The life of the Anwals

Posted in News on Monday, February 12th, 2018


 From April until October, the Anwals - transhumance shepherds of the Saryu, Pindar and Namik Valleys, make their long journey towards to the high alpine pastures of the Himalayas to find grazing ground for their flocks during the Summer months. 

Each village has one head Anwal who is elected to look after the sheep and goats of other families in his village, along with his own. From the beginning of March, families start handing over their flock of 10-20 animals. By the end of March, the final number of companions on his long journey is fixed; normally between 1000- 1200. This handing over is locally called ‘’Goth Badhna’’.

Until mid-April, the Anwal keeps the herd under open skies in forest areas close to the villages. This helps the herd to develop capacity for bearing cold. Meanwhile the Anwals prepare for their long journey of 8.5 months, away from home and start packing their rations, bedding and camping equipment.

Between mid April and mid May, all the head Anwals along with their 2- 3 assistant Anwals, start moving gradually with their herd of goat and sheep and Himalayan sheep dogs, towards the higher Mountains. They either head towards the Pindari or Kafni glaciers, or to Milam or Sunderdhunga glaciers.

The rations for the Anwals and salt for the flock is carried by mules in case the destinations are Pindari or Kafni glacier, however if the destinations are Milam or Sunderdhunga glaciers, then this is carried by the sheeps and goats. Each sheep can carry upto 10 -15 kgs of weight. They camp around scenic spots, which are fixed by them, chosen for the availability of water and green pastures.

In the company of mother nature each Anwal proceeds towards the glaciers. By the first week of June, nearly all Anwals reach the alps near the glaciers. The small herd assembly now becomes a mob of 20,000 to 30,000! The areas for grazing are demarked for all the Anwals, so generally there is no confusion, however in case of a dispute of boundary line, or loss of sheep due to accident, the matter is referred to the senior Anwal (elected by all the villages) and his decision is final and acceptable to all. Currently Shri Chandra Singh from Supi villageis has held this position of senior Anwal for the past year. The main challenges for the Anwals during the 8.5 month period, are natural calamities, sickness and threat from wild animals, particularly snow leopards. Anwals are well guarded by their sheep dogs, who rest during the day, but are very alert in the nights. This alertness and trust on the loyal partners, gives the Anwals, the privilege of sleeping peacefully, without worrying about the snow leopards and other wild animals.

During monsoon time from July to September, the Anwals are literally cut off from the outside world, as the small access bridges are washed away by the rains. Only after the rains reduce in September can the villagers from nearby villages start repairing the bridges and pathways, and the shepherds can plan their journey back home. During this period when they are completely out of contact, if they fall sick, they treat themselves with local herbs and natural treatments.

After 15th September, the weather starts becoming colder at the higher mountains and this is the time when the Anwals start moving back and reach the vicinity of their villages by the end of October. By 15th November, they are back in their villages. 

During the 3.5 months which the head Anwals spend at their homes, it is the hardest time to look after their livestock as the snowfall approaches and the green grass starts disappearing. Since it is very difficult for him to look after all the 1000 sheep and goats in this period they hand over the livestock back to their owners. But this is also the time for rest and eating good food. In August the Anwals celebrate a big festival of ‘Nandashtmi’ offer prayers to goddess Nanda Devi for the safety of their herd, themselves and their families.

Then, as soon as the weather starts to become warmer in March, the Anwals sell the weaker and older members of the herd and start preparing for their next journey.

Despite all the challenges, the strong faith of Anwals in the almighty and their own skills, is what I believe keeps their fears away and each year they start their journey with the hope that they, along with their four legged friends, will safely return back home before the heavy snowfall starts in the higher Himalayas!

 - Narrated by Tara S Takuli ( Field co-ordinator, Village Ways Supi)

Click here to see our holiday In the Footsteps of the Anwals, available during the months of April - May.

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