This is the second part to our Nag Tibba Trek Log. You can find the first part here.
Amit Chauhan – aspiring soldier & Nag Tibba expert
Amit Chauhan is a self-effacing curious boy with an easygoing demeanour. He hails from Tahthian, the last village on the Pantwari – Nag Tibba dirt road. Son of a shepherd, Amit’s ambition is to join the armed forces and soldier for his country. Introduced during my overnight stay at Pantwari, he agreed to explore Nag Tibba with me. When he’s on vacation, Amit helps his father graze their livestock (100 goats and 30 sheep) in and around Nag Tibba’s many meadows (thatch in local language). His natural curiosity coupled with the insight he’s acquired while grazing his livestock gives him phenomenal knowledge on the flora and fauna in the Nag Tibba range. I cannot thank him enough for sharing that knowledge with me on our Nag Tibba sojourn.
On our walk together I learnt about the various trees that grow at Nag Tibba, the telltale signs to recognise a better goat (“it’s all in the ears” Amit says) and Gaddi lineage, among other things. Since he wore a pair of tattered sports shoes, I had no hesitation lending him my “Hi-Tec Alpha Mid” boots. I hope they stand him in good stead.
Goat Village Nag Tibba
Fifty metres off the main trekking trail, Goat Village is a major landmark on the Tahthian – Nag Tibba trail. The local staff at the resort welcomed us in and gave us a carte-blanche to look around.
Goat Village is an eco-resort that offers a luxurious stay in locally crafted cottages. These stone and wood cottages are rustic with mud-plastered walls and slate (pathal in local language) encased roof. The resort is completely off the grid and a solar panel bank coupled with solar lights provides electricity to these cottages. The menu is local vegetables from their kitchen garden and quintessential Garhwali fare. Its parent entity, Green People also owns the Bakri Chaap brand. Bakri Chaap aims to direct procure and sell typical Garhwal produce like Mandua, Zhangoora, Gahat, Sunta, Bajranga, Bhaat and Rajmah. We met Chris and Jill at the resort. These two Britishers were volunteering at Goat Village. Chris was tilling the land for a new kitchen garden while Jill was planting vegetables.
Nonetheless, there is an unsubstantiated rumour that Goat Village used illegally acquired wood for construction by bribing forest officials. Moreover, the locals are not happy with their strong arm way of acquiring new land and pushing for the jeep-able road to be extended till the resort.
Vijay Rana Dera
This was my first introduction to Gaddis who had come to Nag Tibba for grazing their livestock. Vijay Rana dera was three brothers from Purola with three hundred goats and three Gaddi Dogs.
The brothers welcomed us into their camp and immediately started preparing goat’s milk tea. Since I tend to avoid tea, they got me a glass of raw goat’s milk freshly squeezed from their favorite goat’s udder.
In gratitude, I gave them a free run to my mobile phone which had both connectivity and battery. As we sat drinking our goat milk beverage they used the phone to coordinate with other deras and get the latest information on optimal grazing grounds.
The dera had three Gaddi dogs as well. A trained Gaddi Dog (Gaddi Kutta) will sleep through the day and wake up for “duty” at around five in the evening. Its duty roster consists of rounding up the herd every evening around the Gaddi’s camp. After they’ve finished herding, these brave dogs will patrol the herd through the night. This is to discourage any livestock from straying or a predator from getting close. Since Gaddi livestock is a leopard’s favourite easy meal, the mortality rate for these dogs is quite high. This is the reason most of them have metal collars with sharp spikes around their neck. Gaddis love their dogs and will share their food with them. This is also evident in their price. In 2017 the going price for a trained and guaranteed to perform Gaddi Dog is over Rs. 15000!
Flora at Nag Tibba
The forests in Nag Tibba are a botanist’s delight. Most of the jungle towards Pantwari is oak, which contributes to an immense biodiversity as compared to a mixed Oak-Deodar forest (reference) from the Dewalsari side of the trek. Here are some of the varieties that we found in plenty along its slopes –
Ringal (Dwarf Bamboo) – Ringal is one of the oldest weaving materials used by mankind. Ringal weavers in Rudraprayag district are known as Rudhiya. How baskets are woven with Ringal in Uttarakhand.
Moru Oak (Quercus floribunda) – A large evergreen tree of the Western Himalaya and Nepal, growing on cool moist aspects between 2000 and 2750 metres. Moru is a multipurpose tree that provides fuelwood, charcoal, timber for construction and agricultural implements and fodder.
Kharsu oak / Brown Oak (Quercus semecarpifolia) – In its native habitat it may be the dominant species on north-facing slopes and will grow up to the tree line where its habit is more shrubby. The tree is lopped extensively in the hills of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand for fodder. Bears are particularly fond of its acorns.
Mohru (Quercus dilatata) – It is found at an altitude of 1800-2700m. It is a small deciduous tree growing to 15 meters (49 feet) tall, with bark cracked into rectangular black plates with narrow orange fissures. The wood is very dense and produces a hot flame when burned, which functions as an excellent source of heat.
Banjh/Ban Oak (Quercus leucotrichophora) – The banjh oak is a multipurpose tree. The acorns are edible and can be dried, ground and used to thicken stews or to make bread. The seeds can be roasted to prepare a coffee substitute. The wood is a poor timber but a valuable fuel and is also used for making agricultural implements and in low-grade construction.
Bani (Quercus glauca) Quercus glauca – is a small to medium-sized evergreen broadleaf tree growing to 15–20 m tall. Its acorns are edible. The wood of Quercus glauca is a valuable fuelwood. Its leaves and stems are relished by deer.
At Nag Tibba
Nag Tibba has two temples, one dedicated to Nag Devata and the other dedicated to Surkanda Mata. Like most hill shrines, both temples are hideously encased in concrete and their ancient character has been defaced. Yet despite this mutilation, the local devotion remains genuine. Locals and Gaddis alike visit the Nag Devata temple to offer their prayers to Nag Devta for the protection of their cattle. Besides the temples, there is an old forest building at Nag Tibba. Trekking operators use this building as a kitchen and overnight quarters for their staff. The forest building is a four-way intersection with – a trail to Pantwari, another to Taal and on to Deolsari village, the third to Jhandi Top and the fourth to Digon Thatch.
Since it was a weekday we had the Forest Building all to ourselves. Yet, rather than spend a night in solitude we decided to join some Gaddis who had camped nearby.