Each year as the winter wanes in Kashmir’s meadows, a timeless journey sets itself in motion on the plains of Jammu. Families of Bakarwal nomads and their livestock—sheep, goats and buffalo—are ready to set out for alpine pastures and good grazing; it’s a journey that continues from spring, through summer, and until the onset of winter. Despite careful planning and ample rations, these migrations are daunting, taking the shepherds across raging streams and snow-covered passes. Bad weather and wrestling wild animals are par for the course, but it’s nothing that quick thinking and a sure-footed stride can’t handle.
There are other problems though. Roads now intersect several of their migratory routes, with convoys of trucks and taxis carrying tourists taking a toll on their animals. Once revered for the spartan lives they led, the Bakarwals today have been reduced to fighting for grazing rights in meadows. Being forced to contend with habitation more than ever before, they often run the risk of their sheep being stolen, their dogs being poisoned, and other, much worse, outcomes. Like so many of India’s nomadic communities, the Bakarwals too are being gradually squeezed out of their niche. Many have already embraced a more sedentary life, working as unskilled labour for road builders.