At 12,500 feet, on the “Roof of the World,” 35 families fight to survive climate change in Kumik, a village so tiny it doesn’t appear on government maps of India. Although the villagers do not understand how or why the glacier that is their sole source of water is disappearing, they do know that their traditional life of self-sustenance is in peril and that they must adapt in order to survive.
In Summer 2015, I lived with the Thinleys, a local family, to document life in Kumik amidst a decade-long water crisis. I was struck by the unfair irony that this village, with its small carbon footprint, was forced to suffer the consequences of climate change. For over a millennium, the Kumikpas - the people of Kumik - have made a living by farming the high-glacial valley in the Zanskar Range. The Zanskar region, formerly a part of western Tibet, is a remote mountainous area in Indian-administered Kashmir that remains isolated from the world except in summer. The only winter ‘“road” into and out of the valley is the frozen Zanskar River. Villagers must trek over 100 km on the frozen Zanskar River, in sub-zero temperatures, to get medical attention or to trade.
The village of Kumik, as well as its pastures and farms, sit below the fast-receding Sultan Largo glacier. In recent years, many men and teenage boys in the village have moved away for employment or education. In summer, women and children fetch water from the village’s one trickling Kumikthu stream and are able to irrigate only a portion of their farmland. A severe drought in 2003 forced many villagers to sell most of their livestock. And rising winter temperatures means the Zanskar River - the winter “road” - no longer freezes solid and has become treacherous to cross.