The Bakarwals are nomadic pastoralists inhabiting the higher reaches of India’s Jammu and Kashmir. Every year, just as the winter snows begin to melt and alpine pastures return to life, members of this community begin a long journey with their livestock – sheep, goat, horses and buffalo – to high meadows that offer their animals good grazing.
The journey, undertaken by the entire family, lasts as long as three weeks. The vagaries of weather make the journey daunting, but today the Bakharwals have to contend with a host of new problems. Roads now run through several of their migratory routes, with convoys of trucks and taxis carrying tourists taking a toll on their animals. Landslips, caused by the blasting of mountains, are also a bane.
Once revered for the Spartan lives they led, the Bakarwals have today been reduced to fighting for grazing rights in meadows that have turned tourist attractions.
Being forced to contend with habitation more often than ever before, the Bakarwals say they often run the risk of their sheep being stolen, and their dogs being poisoned. Like so many of India’s nomadic communities, the Bakarwals too are gradually being squeezed out of their niche. Many have already safer, sedentary life, with many working as unskilled labour for the road builders.