I know, this is a business built around sheep, but hear me out: Himachali wool production is part of a diversified agropastoral system, and understanding how all the pieces fit together is important. And right now, it’s all about the cows. More specifically, this cow:
Meet Jumki. Twice a day, someone (usually Sumnadevi) has to take Jumki out to graze. During the morning grazing, it’s also time to cut grass to store for the winter.
The afternoon graze is a little more relaxed, allowing for some ambulatory knitting and village gossip shouted from one meadow to another.
Then there’s mucking out her stall, bringing her a bucket full of kitchen scraps, and…probably plenty of other tasks that I don’t know about. All this, and we’re drinking black tea every day–there’s no milk. Why? Because Jumki is pregnant. After she gives birth, I’m told there will more than my host household can use on their own–even after teaching me how to make yogurt, and lassi, and ghee.
Most of the households I’ve stayed in when traveling in Himachal include at least one cow. I’m often instructed that I need to meet the cow, and there’s a certain smile of pride and fondness that seems to always come to my hosts’ faces when I ask what the cow’s name is. The same pride is evident in their voices when they inform me that the heart-palpating quantity of ghee that they are pouring over my plate of food is home-made. It’s a relationship that can’t be summed up purely in terms of production or economics. And it’s not just cows and dairy, either–I’ve been served home-grown rice, wheat, corn, vegetables, kidney beans, tea, and honey, all proudly identified as “desi.” I learned that word as meaning “local” or “native” but it seems to have much more complex connotations, which I’ll be exploring (especially in relation to sheep breed identification) over the coming months. Hopefully over many cups of milk tea and piles of home-grown rice doused with freshly made ghee.