Seasons First Snows Has Shepherds Move Down From Himalayan Heights

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Manali: Spells of snowfall with a sharp dip in temperature have forced shepherds to leave the rich high mountain meadows and move their flocks to lower regions so as to avoid instances of being snow trapped or exposed to onset of sudden extreme cold waves.

Hundreds of shepherds from lower regions of Himachal herd their sheep and goats into high altitude pastures in search of green grass as spring-summer breaks out every year. They stay on mountains, far away from their homes and family for about five months until mountains start getting snow. Generally they stay on mountains till the end of September and many times till mid October. As high hills of Kullu, Lahaul-Spiti, Chamba, Kangra and Kinnaur are experiencing premature snowfall and temperature have dipped by many notches, the shepherds have started leaving the mountains a little early this year.

Shepherds move down as high pastures receive first snows (Photo: Ravinder Makhaik)

Ram Lal, a shepherd said that last year they had descended in late September but this year conditions are more adverse.

“I already lost 10 sheep in a lightening strike in July. The temperature is freezing cold and most of the mountain ranges where I had my flock received snowfall for the last three days. We cannot wait for worse time on mountains,” he said.

“We are all scared of untimely heavy snowfalls. Many fellow shepherds have lost hundreds of sheep and goats to inclement weather conditions,” another shepherd from Mandi, Maan Singh, said. He added that about 20 per cent of the shepherds have already left for lower regions. “Not only for us, but surviving in the extreme cold conditions is difficult for the animals also. Now we shall return back next summer.”

Many shepherds take an over two week journey to reach home from the high mountains, with many night halts spent mostly along the highways. These days, as dozens of large flocks of sheep and goats are coming down the mountains and following the highways, they are causing long-traffic jams. Shepherds say they have regular quarrels with many drivers but bear with it as they have become habitual of it.

High mountains in Himachal are experiencing moderate snowfall since Sunday, causing sharp drop in temperature. The snowline is now coming down towards the valleys and Manali-Leh road on Wednesday received light snow at Baralacha pass in Lahaul.

Early snow in the higher reaches could render many areas, especially in Lahaul, Spiti, Kinnaur and Chamba, snowbound that could even impact the general state assembly election, which is scheduled to be held in November-December.

Sanjay Dutta, an engineer by qualification but is a journalist by choice.

He has worked for the premier new agency Press Trust of India and leading English daily Indian Express.

With more than a decade of experience, he has been highlighting issues related to environment, tourism and other aspects affecting mountain ecology.

Sanjay Dutta lives in a village close to Manali in Kullu valley of Himachal.

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