Gaddis ,Gaddinis and their goats The migratory trail of hill people By Christina Noble

This is largely an account of my experience on the spring, northward migration of the Gaddi shepherds of Himachal Pradesh; from Kangra over into Bramour, Chamba district. But first I should mention something of who the Caddis are and why they migrate. Gaddi shepherds are not nomads. They have homes, substantial village houses, and they own land which they or their family cultivate, Their homeland is Gadderan, Bramour tehsil, in the west of Chamba district. It comprises the valleys of the upper Ravi and its tributary the Budil which form a V meeting at Karamukhjust below Bramour. These two rivers here run more or less eastwest and divide the Dholar Dhar range to the south from the Pir Pinjal to the north. Karamukh, the lowest point, is 4,500 ft., the high peaks to the north over 19,000 ft. and the valley sides and high alps are precipitous and inaccessible. The only road into Gadderan is from Chamba, 50 km of a narrow, untarred, precipitous 'fairweather' road The country is surmounted by Mount Kailashl. 18,500 ft., the seat of Lord shiva and his consort Parvati. Gaddis are staunch Shaivites and wherever they may wander, feel an unusually strong cultural and religious involvement with their homeland, also referred to as Shivbhumi, the land of Shiva.

During the last hundred years or so many Gaddis have bought land andbuilt houses on the southern slopes of the Dholar Dhar- the northern edge of Kangra valley but whether or not they stiU have land or relations in Bramour tehsil, they consider themselves as belonging to Gadderan. It is thought that there are about 80,000 Gaddi people. About half of these do not own flocks, and are agriculturalists only. Of the 3,000 or so men who accompany the flocks of sheep and goats, some take turns months at a time, in shepherding and in cultivation with brothers, uncles or sons. Others are away fron; home throughout the year except for a couple of weeks in the spring and in the autumn when the flocks pass through their own villages. It is nor the flocks that dictate the annual pattern of the shepherds' 1ives. The winter pastures are in an approximately horizontal line in the foothills, south of the Dholar Dhar , from Nurpur in the west to Bilaspul in the east. Here the flocks spend four or five months, moving only locally from a base. The terrain is scrub forest, semi-tropical jungle at 2 to 3,000 ft. Traditionally it has .been the extent of available winter grazing that has controlled numbers and the size of the flocks.

they moved a month or so later than usual. also with women and children. a year of particularly heavy snow. Image By P R Bali plastic jerry cans. in fact most of the Gaddi population of Bramour . the pleasure of whose company we had the first morning. Snippets of an old woman's life and anecdotes about her relations soon make you feel you know her well. winnowing trays. like the old man and his daughter. Babies and young children are carried sideways. drums. about midApril. Those with flocks and too many young children or the old and infirm cover a shorter distance. It was a real pleasure to be one of the company. Canterbury Tales-style jokes and incidents that you have all shared are retold and embellished. handsome spotted house goats with large udders. Everyone was full of chat. they may be detained by friends or relations met along the way. across the rest of the luggage on the mother's or father's back. Then there were the winter's purchases being taken home -chickens proudly carried in the crook of an arm. some families do accompany the shepherds and flocks Many others. and therefore the first to be clear of snow The way was crowded with flocks and men. the lowest of the passes. brightly-coloured nylon sweaters. Jersey-type heifers and young bulls. radios. as opposed to the summer. But how early depends entirely on how quickly the snow melts on the higher passes and pastures. usually towards thc end of the month of chaet. Last year.However recent cultivation and the increase in the domestic head of cattle and goats are encroaching on these old pastures. migration from Kangra over Jalsu. but perched. as is normal in the hills. I had a glimpse of what it must have been like on pilgrimages when large groups of people travelled on foot for days at a time. the parent casually holding on to a leg or foot while the child's head dangles on the other side. (It is believed that even Lord Shiva moves from his seat on Mount Kailash to winter at Pujalpur. They are often not tethered in a shawl.) They were now on their journey home. Not everyone walks exactly the same stage every day. some taking a week. The shepherds at therefore anxious to move north as early as possible. Or. For during the winter grazing months. some two or more to reach their villages. There were men and women who looked old enough to have crossed this way twice a year for three score years and ten. dholkis. come down in winter to work with relations or live in rented accommodation in Kangra. and there were babies of a few weeks. when we were all dozing after lunch our companion came to say how very much . emulating the migratory movement of their flocks. baskets.

