Today’s Special: Himalayan Goat Meals

The Bhaba Pass is often known as the Shepherd’s trail, as many Shepherds use this route to travel between the Kinnaur and Spiti Valleys. Kinnaur has many green pastures and goats and sheep are taken for grazing on these lush pastures. The campsites of Bhaba Pass were Mulling, Kara, Phutsirang, after which you cross the Bhaba Pass at 4850 meters (around 15900 Feet) and camp at Phaldor on the Spiti side. Enroute, you meet many shepherds who herd group sizes of goats and sheep ranging from 200 to 1000. The number of shepherds are obviously directly proportional to the number of goats.

At our third campsite Phutsirang, we encountered bad weather and it was decided that we will not head to the Pass that day. The weather was windy, cloudy and it was raining. Around 10am, a pair of shepherds came down from the pass side towards our campsite. They were carrying 2 goats on their back. We recognized the two shepherds from yesterday’s Shepherd party of 10 men and over 1000 goats. They were carrying with them one dead goat and one badly injured one.

The dead adult male goat

“The weather is really bad up there. Visibility is poor. While grazing, rolling stones hit their heads. This one [adult male] died on the spot and this one [sub-adult] is badly injured. The pass has become very dangerous. We are not crossing today. The others have settled on a high ground around 70 meters above this campsite.”

As told to us, by the two shepherds

What I describe next is the way the shepherds flay, extract organs and store the meat when such situation occurs. They follow a clear protocol so as to ensure the meat does not go waste. We witnessed this thrice during our trek.

First they flay the animal. The furry skin comes off like a coat.

Flaying the goat

Then, they break off the ending part of the leg, that contains the hoof. This is followed by severing the head. Then, the inner organs and meat are all procured, after cutting the inner skin.

Inner skin is cut

Kidneys, Liver and heart are the first choice. They are kept aside and tend to use that first.

These became the main ingredients for their favourite meat stew.

Then, Sitaram [our guide] spent a good 20 minutes on cleaning the intestines of the goat. He did this by washing the intestinal tube in the running stream.

Washing the goat intestine

After several washes, he looked satisfied. On looking at my curious face, he said:

We make a special dish called “Boti” with this. It is a local delicacy.

Sitaram

Meanwhile, the other Shepherd took the bones, head and hooves up the mountain, dug a pit and buried them in it (which would eventually decompose). When asked why he did that, he said, pointing at one of the shepherd dogs:

“ये खाएगा तो शिकारी बन जाएगा” [If our sheep-dogs eat this raw meat, they will become predators to these goats.]

Shepherd

Now, all that was left was some remnants and blood on the rocks.

All that was left at the site

No sooner the shepherds were done than Yellow-billed Choughs (Pyrrhocorax graculus) cleaned up the place by eating the minuscule pieces of meat and the blood.

A quick clean up by the Yellow-billed Choughs

I watched in awe, how these four men split the work among themselves and made best of the unfortunate situation. Yes, the owner lost two goats but this is how life was in the mountains. They helped each other in this process, shared the work, rewards and meals. Nothing went waste. What remained was taken care of by the Choughs.

Sharing was the way of the hills

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My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.

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