The landscape in Mustang, along the Gandaki River is both stark and stunning; harsh ridge lines jutting into the sky, softened by sweeping contours and Dali-esque formations – swirls and whorls of red and yellow, brown and gold. Mountains plunge to meet the arid ground, rocky and drained of water and of lushness. Towering peaks loom from above; white and snow-capped and soaring into the heavens. The dust is whipped by winds, swirling in eddies that seek out faces and veil perspectives.

Despite Mustang’s harsh conditions, people have inhabited the region for millennia. Above Kagbeni, over 10,000 man-made caves dug into the sides of the cliff were discovered, dating back to prehistoric times [image by: Alice Chautard]

With an annual precipitation of 250 mm, landscape in Mustang is dry, the vegetation is bare, and the wind howls eerily around mountain flanks. People cluster in villages near glaciers-fed streams and rivers to access water, and secure their livelihoods in this arid landscape [image by: Justin Falcone]

Women working in fields, whose water comes from melting glaciers [image by: Alice Chautard]

In Mustang women gather fodder for their livestock from the fields [image by: Alice Chautard]

A woman carrying a bag of apples between Marpha and Jomsom. Marpha is famous across Nepal for its apples, which represent a key source of livelihood in the village. Warming temperatures in the region are threatening their production due to melting snows which are required to keep the soils irrigated. The fruits are thus now growing further and further up in the valley, seeking for cooler temperatures in the higher altitudes [image by: Alice Chautard]

Despite the arid landscape, apples have for decades been a key source of livelihood for communities in the southern part of the district, relying on snow levels to irrigate the soils during the dry season. But today, warming temperatures and melting snows are threatening apples, and the communities relying on them. In Kunjo, where apples used to be a key source of livelihood, orchards have entirely disappeared. In the whole area, just one lonely, dead apple tree remains standing as a testament to a crop that the entire village used to thrive on. Villagers now instead plant potatoes, corn, and millet, alternatives that offer a means to survival but have never replaced or replicated the success that everyone experienced with apple trees.

Tham Bahadhur Sherchan, an 84 year old farmer, laments that he had to replace his fields of apples with lower-value crops such as corn and barley. In Kunjo, located south of Marpha, apple orchards have disappeared entirely, in part due to the changing climate [image by: Justin Falcone]

Corn and potatoes drying on the roofs of houses in Kunjo [image by: Alice Chautard]

Over the past decade, apple production has, as a result, been moving further upstream to Marpha and other areas with higher altitudes and cooler temperatures. Marpha is replete with green orchards, and scenes of apples drying on roofs, or apples pies and apple brandy standing in the windows of houses and hostels. But there as well, the climate is now becoming too warm, melting the snows that are crucial for irrigation, and thus affecting apple production, and the villagers’ livelihoods. This prompts the question: who wins and who loses as the climate changes, altering livelihoods in the shadow of these towering giants?

A view of Marpha, with its agricultural fields, including apple orchards, in the foreground image by: Alice Chautard]

A woman lays out apples to dry in Mustang [image by: Yolanda Clatworthy]

“When I was growing up, the mountain was always covered in snow, but now we can see the black of the mountain” explains Tham pointing at the surrounding dramatic Himalayan peaks rising over 7,000 metres [image by: Alice Chautard]

This photo-essay was first published on the Himalayas to Ocean project site. The project is exploring the impact of climate change in Nepal, from peaks to plains along the Gandaki River. This project, the work of a multidisciplinary team of professionals and researchers from Oxford University and UK-based video and sound artists, is cataloguing the changes of the physical landscape and how people are adapting to these changes through a videos and photography. The project is partnered with the Environmental Change Institute (University of Oxford), and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development.

This photo essay has been reproduced with permission.

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