We did not think we would but several days later at 5. is an object of pity. I was relieved to be able to say my children were safely at home. it is waisted with the dhora or woollen belt. and maybe to cook. The long chaura is cumbersome to walk in. gathered skirts reminiscent of the clothes depicted in old wood carving and miniature pictures of the area. They wear a distinctive and attractive dress. Everywhere in India a barren or unwed woman. vaguely looking at the skyline or the precipitous rocks. on the blouse fastening. The more fashionable version is a velvet blouse with broad cuffs. Their chins are patterned with a finely marked. Clustered in an irregular circle round a midday camp. They have large earrings.30 am when we were packing up camp before climbing to the pass he appeared on the skyline with his jolly. Everyone carries blankets. necklaces of amber. men too. But a Gaddini does not like to be seen out and about without it. but to everyone. of colourful chintz. friendly and full of self-confidence -not just towards me. reaching the ground. Some walk another two or three hours before settling for the night's camp. they often have to hitch it up. Every woman I met asked me where my children were. One man always leads. though at home she often strips down to the Punjabi. and often pinned on the shoulder too. the long. walking with plenty of rests and chats.the whistling not as we would imagine to their dogs but to the goats and sheep. the calling. In places there are what we in Scotland would call 'sheilings'. silver. calling and salwar and kameez. until II or 12 o'clock when everyone stops to eat. but the Gaddis go as far as having to erect stones to quieten the spirits of childless couples who disturb others' sleep. Up before dawn and off soon after. dress. but . though more often the travellers shelter in caves -there were plenty on our route.he had enjoyed our company. usually decorated with floral embroidery which they work themselves. and then to smoke and snooze. joined to a very full skirt. plump daughter puffing and panting and holding up her skirts. circular tattoo. gold or silver. pyjamas and long overshirt. Some wear a coat-dress of white homespun tweed down to the ground. The day starts early. sometimes their hands and arms too. Their sharp little hooves eat away the path and the dung makes the rocks slippery . another always at the back. their walk slower than yours. solid gold nose pieces. On the end of her plait. which she wears underneath. like maggots on the move. are the circular mirror medallions.If you are caught among a flock on a narrow path it is maddening for they move at an irregular pace. Nearby the endless baa-ing and bleating. decorated with buttons and beads' that Gaddinis make and often give each other as expressions of affection. grunting and whistling . As you walk along the path the stink of wool and dung is overwhelming. It is hard to describe fully the all pervasive sheep and goatiness of that journey. I would realise it was 'lifting' with the milk-white flocks. He hoped we would meet again. The only exception is that in the presence of any of their older male in-laws they immediately cover their heads. gold and pendants with fine enamelling.often depicting Shiva and Parvati or plain silver embossed pieces commemorating their ancestors. Whenever I glanced at a distant hillside. as we had his but that the relations with flocks he had met here would not let him go any further that day. Over their head they wear a cloth. the lapels decorated with an embroidered flower. Most of the hill women of Himachal are free of the restrictions of purdah and excessive modesty but the Gaddis or Gaddi women seem to be particularly outgoing. It takes twelve yards of cloth and is forty four feet at the hem which is lined with a contrasting colour and stitched round and round many times. Whatever the style of the chaura. grunting and urging on the stragglers. moving imperceptibly across the hillside grazing or following each other along an invisible path.

