The littlest nomad: The stunning images of a young boy's goat-herding Himalayan tribe who survive without technology or money - but whose way of life is increasingly fragile

  • Photographer Cat Vinton was accepted among the Chang Tang-Pa and spent two months learning of their way of life
  • The tribe live on the Tibetan-Indian border and spend their time finding food for their herds in the snowy mountains
  • The hardy nomads don't have any money or technology and survive on an old tradition of trading goat yarn

He is only young, but Jimmai has already endured more physical hardship than many will in a lifetime.

Born into a family of nomads who live high in the Himalayas on the Chang Tang plateau, he is part of a way of life that's dying out. His resilient tribe spend their days finding food for their goats in the snowy mountains and desperately trying to survive in a world that is leaving them behind.

Photographer Cat Vinton was welcomed among Jimmai's tribe - the Chang Tang-Pa - and spent two months learning of their unwavering determination to preserve their nomadic lifestyle.

Born into a family of nomads who live high in the Himalayas on the Chang Tang plateau, Jimmai is part of a way of life that's dying out

Born into a family of nomads who live high in the Himalayas on the Chang Tang plateau, Jimmai is part of a way of life that's dying out

Disappearing way of life: Vinton stayed with a family who live on the Chang Tang Plateau on the Tibetan-Indian border and sleep in tents under yak skins

Disappearing way of life: Vinton stayed with a family who live on the Chang Tang Plateau on the Tibetan-Indian border and sleep in tents under yak skins

Vinton was welcomed into Gaysto's family, which is pictured here. His 12-year-old daughter Sonam is on the right, son Karma at the front and wife Yangyen on the left

Vinton was welcomed into Gaysto's family, which is pictured here. His 12-year-old daughter Sonam is on the right, son Karma at the front and wife Yangyen on the left

Devoid of technology, the Chang Tang-Pa live a simple existence centred around living off the earth, something Vinton described as a 'true alternative to the ways of the west'.

The tribe were forced onto the remote Chang Tang Plateau, on the Tibetan-Indian border, after the Chinese invasion in 1959. They may live as refugees in the mountain, but are free to roam and go about their business.

Their lives are entwined with their goats and sheep. Vinton saw just how closely when he met a 12-year-old girl called Sonam. She would sing to her animals and venture across the mountains for days on her own looking for new pastures for them.

She is also responsible for ensuring the youngest members of the flock get milk and food - a tough mission when most grazing land is below a thick layer of snow.

Vinton discovered that 56 years ago, Sonam's father, Gaysto, at the time a boy of seven, had journeyed for weeks on foot to flee the Chinese invasion.

Having reached the mountains, his people were forced to embrace an ancient way of life, sleeping under yak skins in tents and living off the land. 

'What is truly remarkable in this long and tragic saga is the resilience of the people, the uncompromising power of their faith and the strength of their determination to survive,' Vinton said. 

While there, she lived and ate as the tribe did, sharing the tent with the family, baby goats and sheep.

'We all shared the same space and skins - keeping warm as the fire slowly died out during the night hours,' she told MailOnline Travel.

Meals consisted of goat meat, goat fat, momos (Tibetan dumplings), Tibetan tea and lots of tsampa (barley flower). 

Sonam (pictured) is responsible for ensuring her young family's goats get milk and food - a tough mission when most grazing land is below a thick layer of snow

Sonam (pictured) is responsible for ensuring her young family's goats get milk and food - a tough mission when most grazing land is below a thick layer of snow

The Chang Tang-Pa don't have need of money, and survive solely through trade and the exchange of goods, mainly produce from their prized goats. Here a tribe member called Yangyen spins yarn

The Chang Tang-Pa don't have need of money, and survive solely through trade and the exchange of goods, mainly produce from their prized goats. Here a tribe member called Yangyen spins yarn

Mother and son: Yangyen and Karma share a moment of tenderness inside their home. Devoid of technology, the Chang Tang-Pa live a simple existence centred around living off the earth

Mother and son: Yangyen and Karma share a moment of tenderness inside their home. Devoid of technology, the Chang Tang-Pa live a simple existence centred around living off the earth

The Chang Tang-Pa don't have need of money, and survive solely through trade and the exchange of goods, mainly yarn from their prized goats.

Vinton was told that the Indian government now has exclusivity for their produce. 

'Forbidden from selling their yarn to anyone else, the nomads are forced to sell only to the government, who pay an excruciatingly low price for what they produce,' Vinton said. 

The family live a devout Buddhist lifestyle and Vinton witnessed them chanting Tibetan prayers in the early morning sunlight.

An important part of their religious culture is heeding the wisdom of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who emphasises the importance of education, something Gaysto can't afford to buy for his children.  

Vinton said: 'Sadly their paltry income doesn't enable parents like Gaysto to send their children to school in the Tibetan Children's Village in Leh, the capital of Ladakh.'

After the nomads herd goats down from the snowy mountain slope they quickly gather to feed the hungry animals

After the nomads herd goats down from the snowy mountain slope they quickly gather to feed the hungry animals

Hands on: Yangyen is pictured here in the early morning making tsampa – a type of Tibetan flour – from roasted barley

Hands on: Yangyen is pictured here in the early morning making tsampa – a type of Tibetan flour – from roasted barley

The tribe's most modern possession is a beautiful old USHA sewing-machine. In addition to this they have little means of communicating with the outside world.

In fact, Vinton herself had only found the tribe after meeting a woman called Tashi, who had left the Chang Tang-Pa to attend school. She agreed to accompany the UK-based photographer during her two-month stay.

The Chang Tang-Pa rely on word of mouth for news and for the family Vinton stayed with, this mainly comes through their three daughters. The girls now live in or near the district of Leh, having married men from other nomad camps.

Vinton found that it is traditional that a Tibetan woman may have more than one husband, one around the home to help with daily life and another living in the wild with the herds. 

'They have a quiet acceptance of the inherent fragility of their way of life, set against an acute awareness of a fast-changing world and the irrevocable impact this change will have upon their traditional culture,' Vinton said. 

When Gaysto's family move on for the season they leave behind the foundations of their temporary settlement. The following year his family will return to the same spot

When Gaysto's family move on for the season they leave behind the foundations of their temporary settlement. The following year his family will return to the same spot

The family live a devout Buddhist lifestyle and Vinton witnessed them chanting Tibetan prayers in the early morning sunlight 

The family live a devout Buddhist lifestyle and Vinton witnessed them chanting Tibetan prayers in the early morning sunlight 

Vinton said the future looks increasingly precarious for the Chang Tang-Pa, and stated that she hoped her photographic series serves as a visual record of their culture as it stands today.

She hopes that one day Sonam will share the images with her children, who may not get to experience the centuries-old heritage. 

Vinton has lived among several nomadic tribes to capture their traditional lifestyles. For her other projects visit her website.  

Fifty-six years ago Gaysto, at the time a boy of seven, had journeyed for weeks on foot to flee the Chinese invasion. Having reached the mountains, his people were forced to embrace an ancient way of life, sleeping under yak skins in tents and living off the land

Fifty-six years ago Gaysto, at the time a boy of seven, had journeyed for weeks on foot to flee the Chinese invasion. Having reached the mountains, his people were forced to embrace an ancient way of life, sleeping under yak skins in tents and living off the land

Vinton said the future looks increasingly precarious for the Chang Tang-Pa, and stated that she hoped her photographic series serves as a visual record of their culture as it stands today and a reminder that there are other ways of living

Vinton said the future looks increasingly precarious for the Chang Tang-Pa, and stated that she hoped her photographic series serves as a visual record of their culture as it stands today and a reminder that there are other ways of living

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