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In the Footsteps of the Anwals through the Indian Himalayas with Travel Writer Juliet Rix



The Anwals are the last remaining migrating shepherds of the Indian Himalayas. Each spring, they take their flocks from the heat of the valleys to graze among the high alpine pastures of the Himalayas. They won’t return until Autumn. It is a way of life that has remained unchanged for generations. Follow in the footsteps of the Anwals on this incredible journey, hiking village to village, and staying in small, community owned guesthouses along the way.


This is some of the most dramatic and breath-taking hiking on the planet. But it’s more than that too. The Anwals’ traditional way of life is under threat. As the modern world encroaches ever further upon these villages, young people are forced to leave their rural homes and find work in the city, often in brutal conditions, for little pay. By following the Anwals’ annual migration, and staying in their villages, we provide economic empowerment to their community and a future for the next generation.


This is a story about going beyond the end of the road, beyond the grip of the modern world. It’s a story about exploring one of the most remote, and staggeringly beautiful, places on Earth. And it’s a story about hope. In the footsteps of the Anwals, we discover a peace and serenity, and maybe, something about our own path too.

Highlights include:

- Walking with the Anwals on their annual migration

- Meeting lead Anwals, camping with them, hearing their stories

- Staying overnight in small rural villages, discovering the unique Anwal culture that has remained unchanged for generations

- Exploring one of the most remote, and untouched, places on Earth

- Learning about the plight of the Anwals, and the uplifting story of how that slowly starting to change

- Reflecting upon the Anwals’ simple existence, and how it can inspire positive change in our own perspective, values and way of life




WHO’S THE GUEST?

Taking us on this adventure is award-wining travel writer, journalist, broadcaster and author Juliet Rix. Follow her on twitter at: https://twitter.com/julietrix1

As well as a number of guide books, which are beautifully written and informative, Juliet also has a children’s book, ‘Travels with my Granny’, which explores issues surrounding dementia through the adventures a young girl has with her grandmother: https://www.amazon.com/Travels-My-Granny-Juliet-Rix/dp/1910959340

All the photos above are hers, thank Juliet for sharing such great shots.


BOOK THIS TRIP:

This trip is run by award-winning sustainable tourism operator, Village Ways. To find out more about them, and book this trip for yourself, please visit: www.Village-Ways.com

For other eco-tourism adventure ideas related to the show, please visit the individual episode pages

The Armchair Explorer podcast is adventure storytelling set to music and cinematic effects. Each episode one of the world's greatest adventurers tell their best story from the road. No long-winded interviews, just straight to heart of the action.

Host Aaron Millar is a multi-award-winning travel writer, journalist and author. He contributes regularly to The Times of London, National Geographic Traveller (UK), and many other national and international publications. He has presented travel documentaries for National Geographic TV, written two books for London publisher Icon - 50 Greatest Wonders of the World & 50 Greatest National Parks of the World - and is the 2014 and 2017 British Guild of Travel Writers Travel Writer of the Year, the IPW Best Destination Writer 2017 and Visit USA’s Best National Newspaper Writer 2014, 2016 & 2017. Aaron grew up in Brighton, England but is currently hiding out in the Rocky Mountains of Louisville, Colorado.  @AaronMWriter https://www.instagram.com/aaronmwriter/ https://twitter.com/AaronMWriter Facebook: @armchairexplorerpodcast

SHOW TRANSCRIPT


AARON

Hey, guys, welcome to the Armchair Explorer, where the world's greatest adventurers tell their best story from the road. I'm Aaron Millar. I'm a travel writer, and this episode we are going to the Indian Himalayas to walk in the footsteps of the Anwals. It's a trip I have wanted to do for many years, and I can't wait to get there. Let's go.  

