365 days a year thunder, lightening, snow, sun, hail or rain the herdsmen of Kashmir alongside their gypsy families and live stock continue to smile.
Battling with the harsh yet stunningly beautiful landscape of the Himalayas, as the snow begins to melt, the Kashmiri mountains are spotted with gypsy herdsmen out to find a fresh new patch of green grass for their treasured livestock of pashmina goats and sheep. Rugged up in full length ponchos, the children play with sticks as they help collect them for the evening fire. Herdsmen and their families are beautiful. With eyes wild as a full moon that glow like the evening stars bringing a natural beauty that no palette of makeup could hope to mimic.
Life is tough with very few comforts. Singing and dancing at night by a warm fire is a delight before sleeping snuggled up in a simple tent or hut next to your family or friends to keep you warm. Kashmiri tea is a necessity – tea leaves, a pinch of saffron, sugar, cardamom and a cinnamon stick.
Snow leopards roam the mountains and are a threat to the livestock. Some herdsmen stay up all night to keep a lookout or scare off any threats. Kashmir also known as ‘Paradise on Earth’ is famous for its ancient handicrafts, hand knotted rugs, pashmina and saffron. There is another hidden treasure amongst the mountains – the morel mushroom. If you are lucky enough to stumble across a wild growth of these mushrooms, they are sold for very good money at the markets. They are a sought after delicacy for gourmet cooking and exported to the West.
Although the life of a Kashmiri gypsy family may sound enchanting, it is the generations of skill, strength, dedication and connection with the land and its animals that has been passed down through the generations that has given them the survival skills and happy way of life they have till this day. Whole heartedly and with admiration, we can thank them for the production of some of the finest wool and pashmina in the world. In conditions that many of us could never survive in!
Words & photography by Zanbi