Wild Ladakh

Ladakh_wildlife

Barren as it looks, a variety of unique flora & fauna species are found in Ladakh, a high altitude cold desert in the Himalayas. Other than mountain goats, sheep, horses and Yak that are commonly seen grazing around the pastures, the trans-Himalayan plateaus of Ladakh are home to several rare and endangered species of mammals and birds. In the vast landscape they’re difficult to spot, but once you do it’s fascinating! The jaw-dropping scenery of Ladakh is mesmerizing enough and the exotic animals add magic (and perspective), to the scene! It’s a great experience to watch these animals in their natural habitat and appreciate all that they endure to live in this paradise high up in the mountains! It’s useful to carry binoculars as most of these animals just look like tiny specks over the landscape with the naked eye. I love landscape photography and carry a wide-angle lens and a 35mm prime when I travel, so the wildlife I’ve shot is more a part of the landscape than close-up shots.

Kiang – the wild Tibetan Ass

Kiang, the wild Tibetan Ass
Kiang, the wild Tibetan Ass
Kiang, the wild Tibetan Ass at Nyoma
Kiangs against the stunning Nyoma landscape

Camouflaging with the browns of the mountains, Kiang is the largest of the wild Asses and inhabits alpine grasslands. Elegant and graceful like a horse with a broad, dark chocolate-colored dorsal stripe running from its mane to the end of the tail, Kiangs are herbivores and live up to 20 years in the wild. I had mostly seen them grazing peacefully like a part of a beautiful landscape painting of Ladakh, but in Hanle we saw a group of Kiangs run across the road a little ahead of us and disappear beyond the mountains. It was an incredible sight, and it happened twice! Not sure what makes them do that but I guess they also get excited when someone manages to come as far remote as Hanle! 😉 Watch Kiangs cross the road before us in Hanle.

Kiang breed of Donkeys

Similar to the Kiangs or probably related to them are the rare Kiang breed of donkeys that live in Rangdum Monastery on a hilltop near the tiny hamlet of Rangdum, on the way to Zanskar.

Kiang breed of Donkeys at Rangdum Monastery
Kiang breed of Donkeys at Rangdum Monastery

Marmots

Marmots enjoying the mountain slopes in Zanskar
Marmots enjoying the mountain slopes in Zanskar
The Himalayan Marmot upclose
The Himalayan Marmot peeking out from his burrow

The Himalayan marmot found in the cold Himalayan regions of Jammu and Kashmir belongs to the rodent family. Marmots are large furry ground squirrels that live in deep burrows that keep them warm even in subzero temperatures. They are one of the highest elevation-dwelling mammals in the world and are well adapted to life in dry alpine meadows that receive scanty rainfall. They hibernate during the winter months when the terrain is covered in deep snow and sunlight is scanty. These two cute marmots were running around and playing on the mountain slopes, en route to Pensi La in Zanskar.

Bactrian Camels at Hunder, Nubra valley

Bactrian Camels at Hunder, Nubra valley
Bactrian Camels at Hunder, Nubra valley
Double humped Bactrian camels
Double humped Bactrian camels with a backdrop of barren mountains
Double humped Bactrian camels
Double humped Bactrian camels at Nubra valley

Double humped Bactrian camels are a legacy from the traders who travelled the Silk route. Their tolerance for cold, drought and high altitudes made them ideal for caravans on the ancient trade routes through the harsh rocky terrain. These camels have two humps on their back and are hairier than their single-humped cousins. They are classified as critically endangered and possibly extinct in the wild. Very few are left in the cold desert of Hunder in Nubra valley, Ladakh, where they now used to give tourists a joyride.

Common animals – Mountain goat, Sheep, wild Horses and Dogs

Wild Horses graze by the stunning landscape of Nyoma
Wild Horses graze by the pastures around the stunning landscape of Nyoma
Wild horses graze by the pastures near Shey Palace & Monastery, 15 kms from Leh in J&K, India
Wild horses near Shey Palace & Monastery, 15 kms from Leh in J&K, India
 A mountain dog chills at 17500 ft at Chang La mountain pass in Ladakh.
Furry mountain dogs; A mountain dog chills at 17500 ft at Chang La mountain pass in Ladakh.
A herd of Sheep & goats graze the green pastures at an altitude of 12,000 ft
A herd of Sheep & goats graze the green pastures at an altitude of 12,000 ft at Rangdum village (right of image)
Yak, one of the most common animals seen in Ladakh
Yak, one of the most common animals seen in Ladakh
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Skulls of wild sheep and Yak with horns outside a tent at Tso Kar

The Ladakh landscape is literally dotted with herds of mountain goats, sheep, yak and wild horses especially in the summer months. Carcass heads with horns of a Urial (wild sheep) and Yak are kept outside homes in Ladakh as guardians. Wild horses graze by the stunning landscape of Ladakh and dogs enjoying the mountains. Watch two wild Himalayan dogs run along our bike against the breathtaking landscape of Ladakh.

Brown headed Gull, Pangong Tso

Brown-headed gull at Pangong Tso
Brown-headed gulls at Pangong Tso
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Brown-headed gull with red feet & beak

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A small white gull with red feet and beak, it breeds in colonies around marshes or shallow islands around high altitude lakes. Brown headed gulls are migratory birds that breed on the high plateaus of central Asia and Inner Mongolia and migrate to the coasts and large inland lakes like Pangong Tso – the most famous and largest of all the high altitude lakes in the Ladakh Himalayas. At an altitude of about 4,350 m (14,270 ft), the lake is 134 km long and the Line of Actual Control between India and China passes through the lake. Read more about the Enchanting lakes of Ladakh.

Black-necked Crane

Black-necked cranes at Mood near Loma, Ladakh.
Black-necked cranes at Mood near Loma, Ladakh.

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A rare endangered bird and the world’s only alpine crane species, the Black-necked crane breeds on the high altitude wetlands, alpine meadows and river marshes of the Tibetan plateau in China, Bhutan, Eastern Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh in India. It’s a tall whitish-grey bird with a long neck & legs, a black head & tail, and a small red crown. The Black-necked crane is sacred for the people of Ladakh and appears on Thanka paintings in monasteries. Sighting of this bird is considered auspicious and a sign of prosperity. It is the state bird of Jammu & Kashmir in India and Bhutan celebrates the bird by hosting a Crane Festival every year.

Black billed Eurasian Magpie

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Magpies belong to the Crow family and are one of the most intelligent animals, one of the only non-mammal species able to recognize itself in the mirror test! With a metallic blue-green & violet sheen, it’s a common bird in Ladakh. A few other common birds like the sparrows, pigeons and crows against the gorgeous backdrop of the Ladakh Himalayas.

Birds eye view. A pigeon on the roof of Thiksey Monastery on a hilltop around 18 kms from Leh.
Birds eye view. A pigeon on the roof of Thiksey Monastery on a hilltop around 18 kms from Leh.
The Alpine chough is a species of crow with a yellow beak and feet.
The Alpine chough is a species of crow with a yellow beak and feet. Shot at Rangdum village.
The Alpine chough perched on the roof of Lamayuru Monastery at sunrise.
The Alpine chough perched on the roof of Lamayuru Monastery at sunrise.

This piece is a part of a series on my travels to Ladakh, other posts – Ladakh Blues: Enchanting lakes of Ladakh,  Ride of a Lifetime – Road trip to Ladakh, Smiling Faces of Ladakh – heartwarming people of Ladakh and Hidden treasure of Ladakh– prehistoric Rock Art that dates back to 3000 BC!

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. pilankar says:

    wow nice post and photos, planning to visit this place this summer, anything special I need to do in order to see this animals.

  2. Such extraordinary, spectacular photos, Ritu of a remote part of the world. The kind that i would marvel at in National Geographic. The landscapes are majestic with the backdrop of mountains and the colours are stark and unusual. I’m so intrigued by how anything can survive at those kind of inhospitable altitudes and in so barren an environment. What a post!

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