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Chapter IX - The western Himalaya


This zone includes the Himalaya in India to the west of the Nepalese border; the Himalaya in Pakistan, with the foothills of the Karakoram and the uplands of Balochistan; the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan; and other mountain ranges to where they run down to the Turkestan plain. The transhumance systems are similar throughout in that they are of the classical, vertical type, where stock overwinter in warmer zones, the plains, foothills or the desert fringe, moving upwards as the weather warms until they reach mountain or alpine pastures in summer. Overwintering in the lowlands gives herders access both to markets and to opportunities for seasonal employment. Small stock are the basis of most systems, although the Gujars in Pakistan and India migrate with buffalo and cattle; camels are important in Balochistan and Afghanistan.

Herders generally belong to minority tribes, except in Afghanistan, where Kuchis are part of the Pushtun majority. Herders’ diets are generally based on dairy products and purchased cereals. Most groups have no fixed homes and the whole family travels; the Gaddi described in the Indian case study are an exception. Migration routes have to traverse settled areas where increasing population pressure and land development make the passage of herds increasingly difficult and where disputes can occur.

Three related case studies are presented. The Indian study (Chapter X) describes traditional Gaddi migration, where they have fixed homes and a little crop land, usually in the hills, and only some family members migrate with their herds of sheep and goats. Two case studies from Pakistan are presented in Chapters XI and XII. The first describes a migratory system in the NWFP, where alpine pastures are used in summer both by migratory herds and those of settled communities from nearby valleys. The second describes how private afforestation and land development in Swat has disrupted nomadic grazing systems by obstructing traditional routes and has made herding more laborious. Stock have to be kept out of plantations and away from crop land.


The western Himalaya (see Figure 9.1) lies in Pakistan and India as far east as the Nepalese border but, from a herding point of view, the zone extends beyond the Himalaya, northwards through the foothills of the Karakoram to the Hindu Kush and most of Afghanistan’s mountains to the shoulder of the Pamirs; in the west of Pakistan it includes the Balochistan uplands; the Karakoram is too steep and desolate to be used even by the hardiest herders. The north of Afghanistan is on the edge of the Turkestan plains. Transhumant herding is common throughout this region; there are two main situations: full-time herders who follow a transhumance cycle between high pastures and lowlands throughout the year; and settled farmers, within reach of high pastures, who send their stock there in summer.

Herders and herding ethnic groups tend to specialize in either small or large ruminants, in contrast to the multispecies herds of northern Asia. Horses are relatively unimportant, although some ponies are used for baggage. Yak occur in a few very high places in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Ladakh in India, but are not as important as they are in the Eastern Himalaya, Mongolia or the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau. Camels are not used by herders on high-altitude pastures in India, but are important in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Balochistan grazing areas, where nomads breed Arabian camels, which are also used as transport to highland grazing. Herders’ diets are mainly of cereals, bought with the proceeds of livestock sales, and dairy products, meat being reserved for special occasions.

FIGURE 9.1. Locations of Himalaya-Hindu Kush transhumant grazing system studies in Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan.


Data subsetted from ESRI’s World Worldsat Color Shaded Relief Image. Based on 1996 NOAA weather satellite images, with enhanced shaded relief imagery and ocean floor relief data (bathymetry) to provide a land and undersea topographic view. ESRI Data and Maps 1999 Volume 1. Projection = Geographic (Lat/Long)

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The designations employed and the presentation of the material in the maps do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of FAO concerning the legal or constitutional status of any country, territory or sea area, or concerning the delimitation of frontiers.

Overwintering in the lower areas has several advantages, apart from climatic ones; herders may buy crop residues, grain and fodder, or graze stubbles in winter; some do seasonal work on farms in return for straw and crop wastes. The winter areas are also mostly close to markets. Upland farmers who send their flocks to summer pasture rely on straw and stover for winter feed. Transhumant herding is carried out by minority ethnic groups who must herd their stock through or between agricultural or forest lands to reach their seasonal pastures.

Grazing areas, transhumant groups, stock routes and grazing rights are well documented in India and Pakistan from the time of the land settlement in the late nineteenth century, and many of these accounts and records are still available. Regulations concerning forest grazing, stock numbers, seasons for various pasture areas as well as grazing fees were all codified at and after settlement; with increasing population and political pressure, these rules may not always be observed and fees have not been increased for a very long time.

