Flora and Fauna of Zanskar

The remote and exquisite Zanskar valley lies between the Great Himalayan and Zanskar Ranges, south-west of Leh and south-east of Kargil, in Kargil District. The Zanskar range, which extends from Kashmir in India to Balistan in Pakistan, is home to several rivers, including the Zanskar river. The valley is composed of two other valleys, the Stod/Doda and the Tsarap/Lugnak, which meet to form the Zanskar River at Padum, which in turn meets the Indus at Nimmu, west of Leh. Snowed for the most part of the year, the Zanskar valley can be reached by a treacherous connecting Padum with Kargil, or through the more adrenaline-inducing walk across the frozen Zanskar River. This valley acts as a climatic barrier protecting Ladakh and Zanskar from most of the monsoon, resulting in a pleasantly warm and dry climate in the summer. Rain and snowfall during this period are scarce, although recent decades have shown a trend towards increasing rains. Therefore, even though the Zanskari houses are well built, they have not adapted to the recently increasing rainfall, as their roofs leak visibly, catching their surprised inhabitants unprepared. Most of the rainfall actually occurs in the form of snow during the harsh and extremely long winter period. These winter snowfalls are of vital importance, however, since they feed the glaciers which melt in the summer and provide most of the irrigation water. During the periods between January and February, when the road connecting Padum and Kargil is snowed and the Zanskar river has also frozen, the inhabitants embark on a treacherous walk across this frozen river to conduct their weekly/monthly business and sustain a livelihood.

Since Zanskar is a high altitude semi-desert situated on the Northern flank of the Great Himalayan Range, its vegetation is mostly sparse and can be spotted in irrigated villages and on upper slopes which receive more precipitation. Shrubs and mosses belonging Alpine and Tundra species are common, as well as, meadows covered with thousands of Edelweiss are also to be found. Blue poppies decorate the foot of the Gumburanjon mountain. Crops such as barley, lentils, and potatoes are cultivated by farmers at lower elevations, who also keep domesticated animals such as yak, dzo, sheep, horses and wild dogs. Among the wild animals to be found here, there are species, characteristic to this region such as marmots, wolves, snow leopards, kiangs, alpine abex, wild sheeps, and goats.


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