The world famous Zanskari horses, with ability to trek more than 19,000 feet high arduous tracks with ease, will now ferry pilgrims for the Amarnath yatra in south Kashmir.
The move has come after at least 126 Valley-based local horses failed to cope up with the yatra pressure this year and dropped dead on the tracks. Around 2,000 others are crippled after injuries turned them lame for life.
The Jammu and Kashmir animal husbandry department is now opening three breeding centres of Zanskari horses in the Kashmir Valley under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna.
"These breeding centres will come up in north Kashmir, and the yatra areas of Pahalgam (in south) and Sonamarg (in north)," animal husbandry director Farooq Ahmad Shah told the Hindustan Times.The local horses that trek on the yatra routes are adapted to only 11,000 feet height and the cave shrine is located at 14,000 feet.
"Most horses die of starvation and heart attacks on the tracks due to lack of oxygen. Despite being discreet animals, the local horses have started eating indiscriminately during the pilgrimage, including toxic grasses," said Shah.
Zanskari horses, which cost more than Rs 1 lakh, are bred in Kashmir's eastern region of Zanskar in Ladakh district. The average height of mountain ranges in Zanskar is 19,700 feet and the horses are adaptable to the rugged terrain.
In contrast to Valley-based horses, Zanskari horses have an exceptional ability to survive harsh climatic conditions. "These horses, with small and compact build bodies, can survive on scarce food in snow-bound areas. Besides, it's the most sure footed animal," said Shah.
The horse, which can ferry around 40 kg weight at ease, has rare nasal cavity that warms up air before allowing it into lungs, acting as immunity to many diseases in cold areas.
"We will conduct awareness camps about pony owners in the Valley and introduce the best equine breed. In next eight years there will be sizable numbers of Zanskari horses on the yatra routes with ability to brave weather vagaries and height," said Shah.
This year, the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, the body managing the annual pilgrimage, had registered 10,516 ponies for pilgrims but equal number of unregistered were also put it by pony owners to cater to the huge rush. Around 6.2 lakh pilgrims paid obeisance during the yatra that concluded on August 2.