The Van-Gujjars are a nomadic tribe originally from Jammu & Kashmir that have spread out across the Himalayas in search of rich forests and meadows.
In May, I followed a family from this community who were going to the upper Himalayas with their cattle. They move three times a year. Each family gets a permit from the forest department to live inside a particular forest for 6 months. I could see excitement in everybody’s eyes – especially the children and women as we began the trek. Salma, just fifteen, said, “Once we reach the meadows, it’s like heaven. Gujjars have been accused of destroying the ecology of the region. Safi Mohammad, the eldest in the family with which I traveled, told me that if this were true then these forests wouldn’t have survived at all since they have been living there for centuries. During the journey, 200 kilometres from my home in Rishikesh – where the nomads come to camp in the forest hills – to the Matya Vhugyal meadows in Uttarakhand, I saw that the tribe took almost nothing from nature in spite of living so close to it. Their gait, pace and posture, their daily habits, responded with sensitivity to a close and continual perpetual monitoring of the country through which they pass and which offers them sustenance.