The Pashmina Goat
Nomadic Changpa herders raise Pashmina since centuries.
Originally from Tibet, the Changpas migrated to the Indian part of the Changthang plateau in the 8th century to settle permanently in the Hanle valley. Their cultural and linguistic proximity to Tibet favoured exchanges with the latter for several centuries.
As a result of the Sino-Indian conflict in 1962, the nomadic Changpa herders lost their right of access to the pastures on the eastern side of the Tibetan border.
At the same time, many Tibetan refugees, also herders, although sedentary, have fled Tibet to find refuge in Ladakh.
Since then, the two communities have shared the production of Pashmina, however, due to the limited amount of grazing land available, the Tibetan immigrants honour an agreement signed in 1962. This limits the size of their herd to 25 goats per person per family. Ladakhis need not worry about such restrictions and while 44% of them own no more than 50 animals, 3% have herds of over 300.
A nomad's life
Of Buddhist faith, the Changpas firmly believe in the sacred origin of their herds of pashmina, as a result, they live to the rhythm of their livestock and the nature that surrounds them.
In keeping with tradition, the families with the largest herds change their camp 8 to 10 times a year. This is to allow the regeneration of natural resources in the occupied area.
Families with smaller herds form cooperatives that allow them to develop other commercial activities in parallel.
Although nomadic, more and more Chanpgas nevertheless have a house in one of the villages in the valley. This is where the elderly members of the family and the children live. The latter can thus access schooling. The emphasis on education is increasing, so each village has a primary school.
The pastures of Ladakh are located at altitudes ranging from 4,000 to 5,600 metres.
The Changpas follow a well-organised system of land allocation to prevent overgrazing.
The camps also follow precise layout criteria. The position and orientation of the tents follows a defined order. Thus, the tents are set up with the entrance facing east and facing the sunrise. As the west winds are the strongest, it would be unwise to face this direction.
At night, the livestock is gathered in a circle, in the centre of which are placed the Changthangis goats, which are thus protected from the bad weather and the cold by the rest of the herd, which acts as a "shield".
A precious down
Domesticated for centuries, the goats of pashmina produce the precious fleece. Once sold to artisans in the Kashmir valley, the fleece is used to make stoles and shawls.
Shortly after birth, male pashmina goats are castrated, with the exception of those which are selected for breeding purposes.
The main criterion in the selection of the latter being the colour of the pashm, preference is given to white.
The shepherds start to collect the down from the pashmina goats between mid-March and early June. Harvesting is usually completed in the first week of August.
The pashmina is gently picked by hand with combs with rounded tips. The amount of fibre taken is about 200/250 g from a female and 300/500 g from a male. These figures refer mainly to the raw product, not cleaned of impurities (secretions, hair, soil, leaves, grass ...) and which will be sold as is to the craftsmen of the Kashmir Valley.
The net quantity of pashmina after cleaning is estimated at about 35% of the initial weight.
The Changthangi goat
The nomadic people of the Hanle Valley are known as Changpa.
Of Buddhist faith, the Changpas firmly believe in the sacred origin of their herds.