The ground beneath their feet is shifting—literally and metaphorically. Sankar Sridhar documents the changing lives of the Bakarwal community of Kashmir
For close to two decades now, I have spent a fair amount of time with some of the nomadic communities of the Himalaya, following them during their migrations to document their lives and lifestyles while on the move. A trekking project that began with the intention of moving away from well-worn routes grew in ambition and scale when I realised the swift and sweeping changes overtaking almost all these communities. Roads were killing many of the migratory routes. Newly carved national parks and sanctuaries were robbing shepherds of traditional pastures. Government schemes promised them a better, more sedentary life, and the younger generation wanted nothing to do with the hard lives they saw their parents living.
While there are many aspects to this narrative, the bottom line is that, for better or worse, these pastoralists’ lifestyles are on the verge of vanishing. My objective now is to document the hazards and highlights of a life on the move, which I think holds valuable lessons in sustainability and human virtues.
My journeys with the Bakarwal ranged across the Rajourie and Poonch sectors of Kashmir, swathes of the Meena Marg area across the Zoji-la, and close to Drass and Kargil. These migrations, partly over highways and partly through alpine forests and across the high passes, presented their set of unique challenges—and drove home a point that I have valued ever since I began this personal project: One man’s adventure is all in a day’s work for another.
This article was published in April-June 2017 issue on The Himalaya. The issue is guest edited by Stephen Alter.
Elsewhere in this issue, Nandini Purandare and Deepa Balsavar explore the unsung heroes among the climbing Sherpas and Bhotias of Darjeeling, Mamang Dai gets nostalgic in her lyrical reminiscences about the mountains in Arunachal Pradesh, Martin Moran is equally wistful writing about the pleasures of pioneering in the smaller peaks of the Himalaya. Janaki Lenin explores the oscillating relationship between the villagers and shepherds of Kinnaur. Gautam Bhatia’s sardonic drawings of the imagined ruins of Delhi make us laugh—and cry. While Anurag Banerjee’s unobtrusive camera captures stolen moments and intimacy in public spaces in Mumbai, Stuart Freedman’s photo essay on the Indian Coffee House evokes an era fast disappearing.