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A Goathala's tale - The Nomadic cowboys of Darjeeling Hills

Posted by chauthary on May 1, 2013 at 2:55 AM



As Human tendency, our yearnings revolve around the materialistic lust that seldom can holistically delivers the so-called ultimate happiness. Instead, we drown in the addiction of such possessive feeling to an extent that makes us completely oblivious of what truly is needed to live a life. Well in this context, the dense natural forests of Indo-Bhutan hills, and the famous “Silk Route” with its historical saga, has too much to reveal apart from its richness in natural vegetation and wilderness. We’ve heard about the Eskimos, the Pigmies, the Red-Indians and all about the wild cultures inherited from their ancestors, and their slow race towards urbanization , however, the journey of change is from the simple life to a complex life.

Congregating all such stories of change taking place with the wink of an eye, there is a concealed world where the time goes back turning its face from the colorful modern life towards the nomadic life of the jungle with their only companions as the herd of cows and Goats, and flock of hens and birds etc. The time has come to explore the superior wild culture that has no yearnings, no dreams of a civilized modern culture, but instead they prefer their own small wild world, where you only work to fulfill the necessities without even creating space for comfort and luxury. These are the cowboys (Goathala in local language) of the green hills of District Darjeeling and Bhutan. They still spend their life in the dense forests with a thatch shed in the name of house, a bamboo mat in the name of a bed, few other cowboys as society and the number of cattle in the name of their wealth and property.

If you are an adventure lover, then perhaps the name Neora Valley national park and the adjacent forest areas of Bhutan will surely be on your preferred list of exploration. This will be your moment when you can co-incidentally encounter any of their shelters, either abandoned or occupied. It’s always best to spend a night on such places as you will find it safer, because such places are always near the source of drinking water, which is quiet a struggle for the trekkers.

Unlike the other wild tribes it’s not an inherited custom, but rather a choice for them, where they abandon the town and accept this life as a way of livelihood for their whole life. It’s really an adventure to spend a night with these Daredevils and their cattle. Like a complete family every cow or goat is given a name and you feels like even the animals recognize their own names. They respond with their body languages, when the cow boys call out their names. During the daytime the shed is usually empty with only calves and lambs waiting keenly for their moms to come back who would have then gone out for grazing. It is the time when the cowboys clean their sheds and send the milk products to their families, who are in the village. The only mode of communication is a messenger boy who carries the milk products to their respective homes in the village.

“He is Kaantey (the little one in their language), and in future if he is not tempted by the village boys speaking about the leisurely life of cities and towns, he’ll be the next care taker of my shed.” Says Shiva, a 47 year old cowboy who has spent his childhood and youth communicating with these cows and roaming around the dense forests of Neora Valley National Park. Suddenly, he gets up and shouts cupping his palms around his mouth, “ Kaantey! Don’t forget to bring rice wine, and tobacco for “Kankat”( A hand made cigarette, with tobacco rolled inside a paper). We hear back Kaantey shouting from uphill, “Ok, but please don’t eat all the ripened wild berries I saw near the river”. Shiva Smiles and shouts back, “If the birds will spare it for you” In the name of only modern means of communication every shed is equipped with a radio that is seldom switched off.

Shiva tells a story about his desperate days in the hospital without a radio, when he had broken his left leg trying to cut the branches of a tree for fodder. At night you find all the cow boys sitting around the fire. The fire in the shed is never extinguished and is kept burning till the time they don’t shift to another place in Jungle. They talk about their daily activities and their findings and make a plan, like the place, where they have found bee hive, a hole of a porcupine, their cow named “Buthury” didn’t come back etc. For a while the time seems like it has stopped, where there is no race, no struggle, no politics, no projects, no leaves, no holidays, and no world. You feel like you are a part of them getting oblivious of all the hectic schedules of your life that you would have left pending back in your city or town. In the evening the sight is unbelievable, when one by one all the cows and goats find their way back to the shed by themselves and wait for their turn to be patted with love by their only human companion.


When asked, “How do you shift alone to a new place with all these numbers of cows and goats along with your belongings and shed roofs?” He says “It’s easy, we just kill the fire in the morning before unfastening the cows, roll the Bhakari- (thatch roof made of Bamboo), and then unfasten their ropes one by one starting from the leader of the herd – the eldest cow. We speak to them that today we’re going to leave the place for the new place. Then I move with all my belongings and all the cattle follow me till the place, where I stop and erect a pole on the ground. In the evening they come back to their new place.”

The night is passed with their wild cuisines, where the flavor is not added in the form of spices and herbs, but the aromatic breeze of the dense forests that speaks about the presence of unexplored wild flowers, the white river streams and the songs of birds. The heavenly taste of the food served with the pure milk of the talking cows will take you to your childhood days, when the dreams were fueled with the stories of fairy tales.

The adventure lovers may opt for Neora valley National Park Trek or Explore Bhutan, where you still can find few nights to spend with these sages of nature. Gothalas will certainly be set in your memories reminding you of a world where happiness does exist in its chastened form without the luxuries of modern world.

To explore this trek with me please click >> Contact me <<


Trekking in Neora Valley National Park

A travelers hunt for happiness in Bhutan.




Categories: Trekking In North Bengal

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1 Comment

Reply Banta
12:49 AM on May 19, 2017 
Manali is also an absolute delight for adventurers looking to take on the jagged hills. A great base camp for treks, Manali?s Mountaineering Institute offers several types of high altitude hiking and rock climbing opportunities. I love it.


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