Many of the upland pastures and hay fields of the subregion are exceedingly steep, and trekking routes often very difficult. Haymaking is common in the better watered areas that receive the monsoon. Designated areas are usually closed to grazing throughout the monsoon period and the hay is made - from overmature herbage - once the rains are over; the product is of poor quality and low feeding value, but is highly prized by both settled and transhumant stock owners.


Afghanistan is at the junction between Central Asia and the Himalayan zone. Transhumant herding is very important. The overall pasture situation in the country is described by Thieme (2000). It is essentially semi-arid to desert and most crop production is limited to pockets of irrigable land, with some rain-fed areas in the north and at high-altitudes. Crops cover less than 10 percent of the total land area; most of the rest is extensive grazing, desert or high mountain and permanent ice. By far the greatest part of the surface is extensive grazing - desert, semi-desert or high or steep mountain; only about 40 percent is said to be suitable for winter grazing. From satellite imagery it has been estimated that more than 70 percent is rough grazing.

Afghanistan is at the convergence of several vegetation types: the Mediterranean, the Tibetan, the Himalayan, and, towards the Pakistan border, is influenced by the monsoon. Its great altitude range also adds to diversity, but, for the vast majority of the grazing lands, low precipitation, with winter incidence, means that the main grazing vegetation type is Artemisia steppe.

Artemisia steppe is by far the predominant grazing vegetation; there is highquality pasture in the upper alpine zones, for a short season. There are variations towards Pakistan, where there are effects of the monsoon, and the great deserts of the west and southwest are allied to the flora of Iran and Balochistan. The mainstay of this vast area is Artemisia; the plant of the extensive grazing lands is generally referred to as A. maritima as it is in Pakistan; this may merit further investigation, since the altitude range of the Artemisia steppe is from about 300 to 3 000 m. In neighbouring Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, A. herb-alba, A. turcomanica and A. maikara are mentioned. Throughout most of its range, Artemisia is associated with the viviparous grass Poa bulbosa (Plate 48); Stipa spp. are frequent. There is a very short flush of annuals in spring, but these dry off quickly. Other sub-shrubs associated with Artemisia include Acanthalimon (Plumbaginaceae), Cousinia (Compositeae), Acanthophyllum (Caryophyllaceae), Astragalus spp. (Leguminoseae), and Ephedra sp. (Ephedraceae).

In eastern areas close to Pakistan, Laghman, Kunar, Nangarhar and Paktia, where rainfall is adequate, Cymbopogon, Chrysopogon (Plate 49), Heteropogon, Aristida and other grasses of the monsoon areas occur, often associated with Acacia modesta and Olea cuspidata.

In the warmer areas of Mediterranean climate, including Farah and the Northern Plain, the leguminous sub-shrub Alhagi is a widespread colonizer on disturbed land and provides useful browse for small stock and camels; around Balkh it is made into hay.

Trees are often taken as sound indicators of ecological zoning. Afghanistan’s forests have long been sparse and in recent years they have suffered destruction either by local populations desperate for fuelwood, or where there is valuable timber, through uncontrolled logging. In the central mountains below 2 000 m, degraded Pistacia atlantica [this pistachio has many names: P. khinjuk and P. cabulica occur frequently in local literature] forest is widespread, but often degraded to the extent of an occasional vestige. North of the Hindu Kush, on deep loess hills and plains, Pistacia vera is common between 600 and 1 600 m, with Amygdalis buharica and Cercis griffithii. These pistachio forests are a valuable source of high-quality pistachio nuts, but have been heavily exploited for fuelwood. In the east and south, between 1 200 and 2 000 m, Quercus baloot and Amygdalis kuramica occur. At low elevations in the east, Acacia modesta is frequent and, with adequate moisture, Olea cuspidata (Plate 50). In Paktia, towards the Pakistan-Waziristan border, the dwarf palm Nannorhops is locally important and is exploited for fibre. Between 2 200 and 2 500 m, Pinus gerardiana and Betula sp. occur. From 2 500 to 3 100 m has been deodar (Cedrus deodara), forest, but large parts have been severely exploited and have been replaced by stable Artemisia communities. From 3 100 m to the tree line at about 3 300 m, Picea smithiana and Abies webbiana occur in areas of higher precipitation, while Juniperus spp. are in the drier zones, often heavily used for fuelwood.

