Winged Wonders of Ladakh

Even the roads leading to Ladakh have their own appeal! Yes, you read that right, when you’re about to reach Ladakh, the very first glimpse of this snow laden heaven brings a twinkle to your eyes. Just imagine looking down on a silent, placid, greenish blue lake – beautiful, isn’t it? Or imagine the sight of magnificent mountains greeting you – such welcome one could never forget. There’s nothing more enchanting than nature’s handiwork in Ladakh, and the characteristic mountains that greet you with their silent white faces. Located on the southeastern part of Ladakh, Changtang is famous for its landscape and natural beauty. Located at a whooping height of 14,846 feet above mean sea level, this high altitude plateau has more to offer than just sceneries. This area represents India’s Trans Himalaya region due to its cold desert environment and harsh climatic conditions in winters. The valley is home to approximately two thousand people, and is known for its ancient history and rich cultural heritage, but what many won’t know is that the place is a haven for wildlife and is blessed with the rarest of the rare species that are found in the country!

View from the Changthang Valley

One such rarity that can be found here is the Black-necked Crane. Tall and stately, black-necked cranes are short-term migrants in Ladakh, yet their elegance has inspired myths, folk dances, art, research and wildlife expeditions. Revered in Tibetan Buddhism, the black-necked crane appears often in Ladakh’s thangka paintings and monastery murals. Pairs are said to mate for life and folklore claims that when one bird dies, the mate too dies pining for its partner, and so humans have turned the bird into a model of true love. Its graceful mating dance is the basis for one of Ladakh’s most popular folk dances, the chartses. It seems appropriate, then, that the bird’s Ladakhi name ‘cha thung-thung’ sounds so musical. The cha thung-thung’s cultural significance is underlined by a final fact: it is considered lucky if you spot one. But not too many people have that luck in Ladakh anymore.

Black-necked Crane

We decided to try our luck and ventured out in search of these mystic winged creatures, after a quick drive along the existing tyre tracks we reached a sight. With the help of the experienced local guides, we were able to see two tall birds in the distance. The cranes are slow and stately creatures, and appeared utterly content with their quiet party for two. Unlike in many bird species, the male and the female black-necked crane are similar in size and colour, so it is hard to tell them apart. But one can surely say these birds are elegant, both in appearance and demeanor. The birds were preening as they used their long beak and the flexible neck to comb through their feathers. After a while we could see them foraging as they dug the clayey soil with their long beaks. For a bird that flies across the Himalayas twice a year, the black-necked crane is surprisingly earth-bound in breeding and nesting season. The birds were at their natural best and were not bothered by our presence as we observed them from a distance. Little did we know that we had probably seen and photographed one of the rarest moments in the wild! After observing these fascinating birds for a few hours and after taking a few photographs we decided to return back to our cozy homestay at the campsite. As we were reviewing the photographs we were absolutely startled to see a tiny little creature shadowed by the presence of the adult breeding pair of cranes! Yes, we had seen a breeding pair of black-necked cranes along with their chick, which was so tiny that we had absolutely missed it while we were on the field. The local guides too were amazed on seeing the photographs.

Black-necked Cranes along with a chick

Each time I think about Ladakh I drool over the images that we had made on that tour. Wildlife is all about moments like these and much more. I am longing to visit Ladakh soon, this time in search of the other elusive creatures that inhabit this rustic wonderland!

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