Photo Essay: Himalayan Nomads
Living under the constant pressure of climate fluctuations, border issues, army presence, and social changes, these communities are on the edge in more ways than one.
Two major nomadic communities live in Ladakh in the state of Jammu-Kashmir in India, near the borders of Pakistan and China. One community, the Bakarwal (Muslim) tribal group, graze their animals and live part of the year a stone’s throw away from the Pakistan border. The other community, the Changpa (Buddhist) nomads, reside about 280 miles to the southeast of the Bakarwal, in the Changthang region of Ladakh, just west of the Indo-China border.
The Changpa mainly raise Pashmina goats that provide the greatly coveted cashmere wool. Many within the Changpa community are of Tibetan descent and are not allowed to return to their homeland, limiting their grazing areas.
The Bakarwals graze sheep and goats of their own that are used for wool and meat, but they also often serve as hired grazers for wealthy animal owners, as well as prized ram caretakers for the Indian government. The historical grazing areas for the Bakarwal have diminished in size as a result of continuing issues between India and Pakistan.
Both communities live under the constant pressure of climate fluctuations, border issues, army presence, and social changes happening within their own settlements. This photo story is a look into the day and life of several young pastoral nomadic families living in the Changpa and Bakarwal communities in Ladakh.
1. (Left) A nomadic camp sits along the banks of the Dras River. Over the mountain peaks lies the official Line of Control administered by Pakistan and India, a contested border and site of the Indo-Pakistan war of 1999. Many shepherd communities have lost grazing territories because of the access limitations imposed by the two governments.
2. (Right) Ali Mohammed, 35, a member of the Chopan nomadic community of Kashmir, helps his wife Shafika Banoo, age 31, while they attend to a sick sheep. All sheep are taken for grazing daily with the help of Ali’s three brothers, Shafika, and an extended family of four others who reside in this seasonal camp.
3. (Left) Ali’s nieces milk the ewes of the herd before Ali begins his daily ascent with his brothers and the sheep. The milking process is arduous, and combing through the herd of mainly 3,000 sheep generally consumes the entire morning.
4. Ali with the help of his three brothers controls the outward movement of their herd of 3,000 sheep, making sure that no sheep move beyond their control during an ascent into the higher grazing areas in Dras. Ali and his three brothers work as a team, taking on dedicated roles throughout their ascent and descent which often is upwards of 2,000 meters.
5. (Above) Fareed Ahmed, 41, and Ali’s neighbor, brings a stone to fix the bridge he has built for his family who regularly cross it to graze their goats. Fareed comes from a part of the Bakarwal community that migrates to these higher altitude regions from the northern foothills of Jammu.
6. (Right) Sariya, 34, Fareed’s wife, and daughter Rahima, age 17, along with the family Pashmina goat, relax in between meal preparations.
7. (Below) KunSang Namgyal, a 29-year-old of Tibetan descent, belongs to the seminomadic Changpa tribe and lives throughout the year near the Nyoma village that borders western China in the north Indian territory of Ladakh. KunSang grazes his Pashmina goats during the warm summers when the snowmelt has left a healthy grass stock for the animals to feed on.
8. (Above) On the southern edge of the Indus river bank, KunSang returns with his herd of goats after a day of grazing in the towering mountains nearby. These banks are home for the summer before KunSang and his family move their settlement to higher elevation in search of grass valleys for the fall period before returning to semipermanent lodging in the village of Nyoma for the harsh winter.
9. (Above) A solar panel is posted outside of KunSang’s tent in the evening hours in a valley near Nyoma. With long summer days, the solar panel charges a battery inside the tent that is connected to a radio and a lamp which serve for much needed news and a night light where KunSang sleeps with his wife Yangchan and their two-year-old son Tenzin.
10. (Left) Yangchan Lhamo, 30, buttons up the shirt of her son Tenzin before leaving the tent in the morning to collect milk among some of the 440 Pashmina goats their family owns. The division of labor is clearly divided as the young men do all of the higher altitude daily grazing of the herd and the women, children, and elders care for the animals that are left behind, among other daily work.
11. (Right) Yangchan collects milk in one of the family’s goat enclosures during the early morning hours before the goats are released and begin lining up to exit the valley and be led by KunSang to graze. All goats are fenced in circular enclosures during the night to protect them from predators such as wild dogs.
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