The Anwals are the last remaining transhumance, or migrating, shepherds, and what they do is they move huge flocks of sheep on some goats as well from the lower valleys when the temperatures begin to soar in summer, and the grass begins to die out. They move these vast herds way up into the foothills of the Himalayas to these lush, green, high alpine pastures where they spend the summer. And we're going to follow in that migration, but we're going to do it in a really, really special way. We're going to be staying with them. We're gonna be walking with them. We're gonna be staying in their villages, were gonna be meeting their families and their communities were gonna be learning about their unique way of life, a way of life that has remained pretty much unchanged for generations, and we're going to be passing through some of the most stunning scenery on the planet. It's a really inspirational story. It's an amazing adventure on.  And we're going to be in good company for it. Juliet Rix is an award winning travel writer. She's a journalist and author. She's a broadcaster. She worked for the BBC for number of years. And she just has a lovely way with words. So sit back, get comfy in that armchair. Close your eyes and dream because we are about to go walking in the footsteps of the Anwals.  

But first and super quickly, I just want to say, If you are enjoying the show, please do me a big favour and recommended to a fellow explorer a fellow adventure or just someone that needs an escape. Please connect with me on Facebook @ArmchairExplorerPodcast. On Instagram @AaronMWriter. Please also sign up to the newsletter at www.armchair-explorer.com. Every month I send out my recommendations for the best adventure travel trips coming out. I also put out my top five travel and adventure podcast episodes to listen to that month, which is really cool. Not just my stuff, of course, but a curated list of stuff that I've been listening to and really, really loved. Finally, I want to give a shout out to Village Ways, you're gonna hear about them in this episode. They're an incredible company who are working with the Anwals to develop sustainable tourism in the region. That's the kind of tourism that I want to promote, it benefits the destination and the people that live there, as much as it benefits you the traveller. But for now, let's put all of that just to one side, because we have just arrived in India in Delhi, one of the maddest, most crazy cities on the planet. And it's the start of our journey to the Himalayas, where the last of the Anwal shepherds are bringing their herds to higher ground.

JULIET

I've never been to India. It somewhere I wanted to go to for years and years and to go and do it in a way that got me away from the tourist areas. I mean, it was great to see Delhi. Don't get me wrong and I did make sure I got a bit of time to do that. And I did make sure I got to the Taj Mahal, but also be able to do something that got me beyond the tourist trail. To be travelling in a way that I knew was helpful to the people I was meeting rather than having a negative impact was a fantastic feeling. So I had set up a few things in advance, including a bike tour - that might sound completely mad to anyone who knows anything about Delhi.

AARON

That is completely mad. Now, I've not been to Delhi before, but I have been to India. I went backpacking around there in my twenties. It was an amazing trip. It's an amazing country, and I have been in a taxi in India and without exaggerating that story even just a little bit. It was one of the closest I've ever come to death in my entire life. Just picture a single lane road in the middle of night, with three lanes of traffic overtaking each other on each side. Headlights blaring, cows, tuk tuks, motorcycles, horns everywhere. It's like the road equivalent of a bare knuckle brawl, but with less manners ... and that's what she's riding a bicycle into.

JULIET

So you get up really early and you go out and you get on these bikes in this little group and you go around the old town on bikes before most of the traffic gets going. Although I have to say by the time you're coming back, it fairly crowded. But frankly, there's so much traffic, that it doesn't actually move that fast, and quite a lot of it is pedal power. They're quite used to pedal power. So although you're in amongst everything from tuk tuks to oxen, I actually felt less unsafe cycling in Delhi than I do in London. And it is the most amazing place. We went around the  old markets and the old parts of Delhi and it was just a fantastic way to see it. There's all sorts of fantastic positives about it, and you were also very aware of the negatives. I mean, at one point on the bike tour, we stop the bikes and left them with a vendor that they knew down at the bottom of an old building and we walked up through this old building up onto its roof. We could see the the way some of the migrant workers were living, you know, they were sort of living in under canvas on the top of these off these roofs. That was very instructive for me when I then went out to the villages later and understood that what Village Ways is doing is allowing some of these people to stay in their villages and not to become those people on those rooftops.