Plate 48. Camels in spring on Artemisia-Poa bulbosa pasture. Ghanzi, Afghanistan.

There are two main divisions in livestock production systems: those of sedentary villagers, and the transhumant (Kuchi) systems; Karakul sheep production is a third, specialized, subsystem in the north of the area, which is out of the mountain masses and on the Turkestan plain and continues over the border in Uzbekistan.

Plate 49. Goats on a Cymbopogon-Chrysopogon pasture in Laghman, Afghanistan. Degraded forest eroded to rock, with grasses in fissures.

Kuchi herders who practice vertical, seasonal migrations between the dry plains and the summer pastures in the mountains exploit much of the pasture on a seasonal basis. Sedentary communities also use many of these grazing lands, and often there is friction between the two systems. Overgrazing is probably mainly caused by the sedentary stock, since the Kuchis only graze for a short season (and rested the land in their traditional system), whereas farmers’ stock graze every day unless there is snow cover.

The country has undergone much trouble and civil war over the past twenty years; its pasture situation has to be seen in the context of these events. A communist coup in 1978 ousted the then government, and Islamic guerrillas fought the regime, which had military support from Russia. Millions of the rural population became refugees in Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Russians withdrew in 1988, and many rural refugees returned to their farms in 1992 when the Najibullah government fell. Much international aid was supplied for the returnees, but serious civil war followed and more refugees fled when most of the country fell into the hands of local commanders. The Taliban fundamentalist movement took over most of the west, south and southeast of the country progressively from 1994; they have now been deposed with strong external involvement, central government is in the process of being restored, but a large number of refugees are still in Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Severe drought for several years has seriously affected transhumant livestock and many herders are said now to be destitute.

Plate 50. Degraded Olea-Acacia modesta forest. Lagham, Afghanistan.

Pre-war migrations systems are well documented. Migrations were disrupted by the war, but many have been re-established, although where the Kuchis had used the lands of other ethnic groups as summer pasture, these rights have not been re-established. Under present circumstances it is unlikely that the problems of management of extensive grazing systems by the traditional pastoralists can be addressed.

While the Kuchis of Pathan origin are by far the most important, numerically and economically, of the transhumant livestock raising ethnic groups, they are not alone. In the extreme south there are Baloch and Braoui (of ancient Dravidian origin), and in the northeast there are yurt-dwelling groups with Altaic affinities.

At the height of the disturbance, livestock numbers fell drastically as farmers and herders became refugees and some Kuchi stock moved to other countries. According to anecdotal evidence, the grazing land (hard grazed for a very long time) recovered rapidly and there was excellent pasture. This situation did not last long: the stock numbers of both communities rapidly regained their former levels, through purchase and natural increase once the refugees returned, and now most pastures are as sorely overgrazed as before. The herds suffered greatly during the severe drought of 1999-2000, which was broken by severe floods in November 2000, and losses up to 80 percent have been reported.

The resurgence of the herding industry in Afghanistan is remarkable in that it had to start from a desperate situation, had no support from the administration, and yet regained a flourishing status in a few years. Marketing has been dealt with by local methods: stock are trekked to external markets, mainly in Pakistan, and the traditional cashmere and carpet traders deal with these products.

As might be expected in so mountainous a country, there are many systems of transhumance routes between alpine or mountain pastures and the lowlands and the desert fringe. Some from southwestern Afghanistan overwinter in Pakistan. Many Kuchi families have rights, attested by papers from the rule of the kings, to specific summer grazing. Transhumant herders are blamed for pasture degradation by villagers, but the greatest damage is done by the sedentary stock who graze for as long as the land is snow free; the Kuchis only graze in season and move on.


India’s temperate pastures are mainly in the Himalayas and adjacent chains; they form a narrow strip on the country’s northern and northeastern border. Most are in the west of the country since the central part of the Himalaya is largely in Nepal and Bhutan and the extreme east is forest rather than grazing land. The Indian-administered part of Kashmir has great areas of grazing, much of it exploited by transhumant systems, but up-to-date information from there is not available. The Himalayan pastures are notable for the extreme steepness of the transit routes and much of their grazing land, as well as their very great altitude range.