It was an aweful sight: everyone gasped. No one performed any prayers or sacrifices but all were impressed by the view and by the first glimpse of the hills of home. there was a newly dead cow with a broken neck. her husband and brother-in-law and their flock.then they suddenly run on and those you had with . In camp the baa-ing and bleating is all around. have overtaken you. That night was particularly noisy. If several of the flock suffer at once it causes the shepherd considerable inconvenience. difficulty pushed your way past.000 ft. They scattered across the precipitous hillside to graze. One of our Gaddi companions bellowed across the gorge ordering the shepherd not to do so as stones would fall-on the people climbing up. in her many guises. neither did their goats. when we did cross by a rickety bridge. On the far side at the top we found there was a temple to Lakhna devi. nettles. The shepherd paid no heed. down below. as the following incident illustrates. So was a very fat and prosperous woman. who had recently sold his flock and who was finding it hard to negotiate the steep snow. 1. cows. and fell with a deathly thud on the path. of wheat or maize flour . after that day's exertions she had no milk for it. legs stretched out. One of the shepherds . and nettle and bracken vegetable. goats. a form of Parvati. the presiding deity of the area whose power had just been so dramatically illustrated. I had climbed the last steep stretch chatting to a new behinji. Then. We sat on the snow at the top gazing at the sheer white beauty of Mount Kailash. which they do when hungry for fodder and which makes them drunk. the new PWD one having been washed away. We waited for a sad and lame old man. wife of a Brahmin travelling with four or five young girls. drop to cross a tributary . and newly purchased household goods. in the river bed. The vegetation is rank. were coming down a 1. sister. with a small baby. And then. men. He had eaten kashmiri patta. I and many others. But everyone had the breath of home in their nostrils and were soon off trippeting down through the rhododendrons -they had now taken off their goat-hair snow socks. My new sister walked up and down the path her baby screaming. a fully grown sheep came hurtling down through the air. We gave her some dried milk but it obviously was not appreciated as the baby cried all night and so did all the kids and lambs. women and children. docks and thistles that grow where flocks habitually camp. and the dung everywhere (and immediately inside your tent). we settled on the gentian and primula-enamelled turf and shared chappatti. Halfway up it a shepherd began to take his flock off the track. As we watched.On the opposite side the path was equally steep. One-young male goat had to be pulled up and then down the pass by the scruff of his neck. The Gaddis are staunch devotees of Lord Shiva and Parvati. My new behinji 5 brothers insisted on my photographing them with their largest male goat set against Mount Kailash. We reached the top of the Jalsu Pass at about eight o'clock on a clear morning. Before reaching the Ravi river. Rhododendron campanulata. We all settled on a rock on the nearside to wait until the flock moved on and the danger of falling stones was over.500 ft.

