Mountains, Nature

on mules…

One should stick to trails that aren’t suitable for mules, if a higher degree of isolation is what one seeks in the mountains… for where the beasts of burden can trudge, humanity eventually finds a way to carve out an abode, be it villages dotting valley floors or transhumance in the higher climes… while in the lower Himalaya, mules’ role is mostly reduced to that of last-mile connectors that are completely agnostic to the wares they transport, from daily needs to cooking gas to bricks and cement – a modicum of what it used to be half a century ago – ‘tis away from the throes of civilization where one can revive our history with these creatures, still firmly embedded in the tapestry of the mountain, whilst fading away in the fumes of coal, steam and gasoline elsewhere…

Mules grazing, Himachal Pradesh, India
Near Thanpri Tibba, Himachal Pradesh, India

There are horses and there are donkeys, and twixt the two lies a diversity of Equidae that is perplexing to say the least, the hybrids of the two more resilient and intelligent than the original, something that even Darwin found rather intriguing, ‘tis a rarity to imbibe the best traits of both the parents, yet these amalgams have done it infallibly over centuries in a variety of sizes and forms…

Mules Grazing, Jammu & Kashmir, India
Nundkol Lake, J&K

Sheep are fickle climbers, and the shepherd dog prides itself on machismo… mules fall somewhere between the two, their work ethic submerged in a perennial river of humility… more dogged than the dog, subtler than the sheep… their trudges are sans grudges, come rain, hail or snow, beneath the ordinary coat lies an extraordinary resolve, one that is completely steeped in humility…

Mule and driver, Himachal Pradesh, India
Descending from Kalihani Pass to Riyali Thatch, Himachal Pradesh, India

This humility seems to be the life philosophy of mules… watch a mule train jangling its bells from the meadow up towards the glacier and tentatively descending through the scree, and every single mule has its head bowed down to the mountain, a silent acknowledgement of the elements and a humble appeal for a passage… the rewards are worth the toil though, for no grass is greener and no water sweeter than those of these surroundings… partaking in a human endeavour seems to give them a purpose, but without a load on their backs, these mules truly assimilate into the landscape, the thump of their hooves reverberating through the soft ground like bass in nature’s symphony…

Mules in Ladakh, J&K, India
Mankorma camp (Stok Kangri), Ladakh

Musings on mules, treks across the Western Himalaya…

Author: Parth Joshi

Allured by the outdoors, the author is made up in parts of that quintessential lost soul wreathing under the pangs of biophilia in a desk job, a wannabe elegist mostly ending up in dungeons of poetasters and an optimist waiting for the senility of the modern world to fade away while sampling shoots and leaves. In saner times, he has a keen interest in areas pertaining to tourism, history, agriculture and climate change, especially with respect to historical interpretations, emerging technologies and future livelihoods. An avid trekker, runner, cyclist, birder and photographer, he is more often than not found gloating over anything hinterland, on foot or over computer monitors, and fantasizing solutions that can foster inclusive growth and sustainable livelihoods for communities at the grassroots.

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