Of India’s twenty agro-ecological regions, only one has a cold climate: AER-1: Western Himalayas (cold-arid climate; limited cultivation of millets, barley and wheat). Misri (2000), in the Country Pasture/Forage Resource Profile, indicates that temperate-alpine grasslands are spread across altitudes higher than 2 100 m and include the temperate and cold arid areas of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and the northeastern states. The deterioration of Indian pastures, grasslands and other grazing lands may be ascribed to the large bovine population, free grazing practices, lack of management, and natural constraints like extremes of temperature, steepness of slopes, variable precipitation, and scarcity of moisture in arid and semi-arid situations. The situation in Himalayan pastures is even more alarming due to the severe pressure of the sedentary, semi-migratory and migratory graziers. Overgrazing has caused the near complete loss of edible species. Weeds such as Stipa, Sambucus, Aconitum, Cimicifuga, Adonis, and Sibbaldia have heavily infested these pastures (Misri,1995).

The transhumant system is prevalent in the Himalayas, where there are several nomadic tribes, such as the Gujars, Bakarwals, Gaddis and Changpas, who rear sheep and goats under this system. The animals are moved to subalpine and alpine pastures during summer, while during winter they are grazed on adjoining plains. The scale of this enterprise is widespread and is practised by a variety of farmers, including landless and marginal farmers, who have adopted this profession for earning a livelihood. Sale of wool and live animals for meat is their only source of income. The transhumant system is practised in order to locate the best herbage resources from pastures and grasslands. There are also well recognized pastoral tribes who practise a complete transhumance, moving from one place to another on traditional migratory routes. The dates of migration have traditionally been fixed. Even grazing rights rest with the migratory graziers by traditional usage, though they do not hold proprietary rights over the land. The transhumant system is prevalent in the Himalayan region. However, this system still exists in some states situated in the plains, such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh.

Transhumant stock rearing is widespread in two forms insofar as temperate pastures are concerned: hill farmers taking their stock to high summer pastures, and full-time herders who use high pastures in summer but overwinter in the foothills or far into the agricultural tracts of the plains. Itineraries are of the classic vertical kind, spending the hottest months on alpine pastures; the altitude range is usually large. In addition to following availability of good quality feed, this allows stock to avoid the summer heat of the plains. Heat is stressed in the case studies, but the humidity of the monsoon, which follows the hottest season, is probably even more dangerous for small stock since the conditions are very conducive for the proliferation of internal parasites.

The Indian case study describes one of the important herding groups, the Gaddis, who are specialized in small ruminants, especially sheep. A second very important group are the Gujars, who are present in both India and Pakistan and are mentioned in all the case studies. The Gujars are an ancient race; they are essentially lowland people who go to high pastures for a short period in summer. Drew (1875) states:

Unlike the Gaddis, who are really hill people, and only for a short time visit lower parts, the Gujars have their homes below; they are only summer visitors to the mountains... ...These Gujars are a set of people who are found scattered from Delhi to the Indus. Though holding some land they do not depend on it chiefly for subsistence, for they are a migrating, pastoral people.... Wherever I have met Gujars I have found them to be possessors of herds of buffaloes.

Christina Noble, then resident in Himachal Pradesh, followed Gaddi herds for a summer season. Her Over the High Passes (1987), although basically a travel book, gives much information on Gaddi herding, lifestyle and problems. She describes (p. 144 et seq.) how at the time of land settlement Gaddis paid fees for their pastures to the state, thus becoming titleholders and state tenants, while Gujars had to pay fees to the local villagers. Also around the time of settlement, Gaddis had the foresight to purchase land down in Kangra, which gave them a winter base and also rights to grazing on “waste land” of the village. Gaddi herders had capital; local people were mostly subsistence farmers who might earn some cash by labouring, but they lacked the capital that flock-owners could raise for land purchase. Now many Gaddis have lowland bases.

Misri (1996), at a meeting of the Temperate Asia Pasture and Fodder Working Group, described the Gujars of Jammu and Kashmir and indicated that they are increasingly becoming settled and giving up the nomadic lifestyle; those who can, acquire land and engage in agriculture while keeping livestock and trading in milk, milk products and cattle. Gujars are not limited to Himalayan transhumance, nor to herding in India: they are also found in the lowlands of Rajasthan and Punjab.

