Tech Blogs

Environment of Spiti Valley

When the environment is stressful, plant growth is inhibited. Spiti’s mostly barren, rocky terrain stands in stark contrast to the verdant, green slopes of the Greater Himalayas, which are only a few mountain ridges distant. Plants in Spiti Valley must contend with scarce water, harsh sunlight (yes, too much sunlight can be stressful for plants), thin soils, and herbivores that consume anything green that grows more than two centimeters above the ground. The best time to visit Spiti valley is from March to June.

Spiti’s plant life flourishes despite harsh environmental conditions. After being grazed, the grasses and herbs are capable of rapid regrowth due to the large stores of nutrients stored in their roots. And everywhere you look, there is a surprising variety of beauty. During fieldwork, a coworker and I collected about 40 species of grasses, most of which we couldn’t identify. We also collected over 120 species of flowering plants, but we could only name about half of them by their Latin names.

In some regions, a dwarf shrub known locally as thama or dhama and scientifically as Caragana versicolor covers up to 40 percent of the ground between 4,000 and 5,000 meters. Caragana is a fascinating and self-sufficient form of life. It is a thorny bush, the kind you wouldn’t want to accidentally sit on. However, within this thorny canopy, many other rangeland plant species appear to thrive. Researchers at the NCF had long been curious as to whether Caragana benefited these other plants, potentially aiding their growth and survival in these harsh conditions.

These high altitudes have a short growing season for plants. I hurriedly arrived in Kibber in mid-May, hoping to begin work as soon as the plants began to sprout after the long winter. I discovered that the nighttime temperatures were still dropping below freezing and that the plants had not yet awoken. The 24-hour bus ride from Shimla, during which I had to carry more than half my weight in luggage and equipment, was a hazy, sleep-deprived adventure. The journey was quickly forgotten when I arrived at Chhota Lama’s house in Kibber, where I would reside for the next four months.

My first few days were spent acclimating to washing clothes in icy water and walking in low oxygen levels. There was a great deal of puffing and panting for infuriatingly little progress. Through practicing tabla and providing musical support at parties, I was able to get to know the villagers, whom I found to be as beautiful and diverse as the plants that brought me here. In my opinion, living in such a harsh environment has made the people of Kibber extremely hardy, strong, and hospitable, with a warmth that cannot be matched by those who reside at lower altitudes (i.e., the rest of the world). In a few weeks, my lungs, muscles, and blood acclimated to the high altitude, and by mid-June, I was able to begin my field surveys with Tenzin Sherap, my capable and knowledgeable field assistant.

Spiti is known for its mountains, snow, animals, and vegetation. When I was there, I realized that I would continue to return, especially for the people—their simple happiness, boundless kindness, and intricate yet dynamic relationships with nature despite their extremely difficult lives. My time there enlightened me about the complexities of engaging in and carrying out conservation efforts that are sensitive and accountable to local communities. NCF has positively impacted the lives of both humans and wildlife in the Trans-Himalaya and provided many individuals with the opportunity to participate in this expedition. The wonderful people and beautiful scenery of Spiti have taught me so much, and I’m looking forward to many more lessons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *