Drang Drung Glacier

Drang Drung glacier is a meandering river of flowing ice and snow amid picturesque mountain ranges, altogether making a fabulous view. This gorgeous glacier has the beautiful snow-clad Himalayas towering over it making the striking view worth the watch of a lifetime. Drang Drung Glacier is truly one of those breathtaking factors that make this part of India to be called Paradise. A day’s trek lets you enjoy the scenery even better. For adventures, this place is surely on their bucket list. The Drang Drung glacier is the perfect getaway for the soul, mind, and body. It is exhilarating yet peaceful. The commingling is of the rare sort and that too at an altitude of 4,401 meters and can be seen only in a land as rich as India. 

Location and geology

The glacier is a huge, sluggish course of ice, arched from trampled sheets of snow, that gradually contorts and surges in congruence with gravity. One of the biggest glaciers in India, Drang-Drung Glacier offers the striking scenery of the snow-capped mountain peaks of the Himalayas. Drang Drung glacier is situated across the Suru Valley in Ladakh. It is most accurately visible from the unpaved Kargil-Leh road in Zanskar. It is the source of the Doda River and Stod River. The Stod river is a tributary with Tsurup Chu of the Zanskar river in the Valley of Padum that further merges with other tributaries to form the Indus river. The glacier resembles a river from the Pensi La Pass the only differentiating factor being that this is a river of ice. With an elevation that high, the glacier indeed looks awe-inspiring and spectacular. The Drang Drung is one of the major attractions of the Zanskar region and is without a flinch an adventure junkie’s paradise.

This glacier is considered to be the largest glacier in Ladakh, standing just behind the Siachen glacier of the Karakoram range with a length of 23 Kilometers and an average altitude of 4780 meters. It is situated 143 kilometers south of Kargil and 331 kilometers east of Srinagar. 

This place is reachable by the National Highway NH 1 D, which connects Leh with Srinagar through the cities of Dras, Kangan, Ganderbal, and Sonamarg. Kargil is halfway through it. The Kargil-Zanskar road lies and passes through a ravine valley of the Suru River and other shades of two twin peaks of Kun and Nun. This road is open to the public from May to September due to heavy snowfall in the rest of the months at Zojila and Pensi La Pass.

Racing in the northwest to southeast direction through Ladakh, the great Himalayan Range separates the Valley of Kashmir from Ladakh. Further east, and gushing in the same direction, the Zanskar Mountains enclose the Zanskar River Valley. Still further east is the Ladakh Range, forming the Indus River Valley, while to the northeast the Karakorum Mountains form the eastern boundary of Nubra Valley. The height of these ranges blocks rain clouds from crossing into Ladakh and as a result, the region receives only about 2 inches (5 cm) of rain per year. The aridity of the area is immediately sensible to the visitor, with Ladakh’s long array of mountains without vegetation and valleys with only a few elites of green.

History and Cultural Significance

Research data on the glacier has been available since 1975. Later in 1981, the Hemis National Park which is the largest 4,400 km2 (1,700 sq mi) in South Asia was incorporated. The place became popular. And then it had numerous visitors, adventurers, and trekkers.

The Tibetan influence in Ladakh is manifest: all religious scripts and prayers are in the Tibetan language, the monastic orders in the gompas are developed in regions of Tibet and the gompa artwork is clearly Tibetan in origin. Tibetan Buddhism has its roots dug in ancient Tibetan religion – Bon or Bon-Shamanism – and it incorporated many of Bon’s demons and gods. It similarly inculcated numerous of the gods in the Hindu pantheon, transforming them into a meta-religion.

For the people of Ladakh, religion is a daily affair with visible rituals that are regularly observed. These include making pilgrimages to gompas, spinning prayer wheels,  chortens, holy tombs, and mani walls, chanting mantras, and reciting prayers in the area of the home set aside as a chapel.


India has ten biogeographic zones representing biodiversity and Ladakh is one of the zones. The zone has been further subdivided between the Ladakh mountain (bio-geographic zone 1A) which includes the high ranges and valleys of Zanskar,Lahaul Spiti(60% of the zone), Indus, Shyok-Nubra, and the Indian portion of the Tibetan Plateau(bio-geographical zone 1B, the remaining 40%) constituted by thea small area of Sikkim north of Kanchen Jonga, Changthang region of eastern Ladakh ,Hemis National Park and two large Wildlife Sanctuaries (WS): the Changthang Cold Desert WS and the Karakoram (Nubra-Shyok) WS  are situated in Ladakh. Besides, there are many smaller wildlife sanctuaries or PAs in Ladakh, such as; Nindum WS, Changchenmo WS, Dras/Shaa Kharboo WS, Bodhkarboo WS, Brako WS,, Kanji WS, Rangdum WS, Rizong WS, Lugnag WS, Shang WS.