In Pakistan, Gujars are still very much involved in herding and are mentioned in both case studies. They are also very important in peri-urban dairying and in milk and buffalo trading; in the irrigated tracts they often work for crop and horticultural producers to obtain straw and crop residues, but that is under subtropical, not temperate, conditions. The city of Gujranwala near Lahore was founded by and named after them, and they are widespread on the Punjab plains. Many others continue to take their herds to mountain pastures in summer, often with buffaloes on surprisingly steep slopes for such clumsy looking beasts. Some Gujars have settled and made their homes in higher areas, while still using mountain pastures in summer. Drew (1875: 110) states that “Gujars are found in Kashmir if not beyond” and Ehlers and Kreutzman (2000), discussing pastoralism in the Karakoram area, state that Gujars settled in the Nanga Parbat region around 1910, while other areas may have been visited much earlier; some have become shepherds for the local elite. Some Gujars graze in Balochistan.

The disputed territories of Kashmir are traditional areas of transhumance but, because of security problems of long duration, little information is available. Some routes that crossed present frontiers have probably changed since partition. The high lands of Leh and Ladakh are the edge of the Tibet-Qinghai plateau and yak are important; they are also visited in summer by herders with small stock.

India’s Himalayan pastures are bisected by Nepal; those to the east differ from the dry western pastures in being in a moister, more southerly climate. The plains are much more humid and probably less suited to the small-ruminant migration that is so common in the west. Some pastures are at very high altitudes and are contiguous with those of Tibet. Large ruminants, including yaks, are much more important.


The overall pasture situation in the country is described by Dost (1999). Transhumant herding is common to the alpine pastures of the mountains that flank Pakistan’s eastern and northern limits, from Azad, Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) through Punjab, the NWFP and the Northern Areas that border Afghanistan and China. Generally, the pattern is followed of upland farmers sending stock to high pastures, with fulltime nomads moving between the foothills or plains and the high pastures.

The uplands of Balochistan, to the west, which border on Afghanistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran, are largely grazing land, mostly dominated by Artemisia, with Chrysopogon and Cymbopogon grasslands at the eastern edge where there is some influence from the monsoon. These lands are largely used by Baloch and Braoui herders, who raise small stock and camels; they are also winter grazing for Afghan herders, some of whom transit as far as the lowlands of Punjab and Sindh. The troubles in Afghanistan, and recent severe drought, have periodically caused refugee flocks to move into Pakistan, both in the Himalayan pastures and Balochistan.

Plate 51. Mountain landscape in autumn in the Hunza Valley, Pakistan, with terraced slopes and villages on alluvial fans and the mountain pastures already under snow.

As has been noted above, Gujars are one of the most important herding and stock owning groups; they were discussed under India since they are found in Rajasthan, throughout the area from Delhi westwards, and Himalayan grazing lands.

It is not clear whether migration patterns have been modified since partition. Bakarwals in Azad Kashmir still use the high pastures near the cease-fire line and have found good markets for fresh meat with high-altitude military posts, as well as employment for their ponies as mountain transport.

Until the opening of the Karakoram Highway in 1978, a large part of the Northern Areas had only very tenuous transport links with the outside world. Stock rearing was important and based on using high pastures in summer (Plate 51); through the long, cold winter stock have to be housed and fed as well as possible. Small areas of the valley bottoms are irrigated, but mainly for orchards and crops (Plate 52). In the rain shadow of the Himalaya, valley bottoms are desert with little grazing. Some of the steep slopes have Artemisia scrub (Plate 53), but the only good grazing is high up on the alpine pastures.

The opening of the highway has had a noticeable effect on both the agriculture and the animal husbandry of the area. The road link permitted easy transport of cereals from the plains, sometimes subsidized; this has led to an increase in fodder cultivation for winter feed (Plate 54). How improved fodder technology has been taken up by the population is described by Dost (1996; 2001). Introduction of improved lucerne (Medicago sativa) cultivars to replace old, winter-dormant landraces was especially successful. In recent years there have been many inputs to development in the area, as well as intensive improvements in education, much funded by the Agha Khan Foundation. Now many youths have received education, and are no longer interested in herding. The present situation has been studied in detail and is described by Ehlers and Kreutzman (2000); the local population is now making less use of high pastures although there is some anecdotal evidence that other groups may be taking an interest in them.

Plate 52. Crops, lucerne (Medicago sativa) and orchards on irrigated terraces in the Hunza Valley, Pakistan.

Plate 53. Artemisia pastures in the Indus valley below Gilgit, Pakistan.

Plate 54. Lucerne (Medicago sativa) hay drying for winter feed for livestock on their return from the summer pastures. Hunza Valley, Pakistan.

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