AARON

Okay, so this is important. So it's estimated that India has upwards of 100 million migrant workers that leave rural areas seeking jobs, unemployment in the city. But what they're confronted with when they get there more often than not, is extreme poverty, poor pay and brutal working conditions with no chance of any kind of escape or upward mobility out of that poverty. On the other side, there's a cost too because when young people in rural villages like where the Anwals live, and where we're about to go, when they leave, those villages very quickly start to suffer without the next generation to carry on that traditional way of life. There's very little hope for that village to survive. The problem is, there's no incentive for young people to stay. There's no jobs, there's no future. And so they end up on those roofs and they end up in those makeshift shelters and they end up in that extreme poverty and brutal working conditions, just trying to find a way to support their families and themselves. They end up stuck. And the villages end up stuck too, and that's where Village Ways comes in.

JULIET

So it all started because the local little villages were being depopulated. Basically, there was no way to earn a living. And so the young people were leaving and going to cities and the villages were dying on. In the end, they decided that perhaps what they could do was try to bring in small numbers off interested tourists and get the villages to create a little guesthouse in each village that the village would run. Then they could take people from village to village. They are their guest houses. They create them. Village Ways gives them a grant of about, I believe, 40% of the cost of setting it up and a loan of about 60%. But the loan only has to be repaid once village ways starts to bring in visitors. So it's paid as a proportion of what the visitors are paying. So it's a very it's a very clever system and their very, very careful to make sure that the whole village is involved. That there's no jealousy that they're not setting up for certain people to be much better off or to be gaining from this where others don't. So the benefit is there, but it's there for everybody, and it's there in a way that doesn't change the interaction.

AARON

That's crucial because there are places in the world far too many, in fact, where tourism has changed the culture, it's overwhelmed it, and those places can end up resenting travellers coming because there's just too many of them. Oftentimes, local people don't benefit from their presence in the way they should. Here it's different. The whole village owns the guest house, and they all benefit from it. Village Ways helps them get it set up and running and brings tourists to them. But it's their business. It's the villages business and the scale is so small and so sensitively done that it doesn't overwhelm them. It doesn't intrinsically change their way of life. It just makes that way of life possible. It's not charity, it's empowerment. So she leaves Delhi the next day gets on the train, which is no easy thing, by the way, navigating Indian train stations I know from experience is perhaps the most confusing and illogical thing in the world. But she manages it, just, and then heads about 200 miles northeast into the state of Uttarakhand, the Land of the Gods, as they call it, vast, jagged peaks shouldered in snow rising above the lush green valleys of the Himalayas.

JULIET

So I arrived, got off the train and got in the car and off we went, winding up the hill through these gorgeous little villages, past lakes on up, all the way up to Khali Estate - this is an amazing place. It's in the Binsar Nature Reserve. It's the home off the couple, who own and run and started Village Ways, and it's got an extraordinary history. It was briefly on Ashram for Gandhi and then it was owned by Nehru's sister and he used to use it as a place to escape to sometimes as well. So it's got an extraordinary connection with India's history. It's just amazing place. At breakfast, there were jackals beneath the terrace where we were having breakfast and lots of birds there, about 200 species of birds. So there's a lot of a lot of bird life around, and they have the most amazing view out over the Himalayas. Then we were off in the car and the roads, just got steadily narrow and steadily rougher, and steadily higher until we stopped. I mean, some hours later, way stopped and that was the end of the road,

AARON

The end of the road. Is there any phrase more enticing then that? This is as far as the modern world has reached.  And actually, although the village of Supi where they're going is only a few 100 metres from the road now, that's a new thing. Up until recently, it was tens of miles away. This is truly the edge of the modern world. But although it may be the end of the road, it's just the beginning of the adventure