The fraternity of the pilgrimage spirit began to loosen as the excitement of nearing home increased. particularly on the north-facing slopes. 'Kangra is better than here in the winter. sometimes even very high up. taking flocks across a hill like that in the middle of the day with mothers and children walking up the path below? What sort of Gaddi do you think you are? See. All agreed that in the face of such wanton lack of respect. The greeting of a younger to an elder. It's the water (we would say "it's the air"). or so above. from school. and flocks must be clipped before they .Heaps of manure.mannered and ill-fated flock was sitting by the temple. Some must be dug by hand for the bullocks could not even walk on the precipitous slope.000 ft. On the south-facing slopes. As all the cattle are left in the charge of the few families who remain. Here you enjoyed your food. nor outward signs of emotion. but 'Hey. nearing the end of his five day journey from Kangra. had lost his temper and hit his cow on the steep slope which made her lose her balance and fall to her death. made of old bits of tweed blankets roughly quilted. He was roundly abused. 1. but spread over a month or so. was drunk. There are dark forests of deodar. but there you never feel hungry. Schoolboys. The house shrines in the courtyards obviously unattended. spruce and fir. Here the mountains go straight down into the river gorges.of the ill. gradually our companions began to peel off. Seeing his sister-in-Iaw on the stone balustrade of the house he took a red hankerchief out of his pocket to cover his head before greeting her. Fields must be ploughed. accumulated the previous year and matured during the winter lay in the yards or on the path. no sign of joy on either side. Waterfalls cascade in white sprays down the rock faces. and he dropped his blanketwrapped pack on the path for the young fellow to pick up. were climbing the 1. grain that has been stored all winter cleaned and dried. take my luggage home'. sometimes crumbled at the corners by hungry rats trying to get in. Will the owners reappear? The heavy wooden doors are padlocked. The villages which had been shut up for the winter had a slightly haunted feeling. poking. the byre doors which are on the ground floor are plastered over with mud and dung. were spread out in the sun to air. is to touch the elder's feet. The only signs of life were the bees flying into their hives . I saw a young shepherd returning with his flock climbing the hill. the alps. onedimensional and ethereal in the moonlight. in fact it is difficult to imagine that there are villages above. twelve or thirteen year olds. the locks dusty from disuse. The owners do not arrive all at once. Shiny snow peaks are clearly chiselled in the morning or evening sun. Hence between family members they touch the feet and then embrace. only hear the infernal noise of the river. Bedding quilts. ready to be carried out to fertilize the maize fields. But up at the level of the major villages. There was no greeting.hollowed sections of timber set into the walls. apricots when on the way to school in the morning. And it was also explained hat the owner of the cow. you have no respect for the devi. their hands down into the stone seat by the temple where they had left their. From the bottom of the valley you can see nothing. At that moment an elder brother or cousin came along the hill with his returning flock. there are views on a scale that defy ordinary visual conception and mock the camera's lens.000 ft. are stripes of deep green or yellow: These are tiny cultivated terraces. on each side twice. 'What do you think you were doing. There was no flurry of excitement. As we reached cultivation. as in India everywhere. the deity was justified in asserting her power . some so narrow that the terracing has to be open-ended to allow the bullocks and plough to turn. Chandu. very unripe.

the latter from meat. The only sounds that relieve the monotonous baa-ing of their flocks. maize chappattis cooked on acrid smelling yak or cattle dung. . If the Gaddis lived solely from the cultivation of those tiny strips of terracing there would not be so many newly built houses on the opposite hill. combined with a pride in their homeland and culture. It is the prosperity that the sheep and goats bring -the former largely from wool. dalda and suchlike. goat's milk and parched barley flour that requires no cooking. taxed by the forest department and sometimes by the villagers too. cloth. falling stones. passes. That within days they would move on north and up to the summer grazings -handed on from generation to generation. but still with dangers of avalanches. And were it not for their comparative prosperity and their travelling habits. They have no shelter but their blankets and kilted white homespun cloaks. the cold wind and their own flutes. It is a life of discomfort. and bears. crevasses. is it a love of it (to me a romantic life). something that had been gradually occurring to me became quite clear . Gaddis may consider shepherding their dharma given to them by Lord Shiva. would they have the outgoing and friendly manner which had made this journey such a pleasure for me. or sometimes dhal and rice or makke ka Toti. nor women laden with jewellery. even to the borders of Ladakh and Tibet. Others must walk Over the 16 to 17. plenty of time to sit on the verandah or on the stone balustrade and gently smoke a hookah and chat. Witnessing this calmly congenial scene it was hard to imagine that for the shepherds it was but a brief interlude. There to spend two or three months in a treeless land. As I sat envisaging their summer. shops filled with shoes. and perhaps hundred miles to graze their flocks on the 'blue' and nutricious grass of Lahoul and Spiti. sometimes a dry stone igloo. with the constant necessity of keeping an eye on each sheep and goat. nor substantial land owned by them in Kangra.000 ft.move on away for the summer. Nor . their food. But there was no bustle or hustle. Some move to high pastures not so very far from home. But it is not just that that makes them follow their ancestors' migratory life.

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