Nomads, Horses, Camels and Water Buffalo

The word “nomad” is hugely overused. People take gap years and call themselves nomads. YouTube channels, blogs and Twitter handles use the word to conjure up images of travel. Marketers use the word to make their products appear more exotic. SUV’s from Qashqai to Tuareg take their names from nomadic peoples.

And yet is precisely because of its connotations that those who travel love so much about the word nomad, myself included. Freedom. Simplicity. Rugged independence. New horizons. New beginnings.

I certainly have my own fascination with indigenous nomadic peoples. I have caught glimpses of such people during my travels. Kuchi tents near Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Gujjars herding goats across the road in Murree, Pakistan, Tuareg jewelry sellers in the markets of Marrakesh, Morocco, and caravans of Irish Travellers in England.

I suspect that the lives of these people are much less romantic than most of us imagine them to be. And yet my own fascination has only grown the more I have learned about nomads, especially as historical nomadic peoples become less and less nomadic, increasingly confined by the borders of modern nation-states and the governments that treat people without fixed addresses as suspicious and dangerous.

There are three books I have read somewhat recently that give fascinating insight into the lives and struggles of indigenous nomadic people:

Himalaya Bound: One family’s quest to save their animals – and an ancient way of life by Michael Benanav.

This book gives an intimate glimpse into the lives of a nomadic family of Van Gujjar water-buffalo herders in the Western Himalayas of India. Benanav travels with the family during one of their migrations to their traditional grazing meadows high in the Himalayas. The story itself is gripping and heart-breaking and heart-warming. But it also explores the clash between the rights of indigenous peoples and efforts towards ecological conservation in the creation of National Parks. One interesting section of the book draws parallels between policies adopted by the Indian government and the creation of Yellowstone National Park in the US which also displaced indigenous people from their traditional hunting grounds.

Camel Karma: twenty years among India’s Camel Nomads by  Ilse KöhlerRollefson.

This book describes the author’s interactions with the Raika camel herders of Rajasthan. A veterinarian and humanitarian worker, she becomes heavily involved with the Raika over two decades. During this time she creatively works with Raika leaders in an attempt to improve their lives and preserve their culture. The book gives insight into a wide range of issues that impact nomadic people including culture and traditions, livelihoods, ecology and politics. And ever since I read this book I have wanted to try camel milk!

On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An epic journey through the land of the nomads by Tim Cope.

Tim Cope writes of the amazing expedition he took, riding on horseback from Mongolia to Hungary on a journey that lasted over three years. While the book is primarily about his own travels, he explores the history and legacy of the nomadic peoples that once ruled the Eurasian Steppes. On the journey, the author encounters a range of people from those who still live nomadic lives to those whose nomadic past has all but been erased.

5 thoughts on “Nomads, Horses, Camels and Water Buffalo

  1. Thanks for the capsule reviews. The books would have never come to my attention without your mention, and the topic is an interesting one. Where I lived in Morocco, large scale appropriation appropriation of lowlands and strong administration put an end to the Middle Atlas transhumance of powerful Berber tribes. Elsewhere in Morocco, and more in keeping with dry lands nomadism, you only find true nomads in the lands acquired by the occupation of the Spanish. Sahara, and in the east, in the Moulouya River plains that stretch from Taza to the Algerian border, and up the river basin between the Atlas ranges.

    In Iran, I saw some Qashqai and some Turkmen nomads, but it was only deep in the center of Algeria and in northern Niger that I ever encountered true nomads. Maybe I will do a post that might interest you.

    Nomadism is a way of life that is certainly dying out, pushed into the most extreme environments.

    If you have not read it, you might like Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger, and intrepid British adventurer, who crossed the Empty Quarter in the nineteen fifties.

    Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading. I’d love to read a post by you on nomads in North Africa if you get the chance. Thank you for the book recommendation. I have not yet read any Thesiger but feel as if I should. The summer holidays are upon me as of next week so I may be able to find some time


      1. Thesiger travelled with Gavin Maxwell (Ring of Bright Water, good book, awful, awful flick) through the Tigris-Euphrates marshes and both wrote interesting books about the marsh Arabs. Sadly, Saddam Hsein diverted the water and destroyed their environment. They were Shia and their resistance was punished with annihilation! Since his fall, more water has been allowed downstream, but I suspect that the unique environment and culture will never be the same.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Enjoyed reading the post. And, what you mention is so true that their lives are much less romantic than how we imagine, yet we are fascinated by them. Thank you for the book recommendations.

    Liked by 1 person

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