JULIET

We wandered up this little path and into the village and the village is beautiful. I mean, you think of Delhi as colourful, and it is. It's incredibly bright and colourful, but this place is too - the light is amazing. The colours are just so deep. What's green is really green and there are loads of different greens on the buildings. They're beautiful. They carve around the doorways on the windows and a lot of them are painted with blue on the carvings and white walls, and it's just incredibly beautiful. The guesthouse in Supi is a really traditional white building with this wonderful blue carving around the doors and windows. In the traditional houses there is, the ground floor is for the animals, so you'll see animal hay and stuff grasses in underneath in the ground floor level and oxen, sort of peering out at you and and shuffling about down there. Then the first floor is the people. And so you see them looking out of the windows and chatting to friends and family. And the terraces out the front is a sort of shared space for people and animals, and it's also where where people gather and neighbours come round.  So the guesthouse works in a similar way except that you don't have the animals in the bottom. But we do have did have a kitchen in the bottom, which, of course, would also have been the case in traditional houses. The kitchen is is usually on the lower floor. They're some of the local people would come in, make meals for the visitors - and the food was fantastic. I mean, it was proper local Indian, completely vegetarian, fantastic food. I mean, I loved it. You'd think after a couple of weeks of eating, sort of Daal and daal and vegetable curries and daal and wonderful paneer. You might ready for something else, but to be honest, I got home and just wanted more of it. But so I did actually go for a walk around Supi on my own. I mean, I got up in the morning and thought, I need to just go go for a wander by myself. I could do that. And that's the nice thing as well, I felt perfectly safe to do that when you're walking these tiny little pathways between the courtyards of the houses and between the the fields. The tiny, narrow sort of mud built stone pathways seeing people going about their business. Women with huge bundles of leaves and things on their backs, which is mainly animal feed or animal bedding that they're taking back to put into the areas under the houses or around in the courtyards, or women washing the clothes as well in the streams and little areas with with taps that the houses don't have running water. So they were there, out in the streams, washing the clothes as well, just seeing them doing their thing. And also down just below the guesthouse in Supi. When I was sitting out on the terrace, there were a couple of women who were just down in the field below who were threshing the the crop. It was harvest time and they were cutting the crop all by hand.  They sort of waved at me and I went down and they let me try the cutting. I was pretty useless, frankly, but they attached the one of their belts around my waist and handed me one of these knives and got me got me harvesting a little bit of the crop. That was lovely. Just to understand a little bit about what they do and then, I mean, they're incredibly beautiful as well. They have these extraordinary, highly colourful costumes that they still wear. It's what it's what they were all the time. Beautiful salvar kameez and really, really colourful headdresses and clothes.

AARON

I just have this amazing picture of arriving in this bright, colourful village of tiny stone and clay houses, whitewashed and carved wood in doorways and windows and terraced fields of wheat and barley, and cows and buffaloes wandering past and bright saris and kids running around and surrounding all this are just these incredible high mountains. It must feel like arriving in one of the most magical places in the world. But Juliet had an even bigger treat for her in store, and we're going to hear about that in just a second. But before we do, I just want to go back to the Anwals and hear a little bit more about them, about their way of life and the migration that we're just about to join

JULIET

the Anwal come from several villages in the area,  so the villagers keep sheep and goats, and when it comes to the summer, the land dries out. There's not enough food for their animals in and around the villages. They have to go to higher ground - obviously each person with two or three of their own sheep and goats can't take them all up to higher ground or everything else would come to a grinding halt. So what happens is the village shepherd's usually three of them take the entire village flock up to higher ground, often into a flock of about 70 perhaps looked after by two or three Anwal. There might be 10 of them who will meet up in the high glaciers. When the snow recedes you're left with this rich grass underneath and that's where they go. It's about four days trek from most of the village up to the glacier. The region I was in most of them meet on the Pindar Glacier. They gather up there, and they start by giving offerings to the goddess Nandi, which is the the same goddess that the second highest peak in India, the main peak of the area is named after. They make offerings to her for safety and to be looked after. They then spend several months up there with the animals, feeding on the good grass. For a couple of months of that, they're pretty much completely cut off because the monsoons come and that swells the rivers and then they can't cross. So they're pretty much stuck up there and they basically just look after the sheep. I asked one of the Anwal, you know, what do you do? And he said, Well, some people play cards. Some of the men play cards, but he obviously disapproved of this, so I sort of said so what? What's the problem with that? He said: Well, then they're not watching sheep properly, are they? And they might miss if there's a danger to them. So his view was they watch the sheep by day, and that's what they do, and by night they sleep and the dog's watch the sheep.

