INDIA, December 21, 2012 (New York Times): The rutted road, part paved, part dirt, was a border between two worlds. To the left, a patchwork of villages, farms and fields covered the fertile plains between the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers. To the right rose the rugged, forested wilderness of the Shivalik Hills. Dehradun, the bustling capital of the northern state of Uttarakhand, was just 20 miles away, but felt much, much farther.
This October, I, along with a translator, Debopam Battacharjee, hitched a ride down that road on a dairy truck loaded with empty milk cans. When it stopped after about an hour, we continued on, hiking for another four miles. Then we turned right, up a rocky streambed, toward the hills and into the jungle. I was looking for some friends who live there, at least part-time.
They are a family of nomadic water buffalo herders. Three years ago, I had joined them on their annual spring migration from the low-altitude Shivaliks where they spend each winter to the high Himalayan meadows where they graze their livestock in summer. Their tribe, the Van Gujjars, has moved up and down with the seasons for about 1,000 years. But in 2009 their age-old migratory lifestyle was facing a serious threat: the ancestral pastures of thousands of Van Gujjars had been absorbed into national parklands, and park authorities were poised to enforce a policy banning the nomads from using them. I wanted to document the migration, partly to preserve a glimpse of their traditional way of life while it still existed, partly to raise awareness about their struggles. And, yes, partly because it just seemed as if it would be an amazing thing to experience. Through a small Dehradun-based nongovernmental organization called the Society for Promotion of Himalayan Indigenous Activities, I was introduced to a Van Gujjar family, who agreed to let me go with them.
This lengthy, colorful and informative travelogue continues at "source" above.