The Nepali Horse Whisperer

Over the years, I have seemed to learn something about any load bearing animal (mules or horses) accompanying groups during trekking: they wait for no one. It is for this reason, that most trekking crews have a dedicated horseman who not only takes care of the animals’ well being (obviously), but also exclusively accompanies the animals and walk at their pace. Horses are easily strayed. You let them rest too much, they may start grazing and may not reach the destination. And on the other hand, if you don’t give them enough rest, they will not be able to cope with the exhaustion.

The horsemen usually never accompany the trekking party. They remain with the horses for the entire route.

When Ashwin and I did the Bhaba Pass trek in 2016, we were accompanied by Sitaram, a local guide, and Rajesh, a horseman from Nepal. Bhaba Pass is a high mountain pass (around 4,890 m, that is 16,000+ ft) that connects the Kinnaur and Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh. Kinnaur is green and Spiti has comparatively sparse vegetation. The first four campsites, including the base camp fall in Kinnaur and the last one is located in Spiti.

Rajesh, the horseman who accompanied us comes to Himachal Pradesh, during tourist season to earn his livelihood. His love (for) and skill with the horses was par excellence and I thought he was a Horse whisper of sorts, such was his connection with the horses.

The following incident occurred when we had reached the second campsite of the Bhaba Pass trek, Kara. Kara was located on the banks of a gushing stream. The campsite was surrounded by hills on all sides.

The beautiful campsite of Kara

Early morning of the next day, as we were packing our tent and getting ready to leave, we realised our horses were no where to be seen. They are usually seen grazing in the nearby hills. But some how today, they decided they would venture more far than usual. Rajesh scanned the hills with our binoculars to search for the horses…but they were not to be seen on any of the near by hills. “There is a green pasture behind this hill, the horses would have gone there….“, said Rajesh.

Scanning the hills surrounding Kara Campsite

Saying so, he made his way up the hill ! It was a long climb. He placed his hands behind his back and made his away up the hill in a slow but constant pace.

What might seem like a short distance with the naked eye is actually quite time-consuming when you walk it.

Sitaram looked at my concerned face and said, “Don’t worry, he will be back with the horses, you continue to pack“. Soon, fog covered the entire landscape in front of us. After every few minutes, my eyes would scan the hills to see where Rajesh had reached. I followed him with my binoculars. Sometimes, he would not be seen owing to the undulating terrain. Finally, I saw he had reached the top of the hill and was scanning the other side. Since he was on higher ground, he would have had a better view from there. After that, we lost sight of him.

Can you spot him in this photo?

We finished packing and waited patiently… and then after about an hour, we saw Rajesh at the top of the hill with the horses, headed downhill. I was in complete awe of Rajesh. His calm composure and his connection with the horses was something I almost envied. Fifteen minutes later, the horses were back at the campsite and both Rajesh and Sitaram tried to quickly tie the horses to the rock so that they could be loaded with the luggage. And while doing so, one horse ran off again!! And Rajesh had to climb up another hill just to retrieve the rebel horse who ran away! And I remember Rajesh telling me on the first day, pointing at that same horse saying, eh wala thoda shaitan hai!

Finally all the horses back on campsite

Sitaram asked us to go ahead so that we get a head start. “Go on.. cross the stream and take a left into that valley (pointing at that direction). We will catch up”. Ashwin and I departed from the campsite only to find ourselves being challenged by a stream that we had to cross to make our way ahead. That, is a story for another time!

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

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