AARON

It's a well respected job. It has prestige. It's certainly skilled in their ability to control these vast numbers of sheep and goats. But it's also a huge sacrifice, because by the time they leave they won't return until the following autumn. It's five months away, or sometimes longer. That's basically half a year away from their families away from their children, and it's also half a year away from doctors and medical care if they get sick, it's half a year camping out on the glacier, so it's not an easy life. But it is essential because without them the cornerstone of these people's traditional rural way of life, would crumble. Without the Anwal, they wouldn't be able to keep animals. And without the animals, they simply wouldn't be able to survive

JULIET

So my guides and I clambered up above Supi. I think it's probably a waterfall in the summer, but we clambered up this sort of green bouldering slope and eventually came to where the Anwal were. There was a heard gathering to start the main migration up to the glacier here and that was amazing. The first meeting with one of the lead Anwals was incredible. He wasn't that great at talking to people, actually. But wow, he could talk to the sheep. He would just make these extraordinary sounds and they would react. He could make them follow him anywhere. He could make them do whatever he wanted. And they replied to him, It was amazing to watch and listen,

AARON

OK, so quick, crazy interjection here. In the UK, those of you that come from there like me might remember this. We used to have a TV show in the eighties called One Man and His Dog, and it was just inexplicably popular. It ran for days and days. Non stop. It was basically just farmers herding sheep as a competitive sport. Yes, for real. Only in England could you get away with that. But it was strangely mesmerising. It was like meditation or something. I remember just watching it for hours. You just get stuck. Anyway, I looked it up and it's still going as like a one off special now and again, I think we should sponsor an Anwal to come down and take on the British farmers in a One Man and His Dog International Challenge. I think they would wipe the slate clean of the Brits. But anyway, back to the storey, because as Juliette's coming back down to the village something totally unexpected and amazing and lucky happens

JULIET

As we came down from that, we actually came down along the silvery steps. They've been cut from rock that had micra in it and they just sparkled with the silver in the sun that it was absolutely beautiful. As we were coming down, there was sound of drumming, and music. There was a wedding going on in the village and it wass it was incredible. I mean, the colour and the sound on the whole village was gathered around one particular house that was covered in flags and bunting. I was pushed to the front to watch what was going on - women with fabulous gold jewellery and the bride and groom beautifully dressed and this saffron turbaned priest who was running the whole proceeding. And they were doing all sorts of rituals walking seven times around this little fire. Later on, we saw them partying and drinking in a different house because they go from from one relative's house to another. And then there was a bit of dancing. Then we saw them going off on the bride groom on a white horse. It is traditional thing and the bride carried in a pink sedan chair. It was just a remarkable thing to be involved in

AARON

so lucky and so amazing and colourful. Juliet has some great pictures of this, by the way that I'll put on the website and share on social media, which I think you'll love. It also just so fascinating to see something like that in a totally authentic in real way. This isn't dressed up for tourists. This isn't some show. This is the real deal. So after the wedding the next day, it was time to move on to the next Village, which is called Kaljouni. And of course, there's no road so the only way to get there is on foot, which is lucky because it's some of the best hiking you'll ever do.

JULIET

We started down through the fields out of Supi, past a couple of other smaller villages with little temples and then up to the next, the next village. And then we stopped at one of my guides, I had two guides. Deepak Joshi, who lives and Tara Singh, who actually lives in Supi. So they're both very much local people. We stopped at tara's mother in law's house for a chai. There was a wonderful temple up there. We went and sat right on top with this extraordinary view down along the valley. There, we could see right down the valley, there were peaks. You were high up. You really felt as though you were looking along looking down back to where we come from and you could see little temples on some of the peaks. They like to put temples on the top of things. And then we came into Kaljouni which is a much smaller village than Supi and much further from the road. It has one shop that's in the basement of a traditional house. It's just a complete crowd of stuff and lots and lots of little little things, and it's supplied by Mule via Supi. It's the only shop in the area so it's relatively expensive because everything is supplied by mule and has to come quite a long way. But that's the only sort of proper shop in the village. And that village, the guest house is much smaller, and it's on the quote "Main Street" - and the main street was a sort of, I mean, manure covered mud track between these traditional houses. The guest house had a lovely, tiny little terrace where I could sit and watch the world go by, which was great. So I was looking down on a sort of half one house that was sort of half built where the local, the local drunk, had had a bit much barley wine and he had been sort of laid under a bit of protection to sleep it off and lots of people going back and forth, doing whatever they were doing. And just across the way there was a tap. There was a woman sitting there in all her, her colourful costume doing the washing up. And she had a whole load of these sort of tin metal dishes that she was washing. But she wasn't using detergent. She was washing them in the traditional way with ash on. So it was all black. And it was. It was fascinating to watch completely different, you know, No soap, nothing that was going to do the environment, any damage. Of course.

