Of Yaks and Horses; & Heena of Bua Rani

On the eve of my departure from Cardiff (U K) for Paris via London, way back in 1983; Lord Vijay, my cousin, sounded me of the likely ‘horse meat dish’ in waiting at, his wife, Isable’s parents Dastarkhan. France’s taste for horse meat dates back to when 18th Century revolutionaries seized the fallen aristocracy’s horses to sate their hunger. The French eat horse meat because it is edible, accessible, and they don’t have any taboo related to meat or horses. The top eight countries consume about 4.7 million horses a year.

‘To the Tibetans the horse represents a very sacred animal, thought to be a spiritual communicator, messenger, and carrier. It symbolizes stamina, endurance, beauty, elegance and freedom and will bring these things to the owner.’

  • “We usually call ‘Lung-ta’ as a Tibetan name of Wind Horse. Yak is a significant animal of Tibet.” says Tenzin Norbu, Chief Representative of Tibetan Community in Himachal.
  • ‘When I was ill to ride a horse, my followers helped me on to the broad back of a *dzomo which is an equable animal with an easy gait.’ H H Dalai lama recollects in his memoirs of Escape. (My land My people)
  • “Yak” is usually used for both sexes, with “bull” or “cow. The tail is long and horse like, females have four teats, bulls reaching weights of up to 1,000 kilograms. Domesticated yaks have been kept for thousands of years, Yaks may live for more than twenty years in domestication or captivity, primarily for their milk, fiberand meat, and as beasts of burden. Their dried droppings are an important fuel, and are often the only fuel available on the high treeless Tibetan Plateau and the adjoining terrain of Himachal Pradesh. Somehow these shy creatures manage to sustain themselves on the stunted grass roots which is all that nature provides in those parts. They do not eat grain. Contrary to popular belief, yaks and their manure have little to no detectable odour.  Yak’s wool is naturally odour resistant. They are used to draw ploughs also. Yak’s milk is often processed to a cheese called chhurpi. Butter made from yaks’ milk is an ingredient of the butter tea that people, in these areas, consume in large quantities, and is also used in lamps and made into butter sculptures used in religious festivities.
  • Wild yak is facing threats of poaching; both in China and India, the species is officially protected. Domestic cattle are crossbred with yaks. This gives rise to the infertile male ‘dzo’ as well as fertile females known as *Dzomo, which may be crossed again with cattle. Female and male off-springs of cow and yak are known as ‘Churi’  In Pangi , Chamba.
  • On my first visit to Pangi valley via Sach pass in 1987, on ’Mission Solar lighting’; mules formed a transportation fleet of our caravan. If horses find use in recreational rides and ceremonial parades; properly-bred mules are impressive creatures, larger than donkeys, but more solid than horses, giving them a distinctly different look. ‘Mules are sterile and must be specially produced by mating a jack, a male donkey, with a mare’; it is told.
  • Kufri (Shimla), Rohtang pass ahead of Manali for yak rides; Khajjiar – Dalhousie and many places in Himachal for horseback rides are tourist attractions.
  • Ghodewalas’, as the horse owners here are popularly called, have been hit hard by the Covid outbreak. The worst hit are the ones who purchased horses last year by raising loans.
  • The Spiti Horse or pony from Himachal is a small, sturdy mountain horse, well adapted to the harsh environment of the Himalaya; from -30 degrees C to +30 degrees C. Primarily inhabiting upland plateau of 5,000 meters or more , It is fast and sure-footed on mountain terrain, moves safely on ice, and has good stamina and resistance to cold and to disease. The Chamurthi breed is one of the six recognized breeds of Indian horses. It is said that in that area, there is one grass which on drying looks like insect. During severe winters when no other source of fodder is available, due to heavy snowfall outside, the animals are fed this grass and they are able to sustain good health, their mouth giving reddish tinge.
  • Once Indo-China trading of horses, through Shipkila border pass of Kinnaur district was known, but for past few years there is no trade through this route as in absence of quarantine station, no animal could be imported from China.
  • Combating a ‘Hardcore criminal’, sometime in 2015; my son Manu Maharaaj, came across an abandoned filly in a diara land on the out skirts of Darbanga ( Bihar). Showing compassion, he showed her in at their Patna residence; where Meenakshi, his wife, christened  her Heena. Fed on milk and proper diet, under good care of veterinarians and farrier; she is a healthy, well-managed mare at five, today.
  • Manu likes taking her for horseback rides till full gallop. A narrow escape from a dangerous fall – off her back, he owes to the wits of Heena . Horses can look forward with one eye and backwards with another. They must be aware of their surroundings at all times. They have the largest eyes of any land mammal and have excellent day and night vision. I am reminded of Chetak**, the most loved and famous horse of Maharana Pratap who showed his unique loyalty, intelligence and valor.
  • I look back to my college days at Engineering College, Naseem Bagh , Srinagar Kashmir, where I took to horse riding, though it remained only the four–beat walk and hardly the gallop. In younger days, at Baramula , Habib Shekh the gardner often took me and my cousin Babli for a horseback joy rides, holding the bridle himself ; at my Engineer uncle’s bungalow.
  • Sometime in early eighties, courtesy an army officer, I accompanied my son Aseem Raja to Cavalry unit Chari, Dharamshala to initiate him to horse riding; but in vain, he never felt comfortable.
  • Recently, I happened to be at Kunwar’s Stud farm (“herd of horses, the place where horses are kept for breeding”).   At Ropar (Punjab) .Facts to know are interesting:
  • Horses are herd animals, with a clear hierarchy of rank, led by a dominant individual, usually a mare. They are also social creatures. They communicate in various ways, including vocalizations such as nickering or whinnying, mutual grooming, and body language.
  • Horsescan live to be 30 or 40 years of age. An estimate of a horse’s age can be made from looking at its teeth. For endurance riding competition, horses are not deemed mature enough to compete until they are a full 60 calendar months (five years) old. The critical importance of the feet and legs is summed up by the traditional adage “no foot, no horse”. For the protection of the hoof under certain conditions, some horses have horseshoes placed on their feet by a professional farrier.
  • Horses excel at simple learning; their sense of smell, while much better than that of humans, is not quite as good as that of a dog. A horse’s hearing is good.
  • A horse’s sense of touchis well-developed. The most sensitive areas are around the eyes, ears, and nose. Horses are able to sense contact as subtle as an insect landing anywhere on the body.
  • Horses have an advanced sense of taste, which allows them to sort through fodderand choose what they would most like to eat.
  • All horses move naturally with four basic gaits: the four-beat walk; the two-beat trot or jog; the canter or lope, a three-beat gait; and the gallop. The gallop averages 40 to 48 kilometers per hour, but the world record for a horse galloping over a short, sprint distance is 70.76 kilometers per hour.
  • Horses are able to sleep both standing up and lying down. Horses sleep better when in groups because some animals will sleep while others stand guard to watch for predators. They only have to lie down for an hour or two every few days to meet their minimum REM (rapid eye movement) sleep requirements.


**The statute of Chittor warrior was sculptured by Shri Fakir Chand and Shri Budhdev Parida, son and father duo, from, Rishikesh, Haridwar. Weighing 3000 kilograms, 15 feet in height and 16 feet in length the statue made at a cost of Rs. 50 lakh stands at the pong dam reservoir.

The famous poet Shyamnarayan Pandey of Hindi has written a beautiful poem called ‘Chetak’s Heroism: ‘‘He was a sky horse. The rider used to fly’.




Prof. (Er.) Chander P Mahajan is an art critic & a free lance journalist. The Environmentalist stays in Shimla and Dalhousie, Himachal Pradesh, India.

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