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  • Andrew Newey

Cashmere country: the perils of making the world's finest fabric


At an altitude of 5,100m (17,000ft), where winter temperatures can fall to -40C, it is hard to believe anyone or anything can survive. The vast ice desert of the Changthang plateau, situated between the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges, is the highest permanently inhabited plateau in the world and home to an extremely hardy and rare breed of goat: the Changra.

The altitude, freezing temperatures and harsh bitter winds in this unforgiving mountainous region stimulate the growth of the goats’ supersoft undercoat. The fibres measure a mere 8-10 microns in width, making it about 10 times finer than human hair and eight times warmer than sheep wool. This luxurious fibre is known the world over as pashmina, the softest and most expensive type of cashmere wool in the world.

Rearing these valuable animals in such inhospitable conditions are the Changpa nomads. For centuries these nomadic shepherds, who are as hardy as their animals, have roamed “the roof of the world”, moving their herds of yak, sheep and goats along traditional migratory routes in this high altitude desert every few months in search of fresh grazing pastures.

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