Transhumance is the practice amongst pastorals of moving their herds or flock-seasonally or periodically between two regions of differing climatic regimes.
The practice is particularly characteristic of mountainous regions where animals are usually transferred from mountains to valley pasture in winter and back again to the mountains for the summer.
Transhumance is a response of the pastoralists to topographic and climatic constraints. Protection of their herds according to their climatic tolerance and optimization of the use of pastures form parts of this response. This results in oscillation through time over space or in cycle mobility in a space time continuum.
The temporal scale of transhumance may vary from long-term cycle spread out over a number of years or an annual cycle or diurnal cycle. The term ‘space’ refers to different spatial zones or regions covered by a transhumant in a transhumance ecosystem.
Although it is an economic necessity for the Gujjar-Bakarwals to move with their flock in each season to the areas where pastures are available, yet the migration has a greater value than this. They have two ways of expressing the same experience.
Time and space for them have the same connotation, as every destination of theirs is intimately linked up with a season (time) or every part of the year is linked up to a space which is their destination. This explains that they interpret time and space in the same terms with reference to migration
The pastoral economy of the Gujjar-Bakarwals depends on the availability and utilization of extensive seasonal pastures. While snow covers the mountains in the north, relatively poor pastures are available throughout the winter in the south. In spring, the pastures are plentiful and good in the areas of low and middle latitudes.
By late April, the winter pastures are exhausted. While the scorching heat of the summer is desiccating the pasture in the south, usable pastures are found in the north above 2,800 metres where melting of snow gives way to lush green pastures.
The relative availability and lushness of pasturage, therefore, varies from one ecological zone to the other within this habitat. Thus, both the winter and summer zones are characterized by availability of pasturage in a definite part of the year this leads to oscillation between the summer and the winter pasture zones.
While the advent of summer is signalled by the drying up of the pasturage in the south, they take the flock during this period to the pastures of higher altitudes, locally known as dhoks, in the nortt).
When the highland pastures get covered under ice and snow and severe cold affects the health of the flocks adversely at high altitudes, they start descending to the zones of lower altitudes in the month of September. Every year they repeat this cycle of migration between the summer and the winter pastures.
Thus, the Gujjar-Bakarwals organize their annual migration from winter abode to summer abode and back to meet the fodder and water requirements of their flocks.
All the tracks of the Gujjar-Bakarwals in the state of Jammu & Kashmir start from their winter bases situated between 600 and 1,200 metres above the sea level, south of the towns of Rajouri, Reasi, Udhampur and Sambha.
Although there are numerous passes in the Pir Panjal Range, they follow either the Pir Panjal Route or the Banihal Pass Route. A brief description of these routes and the intervening pastures and the problems they confront has been given in the following paras.