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Pastoral Nomads and their Movements

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A nomad is a member of a nomadic society who travels to and from the same locations on a regular basis. Hunter-gatherers, pastoral nomads (those who own animals), tinkers, and trader nomads are examples of such communities. The population of nomadic pastoral tribes is gradually declining during the twentieth century, with an estimated 30–40 million nomads on the planet in 1995.

Nomadic Pastoralism

Nomadic Pastoralism can be traced back to the Middle Ages. The first pastoral society dates back to around 8500 BC to 6500 BC. By far the earliest human subsistence mode is nomadic hunting and gathering (following seasonally accessible wild foods and games). 

Pastoralists raise tamed livestock herds, driving or accompanying them in patterns that minimize depleting pastures beyond their ability to recover. Nomadism is also a way of life adapted to barren environments such as the steppe, tundra, or ice and sand, where movement is the most efficient approach for exploiting scarce resources. Many groups living in the arctic, for example, are reindeer herders who are semi-nomadic, following fodder for their animals.

Pastoral Nomads

Pastoral Nomads

Nomadic Pastoralism in India

Mountains and hilly areas are mostly the zones where nomadic pastoralism flourishes. These are the areas that are covered with grasslands, forests, etc. giving them the pastures for cattle to survive. Such areas also have the ideal climate and temperatures for cattle.

In India, Nomadic pastoralism is practiced by tribes from many states like Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, and so forth.

Pastoral Nomads and their Movements


Gujjar Bakarwals

In Jammu and Kashmir, the Bakarwals and Gujjar communities were designated as Scheduled Tribes in 1991. As a nomadic tribe, they spanned a broad area, from the Pir Panjal Range to the Hindukush to Ladakh, all of which are located in South Asia’s Himalayan mountains. They are seasonal traveling goatherders and shepherds who migrate their herds from one location to another. They can be found throughout the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan, as well as in Nuristan Province in northeast Afghanistan. They know how to herd goats and sheep.

Migration Pattern

  1. Many of them came to this area in search of grass for their animals in the nineteenth century. Moving between their summer and winter grazing locations on an annual basis, they established themselves in the area.
  2. They resided on the low hills of the Shivalik range with their herds during the winter, when the high mountains were covered in snow. The dry scrub forests here feed their cows.
  3. At the end of April, they began their northern march to their summer grazing pastures. Several homes joined forces for this expedition, forming a kafila. They approached the Kashmir valley after passing via the Pir Panjal passes.
  4. The snow had gone by the time summer arrived, and the mountainsides were lush green. The grasses that grew supplied excellent feed for the animal herds.
  5. The Bakarwals were back on the move by the end of September, this time on their journey down to their winter base. The cattle grazed on the low hill when the high mountains were snowed in.

Gaddi Shepherds

The Gaddi are a semi-pastoral and agricultural Indo-Aryan ethnolinguistic group mostly found in the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir. The Gaddi Tribe’s origins are unknown, and they believe their ancestors migrated from the plains due to a lack of security or foreign invasions. The truth of their origins is hidden inside the state’s popular beliefs. The views from where Gaddis migrated to this hilly state do not agree.

Migration Pattern

  • They spend the winter in the scrub forests of the Siwalik range’s lower elevations, grazing their flocks.
  • In April, they headed north and spent the summer in Lahaul and Spiti.
  • In September, they resumed their trek, stopping in Lahaul and Spiti villages to reap their summer harvest and seed their winter crop.
  • Then they led their flock down to the Siwalik hills for winter grazing. They began their march to the summer pastures with their goats and sheep the following April.

Other Herds

Gujjar cattle herders spent the winters in the bhabar’s dry woodlands and the summers in the bugyals’ high meadows of Garhwal and Kumaon to the east. Many of them were originally from Jammu and came to the UP highlands in pursuit of abundant pastures in the eighteenth century. Several Himalayan pastoral communities, including the Bhotiyas, Sherpas, and Kinnauris practiced the practice of migration between summer and winter pastures.