With respect to its geographical location and in spite of low biological productivity , Ladakh hosts an exceptionally diverse fauna. Ladakh’s fauna display various interesting features which have evolved as adaptations to the region’s extreme climate for example seasonal migration and hibernation, thick and bushy tails, thick fur,and large nostrils.

Excluding the lesser rodents, insectivorous (mice, rats, shrews), and chiropterans (bats), 36 species of mammals occur in Ladakh. This includes  3 Canids, 8 ungulates, 11 rodents, 2 hares, 5 mouse hares, 3 Felids, 1 Ursid, and 4 Mustelids.Six of the.Ungulates found in Ladakh are threatened globally. Out of which Tibetan Gazelle (Goa) is most vulnerable and is on the verge of extinction. Another species severely threteatend is the Great Tibetan Sheep (Nyan or Argali) and the Asiatic Mouflon(Urial) Other notable species are :Siberian Ibex(Skin),Tibetan Wild Ass(Kiang), Blue Sheep(Na),Wild Yak(Dong0, Great Tibetan Sheep(Nyan), Asiatic Mouflon-Urial (Sha), Tibetan Gazelle(Goa), Tibetan Antelope(Szos). Carnivores like Pale or Mountain Weasel(Lakimo),Snow Leopard (Shan,Tsabo), Lynx(Eyi), Pallas’s Cat (Ribilik), Stoat(Lakimo) , Himalayan Weasel(Lakimo), Otter(Chusham), Stone Marten(Kogar), Himalayan Brown Bear(Drinmo), Tibetan Wolf(Chanku),Tibetan Wild Dog( Pharra)Red Fox(Watse) are found. Lagomorphs found here are :Black-Lipped Pikka (Zabra),  Royle’s Pikka(Zabra) , Wooly Hare (Ribong), Cape Hare (Ribong), , Ladakh Pika (Zabra), Long-eared Pika (Zabra), Nubra Pika(Zabra). Rodents found here includeLadakh Hamster, : Marmot (Phia), Long Tailed Marmot (Phia), Grey or Migratory Hamster, Royle’s Vole(Zabra),  Stoliczka’s Vole(Zabra), Silvery Mountain Vole(Zabra), Turkistan Rat( Sabilik),Yello-necked Field Mouse( Sabilik), , House Rat( Sabilik), House Mouse( Sabilik)

As in the case of avian species, Ladakh’s bird diversity is quite impressive. To date, about 310 avifaunal species have been recorded in Ladakh, representing 35 avian families. However, only around 110 species among them are noted to breed regularly in the high-altitude cold desert climate of Ladakh. The unique habitat is crucial as the breeding and feeding ground for birds during the dry and short summer days. It also serves an essential staging floor for birds while they are crossing the mighty Himalayan range during the winter and spring migrations. 

In the Trans-Himalayan region, amphibians and reptiles are represented by a handful of species. But their diversity is remarkable. 4 species of amphibians and 11 species of reptiles have been reported by various surveys.Amphibians found here are : Kashmir SpadeFoot Toas(Spalba), European Green Toad (Spalba), Bufo Latastii (Spalba),) and Siachen Toad(Spalba).Reptiles noted here are : Ladakh Skink(Gyalto), Himalayan Rock Laudakia( Galchik), Blyth’s Toad Agama (Thangpelik), Toad Agama(Thangpelik), Banded Gecko (Saldak),  C. Montium salsorum (S,NEN-Saldak), C.lawdernas (S,NEN-Saldak), Himalayan Skink(Gyalto),Coluber rhodorachis(S,NEN-Rhul) Elaphe hodgsono(NEN,Rhul or Sbul)  and Common Rat Snake(Rhul or Sbul).. Threats to the fauna are: Poaching for memento or meat, killikg in defence to reduce wildlife and human conflicts, habitat loss and habitat degradation due to glacier retreats are dangerous situations for mammals. For birds the threats are heavy tourism, pollutants, vast plantation activities, over-exploitation and shrinking flocks of Sea Buckthorn. In general, off-road driving is one of the most dangerous threats due to the high number of tourist visits.Many species that build burrows and live inside them could collapse due to reckless driving. About 31% of fishes of Ladakh are threatened due to diversion of natural streams for various irrigation projects. This causes a disconnect between natural water flow and prevents migration of fishes.

The region comes under alpine and high alpine areas and is maximally covered by perennial and annual herbs, followed by a few stunted shrubs and bushes. The vegetative growth hikes at the beginning of summer when the melting of ice provides efficient  moisture. The flora is in magnificent full bloom in the month of August but starts vanishing by the end of September. The meadows , mountain slopes, and alpine pasturelands give a spectacular exhibition of flowers from cold desert barren mountains.