AARON

It's the little things, isn't it? Sharing chai with Tara's is mother in law, watching the world go by, the village drunk, the washing up. Oftentimes we we think about the big things were going to do on a trip. The highlights, the famous sites. But more often than not, the things that really touch us and stay with us are the little things. The everyday things, a simple gesture, a smile, a shared meal, a drink. A hand patted on the back. A new friend. Just a moment of stillness when you're truly present and realise how lucky you are to be there, how lucky you are to be alive, and that is what really matters. And that's also what I love about this trip to. You're not special here. You're just a part of the village. The highlight is the everyday

JULIET

From Kaljouni, we made a little side trip the next morning over to Juni, which is the last Indian village before the Tibetan border there, so from there to the Tibetan border is only four kilometres. It was nice because we went into a temple there that's quite high up and has good views and also has a little school. So we watched some of the kids coming in and going to their lessons and sitting out having their lunch. Then we walked back to Kaljouni. On the way, we bumped into one of the Anwal who had just come down. We bumped into a man who also had just been to the shop in Kaljouni to get a few stores because he was about to go up into the mountains to pick a particular root, which is used to treat cancer. But he also said it's used to help athletes perform better, which was interesting, but this only a few people, a few villages have licence to collect this root. It's an amazing, amazing thing because, he said, it's really hard to find. They have to go right up above the snow line. They have to spend quite some time up there, which is tough. It's a tough environment. But he said, it's really worth it because one kilogramme of this stuff is worth the equivalent of about £10,000.

AARON

Nature's medicine cabinet is just amazing, isn't it? Whenever I hear about the local knowledge of natural medicine, it just blows me away because something like 50% of all pharmaceuticals that are made today are derived from natural sources. So it's this incredibly precious resource, but we've only really begun to study and explore what the potential there is. Only a fraction of the known species and plants on Earth have been, have been studied by Western science for their medicinal properties. There's an entire encyclopaedia of indigenous knowledge out there that has barely been documented. There are discoveries waiting to happen right now that will cure all manner of illness that's happening today, and in the future. And that is, I think, just one reason of many why we need to protect ecosystems and natural spaces and safeguard that ancient knowledge because our lives may very well depend on it. But next up for Juliette is the highlight of the trip. Because once she got back to Kaljouni from the Tibetan border, she spent another night there. And then the next morning, she climbed higher into the mountains to spend the night camping with the animals and walking in their footsteps

JULIET

We then went up out of the village on up to an Anwal camp. Well, quite high above the village. That was one night I spent wild camping. I mean, when I say word camping, some of the people from Supi had come across bringing tents and things which they set up for us. So I mean, it wasn't exactly a hardship, but they had set up a little tent just above the Anwal camp. So the Anwal camp has some brick walls that helps them contain the herd when they need to go to sleep, they sleep in these sort of lean to's. There was a campfire there. They cooked for me all the open fire. So I still had my wonderful Indian food. It was very slightly simpler than it was in the villages, but it was still great. And I had supper sitting in the pitch dark around this little campfire that they've made for me, looking at the golden eyes of the their dogs shine in the light of the fire was quite astonishing to watch that around you and overnight I woke up to this real ruckus. I mean, the dogs have bells around the necks. I could hear these bells going on. The dog's barking very close to my tent, thinking, what's going on here then? There was a heavy footfall of men's voices. I thought, I think I'll stay put. In the morning I woke up to cuckoos and the sound of a woodpecker pecking at a tree. All quite peaceful and I asked them you know? What was that all about? Oh, they said complete matter of fact, there was a leopard - it's OK, no harm done. The dogs saw it off.