 They were all supposed to adapt to seasonal variations and make the most of available pastures in various locales. When the pasture in one place became depleted or unworkable, they relocated their herds and flocks to different pastures. The pastures were able to recover and avoid abuse as a result of the constant movement.



Dhangars are an Indian herding caste found in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh. They are known as Gadariya in North India, Goa and northern Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka, Golla or Kuruma in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka, Ahir in Khandesh area, and Gadariya in Uttar Pradesh, MP, Bihar, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and HP in North India. The population in this region was estimated to be 467,000 individuals in the early twentieth century. Shepherds made up the majority of the group, although there were also blanket weavers and buffalo herders.

Migration Pattern

  • During the monsoon, the Dhangar shepherds stayed in Maharashtra’s central plateau. During the monsoon, this tract was converted into a large grazing pasture for the Dhangar cows.
  • The Dhangars had finished harvesting their bajra by October and were on their way west.
  • They arrived in the Konkan after marching for a month. The fields need to be fertilized and prepared for the rabi harvest once the Kharif crop was completed.
  • With the arrival of the monsoon, the Dhangars and their flocks abandoned the Konkan and coastal areas and returned to their desert plateau homes.
  • The heavy monsoon conditions were too much for the livestock to handle.

Other Groups

Cattle, goat, and sheep herders lived on the dry central plateau of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, which was covered in stone and grass. The Gollas were herders of animals. Kuruma and Kuruba people sold woven blankets and reared sheep and goats. They tended to their herds, farmed little plots of land, and worked in a variety of modest trades. Unlike mountain pastoralists, their seasonal travel patterns were influenced by the monsoon and dry season alternation rather than cold and snow. They moved to coastal areas during the dry season, but when the rains came, they left. During the monsoon season, only buffaloes favored the muddy, rainy climate of the coastal districts.


Banjaras have been discovered in villages throughout Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra. They traveled long distances in search of suitable pastureland for their cattle, bartering plow cattle and other commodities with locals for grain and fodder.



The Raikas lived in the deserts of Rajasthan. Throughout the region, rainfall was limited and irregular. The crop yield on farmed land fluctuates from year to year. Over enormous swathes of area, no crop could be grown. As a result, the Raikas were able to mix farming with pastoralism. During the monsoons, they stayed in their home villages, where there was abundant pasture. They ventured forth in search of new pasture and water when these grazing grounds became dried and exhausted in October, only to return during the next monsoon. Camels were herded by the Maru (desert) Raikas, while sheep and goats were kept by the Sheep and Goat Raikas.

Uniqueness of the Pastoralists

  • Pastoral nomadism is a way of life that manifested other abilities like:
  • Pastoralists knew the areas they traveled to and they timed their journeys so well that they always arrived in warmer regions just in time for harvest.
  • A friendly relationship was always maintained with the farmers so that animals could graze on their lands.
  • They also provided manure to the farms.
  • Their constant migration had a huge impact on the economy and environment. They were well-versed in the areas where cyclical voyages took place. They had to be careful and know the seasons well to take advantage of the harvest season.

FAQs on Pastoral Nomads and their Movements

Question 1: Who are “Pastoralists”?


Pastoralists are farmers who breed and take care of animals and are on a constant move from one place to another.

Question 2: What is pasture land?


Pasture land covered with grass and suitable for grazing by livestock.

Question 3: What are bugyals?


Bugyals are large natural grasslands located at an elevation of roughly 12,000 feet in the upper mountains. The entire mountainside is blanketed with a variety of grasses, roots, and herbs after April. During the monsoon season, these fields are carpeted in luxuriant flora and wildflowers.

Question 4: Who are Gujjar Bakarwals?


Gujjar Bakarwals are goat and sheep herders from Jammu and Kashmir.

Question 5: Why did the Dhangars flee the Konkan and coastal regions before the monsoon arrived?


Because the sheep could not tolerate the rainy monsoon conditions, the Dhangars departed the Konkan and coastal districts before the onslaught of monsoon.

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Last Updated : 27 Feb, 2023
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