Adaptation to the environment by the potential flora of a land causes certain changes in aerial and underground segments of plants for their survival. The cold desert Trans-Himalayas  displays a highly specialized group of flora with metabolic and reproductive features suited for maximizing their activity in harsh climatic conditions. The flora of these high-altitude cold deserts display  a number of  morphological, ecological,and physiological adaptations which help them to counteract the pressure of the harsh weather common to Ladakh.

Environmental Issue

Glacier Retreat, outbursts and floods

Glaciers are highly susceptible to climate change, especially mountain glaciers due to their comparatively small size. They show quick and notable changes to the current trend of warming in climate. In the Himalayan region, the glaciers serve as a crucial source of water for agriculture, hydropower and tourism-related recreations. Glacier velocity gives information about the health of the glacier  and further helps in understanding patterns in  climate change, mass balance, and glacier features. Differential SAR Interferometry  is a radar interferometry technique widely used for accurately assessing surface changes with an accuracy up to a millimeter range. Velocity estimates are of high value to analyze the glacier-related hazards and can help in reducing the possible future damage downslope. In a study, the velocity of one of the biggest and benchmark glaciers in the Zanskar region, the Drang Drung region has been measured using Differential SAR infometery technique on Sentinel 1 SLC data. The results show that the glacier has moved to about 1m over a period of 12 days.

Another study analyzed the changes in the area, ,terminus and proglacial lake formation for Drang Drung glacier located in the Zanskar region of Ladakh by making use of earth observation data of 47 years from 1971 to 2017. In addition, ice width and formation of potential future lakes were curated  based on a distributed model known as the GlabTop. The estimations indicated that the Drang Drung glacier had shrunk by 13.85% from 1971 to 2017. Meteorological data of temperature and precipitation over the region were utilized to assess climatic changes over the Drang Drung region. The terminus of the glacier has retreated by 92500 centimeters since 1971 at the rate of 2111 cm per year. Although, the terminus retreat rapidly accelerated since 2014 at 6000 cm per year. Data from available satellite projections suggested that a proglacial lake was formed around 2014. In 2017 the lake had expanded to 16.62 hectares carrying a water volume of 2.69 cubic millimeters  with a potential spike discharge of 2667 m3 s−1. On the basis of GlabTop simulation, the average thickness of the glacier is 156 m with the highest thickness of 312 m. Climate data reflect that the temperatures  over the glacial region would rise by over 4 °C by the end of the 21st century with a minute increase in precipitation. GlabTop simulations also indicate the formation of two huge lakes with areas of 97 and 47 hectare in the bottom of the ablation segment of the glacier which could pose a danger to the incidence of glacial lake outburst flood in the coming future.


Research Studies

To create solutions, one must dwell deeper into the issue, and keeping that in mind, scientists at the United States Geological Survey (USGS), in concert with the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA, are developing a global inventory of all the world’s glaciers to help researchers track each glacier’s record. The inventory combines current information on size and movement with historical data,  photos, and maps of each glacier. The purpose is to enable scientists to better connect changes in each glacier with any shifts in local climate, such as temperature or precipitation changes.

Wise use of resources

Effectively, alternative energy sources can be introduced and popularised to slow down global warming. Solar panels trap the heat from the sun which can later be converted to electrical energy. Wind turbines use the kinetic energy from the wind to generate power. Tidal and wave power utilize the humongous power of the ocean by harnessing the energy with generators placed on the ocean bed. Geothermal energy utilizes the heat from inside the earth. Biofuels such as ethanol can be produced by fermenting and mixing vegetables, grain waste, and fruit; ethanol has the remarkable potential of replacing diesel. Electric cars are battery-operated that do not rely on the highly polluting internal combustion engine; hydrogen fuel cells are being developed for these batteries. These are a few yet phenomenal ways to deal with global warming.

Individual Contribution

As an individual, you can contribute by using battery-operated vehicles or mass transportation services, reducing the waste generated from houses, fixing leaky taps, and switching off electrical devices when not required. Also when as a tourist, you visit sensitive areas, avoid littering the places. These seemingly little things make a large impact if they are done on a large scale, and they’ll go a long way toward reducing your carbon footprint and saving the glaciers.


The Himalayan glaciers supply major Asian river systems sustaining the lives of more than 700 million people. Though the rates of retreat of the Drang Drung  glaciers might seem unremarkable when compared to others but on the whole,it is true that the glaciers of himalayas have been receding at an increasing rate over the past few years.. With the ever changing climate, glaciers will, unfortunately continue to shrink and the rates of retreat may heighten  even further. This may cause the formation of moraine in  glacial lakes built with dams, which can cause outburst floods upon mismanagement of the damIt can prove catastrophic to all life forms including humans and damage to infrastructure downslope. Therefore, recognition , conducting surveys, looking for potential risk, creating solutions with innovation will help her to save such precious glaciers. As they are not only a source of freshwaters but are also bearers of fertility and cultural heritage.

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