AARON

Okay, I've heard of wild camping. Of course I love it. But camping with leopards that may be a little too wild for me .. even though she just missed seeing the leopard, which actually would have been very cool, and by the way, how hard or those sheep dogs? There's no way my little miniature schnauzer would be out chasing a leopard around in the middle of night. He would just be cowering in a sleeping bag with me. So she missed the leopard, but she did meet someone there who was very, very special.

JULIET

The other wonderful things that happened at that camp was that I met another of the and while whose name was Man Singh. He was wonderful, and he turned out to have been an Anwal since the sixties and he was marvellous. I sat and had a long conversation with him through through my guide. I obviously don't speak his language and he didn't speak mine. But my guide spoke both and I was able to sit and have a conversation with him and he was just He was an amazing man. He was really sharp and I don't mean that in a bad way. I mean, in a good way. He had these incredible intelligent eyes and he was just on everything and he just clearly knew so much. He was interested in everything. And so I asked him about his life and he said, Oh, he's gone to primary school and he'd been a good student. And in fact, he had actually got to his fifth grade two years early. He was really bright as a kid, but his family couldn't afford for him to go to secondary school because the nearest secondary school was 40 kilometres away and there was no road. So that meant that the only way to go to secondary school was to live in the town. And that's expensive. They couldn't do it, so his education ended at the end of primary, which was two years earlier than it should have been. So he was really young when he stopped going to school. So he became an Anwal. And I said to him, You know, do you regret that? He said No, he said. I would have liked to continue at school because I I was good at it and I enjoyed it. But actually being an Anwal is really good too. It's really peaceful. It's relaxing. I watched sheep. I watched the birds and he knew his birds. My guide had had a bird book, one of the Oxford books for the area, and we started flicking through it and there was one called the Himalayan Quail, which said next to it presumed extinct. My guide said, Well, I've seen it, and so has he and the Anwal nodded, and they both agreed that they'd seen it up, up, higher up where the Anwals go. So he was remarkable and he was quite happy being and an Anwal, which was lovely.

AARON

It's interesting, isn't it? We can get so caught up with our sense of purpose being linked to career and status in society and how they judge us. But here's a man who's clearly intelligent, exceptionally intelligent, and yet he's not dissatisfied with the so called simple life he's been given. He's grateful for it, grateful for the peacefulness of it. The very thing that we might call simple as a derogatory term is a positive to him. He's living his life in peace at a pace that's in tune with the natural world around him. It's not an easy life, but it's a life that he's grateful for, and it's a life that is well lived, and I think there is something that we can all learn from that

JULIET

Then the next day I actually walked with the Anwal while they went to take the flock to higher ground, Man Singh wasn't actually going that day, but his son was and a couple of others. So we went with them. I mean, I have to say that was huge fun, I mean, people say sheep have no character, not this lot. They were great. They were all over the place. They were chatting and munching and curious, wanting to know this this weird extra person was who was walking with them and the goats even more so, the goats were  hilarious. I mean, if they can climb something, they do, and they would jump up on any kind of rock on, then leap off with these extraordinary sort of flying leaps. I mean, they were just huge fun to watch. And so we walked with, an I forgot about the thinness of the air while I was walking with them because we were sort of zig zagging and just enjoying being with them and one of my guides, tara, actually picked up one of the lambs, and he was just really clearly very fond of it and passed it to me and said, Here, here, hold this. He told me that when he was a child, he remembered his father having sheep and how he would play with them and how they would go off every summer with the Anwal. So we walked with them for quite a while, across the sort of side of the mountain looking down at the valley. Then they sort of went off because the sheep was feeding and we carried on up and ended up heading for the bridge between in the Pindar Valleys. We were climbing up. We could see there was a little a little sort of shrine with flags flying. We were heading for that climbing up and suddenly we came across the top of the ridge. I physically gasped because suddenly you have this incredible view of all these Himalayan peaks and they were just right there. It was as if you could almost reach out and touch them. It was it was genuine breathtaking.

