Climate

In a warming climate, nomads are giving up a way of life in Kashmir

Once an important part of the famed Silk Road trade route, India’s Ladakh region, a mountainous cold desert that borders China and Pakistan, is now almost inhospitable to even longtime pastoralists grazing their goats on the mountainside. Climate change has transformed this part of Asia, with shifting weather patterns that cause regular flooding, landslides and drought.

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For Konchok Dorjey, a longtime resident of Kharnak village, the volatility of these changes exacerbated an already challenging existence. Dorjey, 45, chose to migrate with his family in search of a better life, trading his nomadic lifestyle raising cashmere-producing goats for a life in town driving a taxi.

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Nomadic women milk their Himalayan goats that produce cashmere in Kharnak on Sept. 17.

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Mukhtar Khan/AP

Now living in a regional town called Leh, Dorjey and his family are among hundreds who have also migrated from sparsely populated villages to urban centers. For many, food security, health care and education helped drive their migration. But worsening climatic conditions hastened their flight.

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Konchok Dorjey at his home in Ladakh. His daughter reads in the next room.

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Mukhtar Khan/AP

Sonam Kunkhen, Dorjey’s wife, talks on the phone in their home in Leh. “It’s better here for me and my family,” she said. “It took us a while to adjust, but I’m glad we moved here.”

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Mukhtar Khan/AP

Dorjey, his wife and daughter eat dinner at home.

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Mukhtar Khan/AP

A view of the town of Leh in the cold desert region of Ladakh, India.

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Mukhtar Khan/AP

Authorities attempted to address some of the problems in the countryside, building prefab huts for nomads and updating animal feed facilities in villages. But Dorjey says he is skeptical that such efforts would stop migration.

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Nomad and village leader Gyaltsan Zangpo, center, makes dinner as his wife, left, prepares dough for bread inside their mud-house kitchen in Kharnak.

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Mukhtar Khan/AP

Nomad Tsering Choldan plays a traditional instrument at his home in Kharnak.

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Former nomad Dawa Tundup sits inside a mosquito net with his wife, Tashi Lamo, outside their home near Leh.

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Mukhtar Khan/AP

Dorjey walks through Kharnak village.

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Mukhtar Khan/AP

Animal skulls are displayed atop a mud house, meant to ward off evil spirits.

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Mukhtar Khan/AP

In the past two decades, many of Kharnak’s pasturelands have become barren because of unusual weather. Ladakh — home to thousands of glaciers, including Siachen glacier, one of the longest outside the polar region — belongs to what’s dubbed the water tower of Asia. Fed by some of the region’s glaciers, the Indus Basin irrigation system serves India and China, and is considered a lifeline for Pakistan’s agricultural land.

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In the remote Himalayan region, glaciers are melting fast, and villagers still largely depend on glacial runoff for water.

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Mukhtar Khan/AP

A climate activist holds a sign advertising a local photo exhibition on climate change in the town of Leh.

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Mukhtar Khan/AP

Indian army vehicles move through Ladakh. The ongoing military standoff between India and China has led to the deployment of tens of thousands more soldiers to the already militarized region and has sparked massive infrastructure development in recent years.

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Mukhtar Khan/AP

Many glaciers that once covered the surrounding peaks have receded at an alarming rate, threatening the water supply of millions of people.

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Tsering Choldan, left, sits with his wife, Tenzin Choldan, and a man who works for them inside their house in Kharnak.

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Mukhtar Khan/AP

Dorjey visits a neighbor’s house in Kharnak.

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Mukhtar Khan/AP

Dorjey said he can’t take the nomad out of himself.

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Dorjey’s home in Kharnak.

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Mukhtar Khan/AP

Dorjey holds his daughter at home.

Mukhtar Khan/AP

Mukhtar Khan/AP

“It was the hardest decision in my life to leave my village. My soul is still here,” he said. But he also acknowledged he was thinking less and less of returning, as “urban life has possessed and softened me.”

Mukhtar Khan/AP

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Photo Editing and Production by Amanda Voisard