valley, near the Martsemik Mountain Pass. Meanwhile, the Indian nomads from the region have yet not been able to return to their traditional pastures on the border because of restrictions imposed by the Indian military after last year’s bloody conflict, subsequent standoff, and further military built up. Domesticated Yaks from Chinese graze in Tharsang valley inside India about 1.5 months ago, according to local Ladakhi nomads. (Picture courtesy Konchok Stanzin) Stanzin, who takes care of 12 villages, including eight that are located on the disputed border in the Chushul region, said the nomads subsist on pastures not only for grass—the pastures are intertwined with livestock’s various life stages. The winter pastures are also the grounds where the highly-priced pashmina goats give birth. Stanzin had a meeting with the Lt. Governor of Ladakh, R.K. Mathur, the highest authority appointed by the Indian federal government, and requested him to facilitate a meeting between the army and the community to bridge communication gaps because the winter grazing season is fast approaching. “China encourages its nomads to graze on the border pastures. We should also allow our nomads to use traditional grazing grounds. They can play an important role by keeping an eye on the intruding Chinese,” Stanzin told The Epoch Times over the phone from the capital city, Leh. Changpa Nomads The nomads of eastern Ladakh or the larger Changthang region on the border with China are called Changpas. Their nomadic migratory routes in the region are well defined and the grazing areas are demarcated. These groups have attained legal rights over these “areas by way of usage,” according to a 2011 grazing land study by the government (pdf). The government study confirms that important grazing lands of Ladakh are present in the Changthang region, which includes the Tharsang valley that Stanzin is talking about—only one percent of the land is cultivated while most of the vegetated area is pasture. When this study was done a decade ago, the nomads were already facing a shortage of pastures due to overgrazing as their livestock had kept increasing. Over the past decade, as Chinese intrusions increased in number, the military build-up on both sides has also increased, further decreasing the Changpas’ access to traditional pastures. Yaks graze in a valley in Changthang region in Ladakh, India on June 22, 2021 (Venus Upadhayaya/Epoch Times) Pastures As Strategic Asserts Ladakh is a trans-Himalayan region and is bordered by what China designates as the Tibet Autonomous Region. Before the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took over Tibet and during the British colonial rule over India until 1947, the region was a trade convergence point for various silk routes from Kashgar, Khotan (today’s Xinjiang), Tibet, Kashmir, and Himachal Pradesh (today’s India). Its high-altitude routes and passes were regularly transversed only by the silk route traders, or the Changpas, the latter raised yak and pashmina goats migrating between the summer, spring, autumn, and the winter pastures—their lifestyle and rituals were intertwined with their livestock and their seasonal routes. The last few decades of militarization of the border have turned these traditional pastures, including those owned by various Buddhist monasteries, into strategic assets for both nations. A herd of pashmina goats grazing in a valley in Changthang in eastern Ladakh on June 22, 2021. (Venus Upadhayaya/Epoch Times) Particularly after last year’s Galwan conflict, the locals fear that the Chinese use their nomads and their grazing yaks also as salami-slicing tactics, according to Stanzin, the councilor of Chushul constituency under Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, an elected body that works with the village councils (panchayats). “No wild yaks exist in [Tharsang valley],” said Stanzin. “Our locals have seen their yaks. Earlier our nomads were allowed on traditional pastures on the border but since conflict escalated, several restrictions have been imposed. Last winter our nomads were not allowed.” To highlight how precarious the situation has turned, Stanzin said that there are winter pastures at finger 1 and finger 2 of the Pangong Tso lake. It’s an 83 mile-long brackish lake, only one-third of which is within Indian territory. The finger-like land elements marked 1 to 8 are on the bank of the Pangong Tso and they are also patrolling areas. India’s perception of Line of Actual Control

Chinese Yak Seen in Indian Territory, Indian Nomads Restricted, After Border Conflict

NEW  DELHI—Nomads in Ladakh on India’s border with China face uncanny situations after the last year’s bloody conflict between the two countries—while they sight nomads grazing their yaks from across the border, restrictions imposed by the Indian military keep them away from their traditional pastures.

A Ladakhi public servant, Kunchok Stanzin, shared with The Epoch Times a 45-day-old picture of what he claimed are yaks belonging to Chinese nomads, grazing inside India in the Tharsang valley, near the Martsemik Mountain Pass.

Meanwhile, the Indian nomads from the region have yet not been able to return to their traditional pastures on the border because of restrictions imposed by the Indian military after last year’s bloody conflict, subsequent standoff, and further military built up.

Epoch Times Photo
Domesticated Yaks from Chinese graze in Tharsang valley inside India about 1.5 months ago, according to local Ladakhi nomads. (Picture courtesy Konchok Stanzin)

Stanzin, who takes care of 12 villages, including eight that are located on the disputed border in the Chushul region, said the nomads subsist on pastures not only for grass—the pastures are intertwined with livestock’s various life stages. The winter pastures are also the grounds where the highly-priced pashmina goats give birth.

Stanzin had a meeting with the Lt. Governor of Ladakh, R.K. Mathur, the highest authority appointed by the Indian federal government, and requested him to facilitate a meeting between the army and the community to bridge communication gaps because the winter grazing season is fast approaching.

“China encourages its nomads to graze on the border pastures. We should also allow our nomads to use traditional grazing grounds. They can play an important role by keeping an eye on the intruding Chinese,” Stanzin told The Epoch Times over the phone from the capital city, Leh.

Changpa Nomads

The nomads of eastern Ladakh or the larger Changthang region on the border with China are called Changpas. Their nomadic migratory routes in the region are well defined and the grazing areas are demarcated. These groups have attained legal rights over these “areas by way of usage,” according to a 2011 grazing land study by the government (pdf).

