Humps of Nubra

Humps of Nubra

The journey from Singapore to Leh (Ladakh, India) meant going from sea level to 3,505 metres in less than 24 hours. I had not had time to acclimatize and my heart was pumping hard to maximize the intake of every molecule of oxygen in the rarefied air.

 

Map

 

Early morning I drove in a multi-utility vehicle to one of the world’s highest motorable roads, Khardung La pass, at 5,359 metres. With rapid ascent, in less than two hours, my body had ground to halt. At top of the snow clad pass, an Indian Army soldier served us tea and advised that we descend quickly. Driving down to 3,048 metres, a few hours later, we instead found ourselves in the midst of a sandstorm in the cold, high altitude desert of Nubra Valley.

Bactrian Camels of Nubra ValleyNubra Valley was once a stopping place on the historic Silk route

 

Bactrian Camels of Nubra Valley

Bactrian camels of Nubra valley survive only in the high altitude cold deserts, where it never rains


Nubra Valley is around 150 kilometres north of Leh city. Here, the Shyok river meets the Siachen, forming a large valley that separates Ladakh from the Karakoram mountain ranges. With Siachen Glacier to the north, the valley is connected via the Karakoram Pass to Xinjiang in China to the west and to Pakistan to the east.

 

Bactrian Camels of Nubra Valley

Traders bought the double humpback Mongolian camels, some of which were left in this area and can still be seen

 

Physical endurance turned into a moment of ecstasy when, in the far distance, I had the first silhouetted glimpse of the only surviving herd of Bactrian camels of Nubra Valley. The moment was made all the more sublime by the gods, who seemed to know that swirling gusts of sand would only add to the scene as I photographed these “ships of the desert”. 

 

Bactrian Camels of Nubra Valley

Bactrian camels are the ship of the high altitude cold desert

 

While Arabian and Indian Rajasthan camels (Camelus dromedarius) only have a single hump, Bactrian camels (Camelus bactrianus) have two humps on their back that help store fat. They are herbivores, with a preference for shrubs and dry thorns, and they are the only land mammals than can quench their thirst with brackish (salt) water. They are highly adaptable, coping with extreme temperature ranges from -40°C to +40°C, and have an average lifespan of about 50 years. Today, there are fewer than 1,000 wild Bactrian camels living in their primary habitat across the Gobi Desert, along northwestern China and southern Mongolia.

 

Bactrian Camels of Nubra Valley

Bactrian camels are docile but can get aggressive, if in danger

 

Nubra Valley was strategically located on the historical route, witnessing traders and explorers bridge East and West, and Bactrian camels were the principal means of locomotion. As late as about 65 years ago, these camels were used across the Silk Route, taking a break in the cold desert region of the Nubra Valley to feed on vegetation, before proceeding further into Central Asia or into China.

 

Bactrian Camels of Nubra Valley

Desert muse : Bactrian camels have been the focus of artwork throughout history

 

Rabindarnath Tagore

The partition of India in 1947 led to the creation of a border in the west with Pakistan, forever blocking the valley from accessing Central Asia. In 1949, China closed the border between Nubra Valley and Xinjiang, which sealed the old trade route from the east. Since then, the region has not seen any fresh herds of Bactrian camels traverse the Nubra Valley, and those trapped in the valley could no longer go anywhere.

 

Bactrian Camels of Nubra Valley

Bactrian camels were depicted in numerous ceramic figurines of Chinese Tang dynasty (618 – 907 AD)

 

Today there are around 25 surviving Bactrian camels, trapped in the Nubra Valley region. Stranded there by the region’s politics, they have been adopted by the locals, who make use of them to support their livelihoods.

 

Bactrian Camels of Nubra Valley

Once these camels freely roamed in this region, accompanied by traders.

Will these formidable creatures ever thrive again? With this thought I headed into the sandstorm, resolved to capture more of these remarkable moments.

 Bactrian Camels of Nubra Valley

These camels yearn to live beyond the  man made geographic divisions

 

20 Comments

  1. Ritu Sharma

    These remaining few camels of Nubra truly deserve this spotlight! Sad to see them dwindled due to politics of our times…

  2. Sonil Mehra

    Beautiful photographs. Great effort and great mastery of detail. The narrative was very educative. Its a great passion you are following and enriching our knowledge. Keep it up.

  3. adarsh

    Amazing as always , quite n informative insight into this amazing breed of survivors. Have to say it is another episode of learning. The pictures are indeed too good!!

  4. I have never seen such wonderful images. And the hard working passionate photographers are always rewarded by the Divine Power with superb opportunities like this storm there. You have done the justice …

  5. Salman Rashid

    Breathtaking scenery and outstanding photography and writing to match. Extraordinary work, Amardeep. Truly impressed. Nubra! The old route over the Karakoram Pass between Leh and Yarkand. what a magical place it was.

  6. Karamjeet Singh

    You are really an ardent explorer and this time it is the Nubra valley in your focus.Nice narrative and even nicer images of double humped camels.I had never seen such close ups.Besides this natural habitat,it would be great if you could post pictures of yourself in these surroundings too.Anyhow it is a lofty adventure.Good luck!

  7. SUKHDEEP SINGH

    Relly nice photographs, veerji. The article as usual is highly informative and thought provoking in that how nature has been constrained by man’s greed and myopia.

  8. Dhiraj

    This has been my favourite series. Brilliant

  9. Alok

    Superb Pics. These animals are looking even more majestic than they ever looked when I saw them at Nubra Valley.

  10. Ira

    Pictures are amazing … With the story feels like I just came out of the same storm. Great work !!

  11. Srikanth

    Speechless! Even the camels seem to be posing for you.

    Not everyone discovers and follows his passion the way you have, Amardeep. Keep up the good work for us to follow vicariously – in the hope that some day soon ….. God bless!

  12. Gurmeet Singh

    Amardeep its a gods gift…but only those who are blessed and follow are bestowed with it….our best wishes to you for your ever growing passion…in so many hearts you are truly loved and admired

  13. Harbans

    Fantastic photography and text as usual! Really enjoyed it!

  14. Ajay

    How do you conceive such shots? Simply stunning.

  15. Rajit

    wow ! great work !

  16. Amardeep this is a wonderful piece. I just love the camels…they all have such great personalities. The photos, lighting, swirling sand are just brilliant. Once again my friend you have shown us beauty at the top of the world. I am forever in awe of your camera expertise.
    Sat Nam, Stephanie

  17. Very professional photography. The clarity of the subject ( Double Humpback Mongolian Camels ) and the natural location ( Nubra Valley ) is masterly photographed to have created a wonderful treasure of Life.

  18. Inderpal Singh Kohli

    Excellent information….. Needs to give a thought by our so called ‘Think Tanks’ and ‘Solution Provider’s’ ….. Politician’s…….Gurus…..
    Most of the time hours and days are spent out on useless discussions which have no relevance and the end result is big Zero……Such topics should be taken up…and people from the uniform society should be invited……. Conservation and protection of our heritage should be top most priority…..

  19. These images of the Bactrian camel are absolutely stunning. The photos create a strong feeling of empathy with these creatures. In some odd way they look as regal as the king of the jungle!!
    A pleasure as always to see through your perspective.

  20. Bharat Bhatt

    Wonderful and immensely educative photojournalism! Extremely competent capture of the nature enriched with the narrative that evokes instant empathy for the beautiful creatures suffering due to senseless division of the mother earth by ugly mankind.

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