On a wall in the remote village hall of Pangling I found a local map denoting land cover change between 1999 – 2010. The speed and extent of this change is incredible and everybody here in Mustang knows it.
The tree line and the snow line are retreating dramatically , ‘walls’ of wood are stacked on every rooftop. Families, indeed entire communities, are relocating due to the increased distance to water sources. The slopes and surfaces of the landscape are barren and dry. Scree and sandy top soil slide down the mountain sides and clouds of dust are carried by the wind. Villages at the base of slopes have been buried and attempts to replant these slopes abandoned as roots have nothing on which to cling. The rains of the monsoon are more extreme and erratic, damage and landslides more common.
As I walked up the sides of the Thorong Khola valley from Kagbeni to Jharkot to Muktinath, I examined this dry landscape, photographing the signs and features of erosion: the finger-like shapes and caves in the limestone, the concrete ‘feet’ of benches now exposed and the funnel, hour-glass-like shapes of sliding screen.
This is a dry land, as far as the eye can see, and it’s getting drier.