Pashmina and cashmere goats of Ladakh.
Just back from a few weeks in our favourite part of the world - Ladakh. A place of high altitude desert plateaux, high passes and deep valleys, ancient Buddhist monasteries, friendly people - and goats.
And right now a place of dramatic political change. The day after we left, India's Prime Minister Modi made sweeping and controversial changes to the state of Kashmir, removing it's semi autonomous status. Until now Ladakh has been under the administration of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, J and K. Kashmir is predominately Muslim, Jammu predominately Hindu and Ladakh predominately Buddhist and for many years Ladakh has felt short changed by the J and K administration.
The photos above and below were taken at the village of Hanupatta at the start of the trek from Lamayuru to Padum. In the early evening the goats are brought back to the village where they'll be safe from snow leopards, foxes and wolves. The basket on the woman's back is for collecting dung for fuel.
Ladakh now has been granted Union Territory status which gives it independence from J and K and there has been much celebrating. Drawing boundary lines is always tricky and we wait to see what happens to Zanskar which is culturally aligned with Ladakh. Road access to Zanskar passes through Kargil which is pressing to be included within Kashmir.
But away from politics...
Restrictions in the east of Ladakh near the Tibetan/Chinese border were relaxed this year and for the first time we were able to drive to Hanle, one of the least light polluted places in the world and where where the Indian government has their astronomical telescope. This is in an area called the Changtang, a high altitude plateau that extends into China. It's a place of very sparse settlements and nomads - and with nomads come sheep and goats. And with goats come the soft pashmina and cashmere wools.
I was prepared for the stunning landscape but not for the wonderful monasteries, I never expected such a sparsely populated place as the Changtang to have such a rich Buddhist cultural heritage - but more about that in subsequent blogs.
Our cashmere scarves are one of the most popular products in the shop but many people don't know where the word comes from. In fact it's an old spelling of Kashmir, the state we talked about earlier which is half in India and half in Pakistan - and the main source of dangerous dispute between these two countries.
The goats produce a double fleece of the soft underbelly wool that is so light, soft and insulating and which makes for such wonderful scarves - so light they can easily roll up into your bag and are perfect for the approaching autumn nights.