AARON

Wow. It doesn't get any better than that. I mean, they say the best views are hard earned and that you've got work for them and the harder you hike and climb the better the view at the top and you know that could be true for sure. But for me, the best views, I think have depth to them that a depth that goes beyond just what you see, because when you immerse yourself in a place in a culture in a people even for just a short time. That view becomes infused with those people with their history, with their beliefs, their myths, their way of life. So that when you look upon those mountains you see more than just jagged peaks and valleys springing with wild flowers, you see more than just beauty. You see the spirit of that people. You see what moves them and for just an instant, it moves you in exactly the same way. You see it through their eyes. That is something that you never forget

JULIET

Then we wandered on up along the ridge through a rhododendron forest - all the wildflowers are out that time of year. So you've got these beautiful red and purple and yellow flowers around you and you go through through the little bits of forest and pass through the high pastures. They're the sort of open bits of pasture, which is what the Anwal are looking for for the flocks to feed on on, then into a little bit more of the forest. And eventually we came out on a plateau and up their Village Ways build a little seasonal camp. It's called the Jaikuni camp, and it really is like being at the top of the world. I mean, you don't have to be a mountaineer. I'm not even much of a walker, but here I was standing on top of the world in the middle of the Himalayas. My goodness, what a view! I mean, you just stand up there and look out. You've got a peek after peak, snowcapped, just stunning. And it's a just laid out around you, and I suddenly understood why this area is known to the Indians as Land of the Gods. Why it's considered to be a sacred place and why the Anwal can sit up there for months at a time, watching their sheep without getting bored, because the light changes the whole time the clouds shift, sun shifts, which peaks you can see changes, the colour of it changes. It's just constantly gently shifting - its incredibly meditative and staggeringly beautiful.

AARON

That's incredible and just beautifully described. I think that must be one of the most breathtaking camps in the world, and you can get a sense of Juliet, says about that peace that Man Singh talks about here beyond the end of the road beyond the grip of the modern world, the Anwal still live in perfect harmony with seasons and the world around them. And they weren't quite finished with Juliet yet

JULIET

when we were up at Jaikuni, the Anwal came through. So I'm sitting there with this fabulous view, and suddenly I could hear the call of the Anwal, and I realised that they're going to come through with with the herd and they actually came through the camp bringing the herd with them on. It's lovely. It's our herd. You know, I feel I feel that I'm part of it now, even though I haven't haven't really known them that long, but they come through when we say hi, and on they go on, we watch them feeding as they go on wandering off. I watched them into the distance, and that's the last I'm gonna see of them. So I'm quite sorry to see them go. But I know that they're going off to the pastures that they need and that is what keeps the villages going

AARON

And that's what it's all about. Choice, freedom, the ability to live their life the way they choose, even if, and maybe especially if, it doesn't fit into the modern world, even if it's beyond the end of the road. Thank you so much, Juliette. Thank you for taking us on this incredible adventure into the Himalayas in the footsteps of the Anwals. If you want to connect with Juliet, her Twitter is @JulietRix1. Please drop her tweet and let her know what you think of this story. Also she has a Children's book out, which is called Travels With My Granny, which helps kids understand dementia through the journeys and adventures that this little girl takes with her grandmother. It's an amazing idea. It's a beautiful little book - I'll put links up for in this show notes and on the website. Big shout out also again to Village Ways. If you're interested in doing this trip or any of their trips, all of which kind of follow that same model that community based tourism model then cheque out www.villageways.com or go to www.armchair-explorer.com, where you can book this adventure directly or any of the other trips we talk about. Finally, thank you to you. It's always amazing to hang out and share these adventures together. A lot of you have written in to say how much these stories have inspired you, and that means the world to me. If you did enjoy this episode, please remember to leave a review. Tell a friend, we're building a community of people that love the outdoors that want to celebrate it by exploring every inch of it on. When you spread the word, you help that community grow. And that's important because when we do that, when we open our hearts and our minds and become explorers of the world in big ways and small ways we change who we are, we take in those cultures and they become a part of us. We grow. And when we do that, we change the world just a little bit, too, because the more that we look for wonder in the world, the more the wonder of the world becomes a part of who we are - dare to be truly alive

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