Climate change threatens traditions: shepherds in the Himalayas, the Last of their kind?


The people of Shepherds of the Gaddi lives in the Himalayas for centuries of what nature offers them. The changes with climate change, and the shepherds are trying hard to preserve their Tradition.

It’s fall in the Dhaulagiri mountain massif in the far North of India. In this remote part of the Himalayas, where serpentine roads cling to the steep mountain slopes, there are many pine forests and live here shepherds with their cattle. In the picturesque village of Kandral, in which the semi-nomadic people of Shepherds of the Gaddi lives, should actually be Bleating and the Sound of bells everywhere, but instead, to silence.

Ranjit Singh and four other shepherds left their herds with Relatives high up in the mountains, to be able to come down and celebrate the annual Dham. Previously, you would have brought their animals and would have remained after the Feast, until they were pulled for the winter months further down. “Traditionally this was the time, where our flocks were us, and the Grass would have eaten, that we have collected for you, while we shear and sell wool,” says Ranjit Singh.

Shepherds carry back all the Essentials on the horse

The burly 58-Year-old sitting in front of a two-storey concrete house, set into the slope of the mountain. The Dwelling has seen better days. The floor was cracked in many Places. The Locals believe to be landslides fault, caused by deforestation and Overgrazing. Singh fears that the entire building could collapse.

Also threatens his way of life: He spends most of his time outside, sleeping in makeshift shelters, drinking from streams and eating meals made from dried fruits, flour and rice, which he transported on his horse.

Climate change threatens the long-standing Tradition in the Himalayas

Traditionally, he and the other shepherds from the lowlands moved into the high country to take advantage of seasonally available pastures at different altitudes. But the changing climate in this part of the middle Himalayas has brought the rhythm of your life in a mess.

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Earlier, Singh began his annual trip in April, when he left to Langa-Kinnaur top of the mountain at 5000 meters above the sea level. In September, he came down to about 2500 meters, before it rose in December to the promontory. He remained there until the cycle in the spring began Again.

At the time, was, however, rely on the rainfall. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), there were in November of 2014, 2016 and 2017, almost no winter precipitation.

In Himalayan pasture of weeds, agriculture, and partly by coniferous forests will be displaced, in which no Grass grows

Ranbir Singh Rana, a senior scientist in the Department of agronomy and grassland Management at the Himachal Pradesh Agriculture University (HPKV), says the changes have far-reaching effects. Responsible for this, he makes the climate change . “Less snowfall in the middle heights of the charged reasons for the pasture to take care of these shepherds for centuries.”

Foraging in the higher mountain regions

In order to ensure that their animals get enough to eat, ignoring the shepherds, in the meantime, the “fixed schedule” that determines how long each shepherd in a certain place is allowed to stay, says Akshay Jasrotia, a farmer and a member of the Himachal Pradesh Ghumantu Mahasabha, an Association that fights for the rights of the shepherds.

“By staying on longer, also increases the risk of Overgrazing, which can additionally burden the environment,” he explains to the DW.

In search of pasture grounds of the shepherds going up to new Ways also further and further up the mountain. But this has reportedly led to a higher mortality rate for the sheep – probably due to the poorer quality of the grass. Smaller herds mean that there is less wool, meat and milk to Sell, which makes life as a shepherd even less lucrative.

The fact that many people moved away, the villages and the traditional way of life is in danger

Not all snow is less of a disadvantage

The warmer temperatures not only make it more difficult to Graze the herds, they have also attracted farmers, which grow in the longer growing times of crops. In some areas, the agricultural area has doubled in the past ten years – for the shepherds not good news.

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“There are reports from different Parts of Himachal Pradesh of sometimes violent conflicts between villagers, the crops grow, and shepherds, whose animals on these fields to graze,” says Prakash Bhandari, an activist who works for the Non-Profit organization Himdhara in Kangra, and for the protection of forests.

In addition, the invasive threaten bushes and shrubs such as Lantana (Ziergras), Parthenium and Ageratina adenophora (Drüsiger gravel root) causes of the pasture. The plants originate neither from India nor from Asia. Thanks to the milder temperatures, but spread out in ever-higher layers and displace the native plants that eat goats and sheep.

A dying culture?

Ranjit Singh has never heard of the concept of man-made climate change, but he knows what he sees and provides areas for the future of his pasture.

As it turns out, can adapt to goats better suited to the conditions at higher elevations than sheep

“It is hard for us, this century-old Tradition to maintain,” he says, visibly resigned. “In the meantime, only seven families in this village work as a shepherd.” Once there were 25. The other Gaddi shepherds, which were once uphill, downhill, following in the footsteps of their ancestors, are drawn either in the cities or work elsewhere, often as agricultural labourers.

And in many other villages, it looks similar. Also Singh says he has been thinking about the shepherd’s existence. But it’s what he can and knows. It is his culture, of the Dham.

“This is the only time of year that we meet our people, many different dishes to enjoy, marriages to arrange, or of future meetings and other social events plan,” explains Singh.

When the celebrations are over, he will lead his heavy-Laden horse back up the mountain, to the place where his herd found good Grass. This may not correspond to the long-standing Tradition here in the Himalayas, but for him, there is no real Alternative.

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