If you have been to any Himalayan treks, you would have had the experience of an adorable dog following you on the trail with no expectations what so ever. It is so common to see mountain dogs accompanying trekkers as they make their way from one campsite to the other.
In fact, this could not get any more true for the Shepherds in Kashmir. Last month (2022), when we were at Kashmir for a trek, the weather had turned bad which led us to postpone our trek by a few days. When we did go to the mountains a few days later, we heard horrific stories of what the shepherds and the livestock went through. They were buried in 7 feet snow. Many of their make-shift houses collapsed under the weight of the heavy snow. Two of them also recounted that had escaped from their tent at 3AM worrying that the blizzard will kill them. Many lost 15-20 sheep to lightening that week! Many goats and sheep died of cold. Ultimately most of the Bakarwals had to abandon their livestock in the mountains to save their lives and their dogs’ lives.
The Bakarwal’s dogs are unlike the shepherd dogs in Himachal or Uttarakhand. While the latter are friendly and would mingle with strangers, Bakarwal’s dogs have zero tolerance for human beings other than their masters. These dogs battle ferocious animals like the black and brown bear, and go to any length to ensure that the livestock are not approached by any animal or human being. They are trained to attack and kill.
Initially, I thought our trekking guide was being over-cautious when he advised us to stay away from the dogs. (Perhaps they were joking and pulling my leg).
But it was not so. We had clear instructions to STAY AWAY from the Bakarwal’s dogs, let alone pet them. Bakwarwals let their dogs loose from 10PM to 7AM. So we had to be very careful during those hours, to not venture far away from our camping site. In fact, we were given a huge stick to keep the dogs at bay in case they attacked us in the night, if we stepped outside the tent to attend nature’s call. At Dagwan campsite, an hour past midnight, one dog barked right outside our tent for over 2 hours continuously!!
It was because of their hostility that I could not even get decent photos of the dogs… because we never went close to them. Once, when we crossed paths with them inadvertently, the dogs growled and turned super aggressive. The only time we saw them a little up close was when the Bakarwals themselves were sitting with us and having chai, near one of the campsites. At this point, even though the dogs were aggressive towards us, they probably chose to look the other way since we were seated with their masters.
This was indeed something new I learnt about shepherd dogs from different places. So remember, next time if you are trekking in Kashmir and you come across Bakarwal’s dogs, stay away!
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My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.