The Gorgeous Gujjar Tribes of Nagin Valley

Beauty isn’t about perfect hair or precisely proportioned features. Rather, it’s the kindness reflected in a stranger’s eyes; the weathered lines on a face that smiled wide through sorrow. In this context, the Gujjar people, most of whom are part of the Bakarwal tribe in Kashmir are gorgeous.

The Bakrawals are a nomadic tribe that migrate seasonally.

The Bakarwals are a nomadic tribe that migrate seasonally.

Constantly on the move, Bakarwals live at peace with nature. No historian has been able to trace their ancestry. Some believe they are descendants of nomadic Afghani and Iranian tribes that made their way to the subcontinent centuries ago.

The tribe lives simply -- taking care of each other and their surroundings

The tribe lives simply — taking care of each other and their surroundings

The tribe lives in small settlements in remote mountain slopes. They lead simple lives as sheepherders. The word Bakarwal comes from the term bakra and basically means “persons taking care of goats and sheep at high-altitudes.

We met the tribespeople in Nagin Valley in Kashmir. Their homes are made of natural materials — they use mud and wood logs to make small huts, with grass growing on the roofs of their homes.

They share these homes with their livestock. Thin wooden chests to separate their personal space from that of their brood’s.

With the river’s soft gurgling in the background of the agate green valleys they live in, the nomadic tribe reminded us of Hobbits from Lord of the Rings.

Surreal and Serene and Green: The Bakawals' summer homes

Surreal and Serene and Green: The Bakarwals’ summer homes

Though they are constantly displacing themselves, the tribe is at home wherever they are. Such is their distinct culture.

The people embody a relaxed, unfussy style: the tribe is known for their unique colourful embroidery. This, they use on caps for infants; as vivid adornments for their shawls, which are usually black or dark blue. Interestingly, the tribe does not have many names for colours — all yellows are pilloo and all blues asmaani.

To keep warm, they use velvet and wool to make their clothes. They combine the rich textures of these materials with their broad chokers and mixed metal jewellery — sometimes passing off tin as silver and gold. The stones they use are often picked out from the mountains rock or laying in the river beds.

The Bakarwal Beauties

The Bakarwal men combine bright colours with neutrals like fashion pros. They are decidedly less shy than the women. These guys posed for us without hesitation or reservation. Perhaps because their nomadic lifestyle allows them to remain insulated from the violence in the surrounding valleys, the tribesmen were friendly, kind, and trusting.

The Bakarwal Dudes

As we said goodbye to these beautiful people — inside and out — we could not help but recall LOTR’s famous line: “Not all who wander are lost.”

The Bakarwals were declared a protected tribe by the Government of India, but they continue to battle discrimination and harsh natural conditions. Many are illiterate, and asking for more reservation in J&K schools and colleges. Others want to settle down but need the government’s help to do so.

If you wish to help them, we salute your golden heart! You can do so here.

All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost.From the ashes a fire shall be woken, A light from the shadows shall spring; Renewed shall be blade that was broken, The crownless again shall be king.

Here’s some of the work this beautiful place and these amazing people inspired:

Special Thanks to:

fahd shahFahd Shah is a Mumbai-based director, photographer, producer, and all-around awesome pyjama person! You can see more of his work here.

Photographs by Sohaya
Writing, research by Avantika 
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