COVID-19: High-altitude meadow back to life with movement of tribal nomads in JK's Bhaderwah

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Amid the COVID-19 outbreak that delayed the bi-annual movement of tribal nomads this year, the high-altitude meadows in this picturesque valley of Jammu and Kashmir's Doda district came back to life with over 450 families of the Bakerwal community reaching here with their livestock.

The tribal nomads, hailing from Kathua district and different areas of neighbouring Punjab, have crossed the 14,600 feet high snow-covered Chattar-Gala pass on foot to enter the Chenab Valley along with thousands of their sheep, goats and horses since last one week.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration issued thousands of passes to nomadic tribes belonging to Gujjars and Bakerwals over the past fortnight to facilitate their bi-annual movement, which usually starts from March-April, but was delayed this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent lockdown.

Traditionally, locals used to welcome these nomadic tribes, who have been visiting the numerous grasslands of the Chenab Valley since centuries.

However, this year the locals seem to be a bit scared about their presence as they apprehend that some of them might be carriers of the deadly virus and can become an active source of spreading the disease in the district, which had so far remained coronavirus free.

Addressing the apprehensions of the locals, the district administration has taken various measures, including setting up of several special health facilities for screening of all nomads who enter the twin districts of Doda and Kishtwar either by roads or by crossing the high-altitude passes bordering the Bhaderwah Valley.

"Beside police and army, we have specially engaged the forest department who have been asked to maintain round-the-clock tight vigil at all the entrance routes in the forest area traditionally used by the nomads, including the snowbound Chattar-Galla pass, Kailash, Seoj and Padri Gali of Bhadarwah Forest Division," District Development Commissioner, Doda, Sagar Dattaray Doifode told PTI.

He said forest officials are also registering each and every nomad who enters into the district via high-altitude passes and sending them to designated hospitals for counselling, health checkup and necessary tests, only then they are issued certificates and permission to move further.

According to official figures, every year thousands of nomadic families of Bakerwals and Gujjars, along with their herds of cattle, come to the high-altitude meadows of the Chenab Valley, especially the twin districts of Doda and Kishtwar, for summer months.

The herder families begin their journey to the alpine pastures for grazing during the summer, before returning to warmer districts of Jammu in October ahead of the winter.

The nomads, however, maintained that they are fully aware of the danger of coronavirus and have been taking all precautions in accordance with the guidelines and advisories issued by the government from time-to-time.

 "We are from Bathindi village of Kathua and have reached here on foot after crossing snowbound passes. Everyone of us is taking all the precautions as advised by the doctors at Kathua and forest officials here," 70-year-old Sharafat Din, who had reached Jaie meadow of Bhadarwah, said, showing the hospital stamp on his forearm.

 "We are fully aware of COVID-19 danger as you can see all of us are wearing face covers and maintaining social distancing. We have been asked not to visit markets and populated areas so we are following all the instructions as we know it''s for our safety as well," Shama Begum, 19, a Bakerwal girl, said.
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