The government study confirms that important grazing lands of Ladakh are present in the Changthang region, which includes the Tharsang valley that Stanzin is talking about—only one percent of the land is cultivated while most of the vegetated area is pasture.

When this study was done a decade ago, the nomads were already facing a shortage of pastures due to overgrazing as their livestock had kept increasing.

Over the past decade, as Chinese intrusions increased in number, the military build-up on both sides has also increased, further decreasing the Changpas’ access to traditional pastures.

Epoch Times Photo
Yaks graze in a valley in Changthang region in Ladakh, India on June 22, 2021 (Venus Upadhayaya/Epoch Times)

Pastures As Strategic Asserts

Ladakh is a trans-Himalayan region and is bordered by what China designates as the Tibet Autonomous Region. Before the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took over Tibet and during the British colonial rule over India until 1947, the region was a trade convergence point for various silk routes from Kashgar, Khotan (today’s Xinjiang), Tibet, Kashmir, and Himachal Pradesh (today’s India).

Its high-altitude routes and passes were regularly transversed only by the silk route traders, or the Changpas, the latter raised yak and pashmina goats migrating between the summer, spring, autumn, and the winter pastures—their lifestyle and rituals were intertwined with their livestock and their seasonal routes.

The last few decades of militarization of the border have turned these traditional pastures, including those owned by various Buddhist monasteries, into strategic assets for both nations.

Epoch Times Photo
A herd of pashmina goats grazing in a valley in Changthang in eastern Ladakh on June 22, 2021. (Venus Upadhayaya/Epoch Times)

Particularly after last year’s Galwan conflict, the locals fear that the Chinese use their nomads and their grazing yaks also as salami-slicing tactics, according to Stanzin, the councilor of Chushul constituency under Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, an elected body that works with the village councils (panchayats).

“No wild yaks exist in [Tharsang valley],” said Stanzin. “Our locals have seen their yaks. Earlier our nomads were allowed on traditional pastures on the border but since conflict escalated, several restrictions have been imposed. Last winter our nomads were not allowed.”

To highlight how precarious the situation has turned, Stanzin said that there are winter pastures at finger 1 and finger 2 of the Pangong Tso lake. It’s an 83 mile-long brackish lake, only one-third of which is within Indian territory.

The finger-like land elements marked 1 to 8 are on the bank of the Pangong Tso and they are also patrolling areas. India’s perception of Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de facto border between the two countries after the 1962 war, runs through finger 8.

Epoch Times Photo
Finger 1 to 8 (Indian military patrolling areas) at the Pangong Tso lake while the white line is the de facto border called the Line of Actual Control between India and China. Locals said their winter pastures lie between Finger 1 and Finger 2. (Google maps)

However, the Chinese have a different perception of the border, saying the LAC passes through finger 2. Just before the Galwan conflict last year, a military confrontation between the two countries had happened twice—at finger 5 and finger 2 and during the Doklam conflict, thousands of miles away on Bhutan’s border in 2017, the Chinese had advanced to finger 4 before going back.

These theatrics between the two countries keep happening at the disputed borders of Pangong Tso while the Indian nomads suffer.

“I have requested the Lt. Governor to facilitate a meeting between the army officials, civilians, and the village heads to bridge any communication gap existing,” said Stanzin, adding that it’s important for the administration to help people understand the specific reasons behind their decision and also to let them directly voice their concerns.

The Chushul area in Changthang was the battleground between India and China during the 1962 war. With last year’s conflict, its strategic significance has only increased.

According to Stanzin, each village in the Chushul region has multiple winter pastures. The village known by the same name has seven winter pastures: Phurtsur Karpo, Phurtsur Nakpo, Rezangla, Rinchen La, Gurung Hill, Nyanlung Gongma, and Nyanlung Yokma.

The Epoch Times confirmed the information with Chushul village council’s head, Lobzang Jambal, over the phone. Chushul village, which houses 150 families, has about 1,000 yaks and 16,000 goats and sheep, he said.

In absence of natural pastures, the nomads have to rely on the stocked fodder provided by the Sheep Husbandry department of the government. No access to winter pastures increases mortality among pregnant pashmina goats, which give birth around this time, said Jambal.

The Epoch Times reached out to Lt. Governor Mathur’s office for a response on what’s being done to help the nomads on Ladakh’s high altitude border regions, particularly after last year’s conflict, but didn’t get a reply.

Last year Stanzin had written to the Indian army’s core commander in the region about the various concerns of the people on the border including the issue of grazing livestock in the reserved winter pasture land.

“Non-delineation of LAC on the ground leads to incorrect interpretation of alignment by civilians, which may result in our own graziers inadvertently crossing over to Chinese side,” Maj. Gen K. Narayanan had written in a reply to Stanzin in a letter made available to The Epoch Times.

“Moreover, due to the present operational situation in Eastern Ladakh, the graziers have been advised to restrict their cattle movements,” said Narayanan in the letter dated April 2, 2021.

The Epoch Times reached out to the Ministry of Defense’s Public Relations Unit in New Delhi about the matter but didn’t get a reply.

Meanwhile, this whole situation is having a drastic impact on the economy of the border region, where 85 percent of the population are nomadic and depend upon livestock for their livelihood, said Stanzin.


Venus Upadhayaya

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Venus Upadhayaya reports on wide range of issues. Her area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. She has reported from the very volatile India-Pakistan border and has contributed to mainstream print media in India for about a decade. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her key areas of interest.