For centuries they have traversed through sprawling meadows on the Triund hills, crossing over to either side of the mighty Dhauladhar mountain range with their herds of sheep and goats. Overlooking Dharamsala, the hills, situated at a height of 2,842 metres, not only remained grazing land for the livestock of the nomadic tribe of 'gaddis' (shepherds) but an ancient route to cross over to their native land in Bharmour every summer and return in winter.
However, for the past few years the 'gaddis' have preferred to move through an alternative route, bypassing Triund, the key reason being the heavy influx of tourists to the hilltop that has led to pastures gradually shrinking.
"We have had traditional rights over our lands for centuries. But now we fear of losing these vital grazing fields to intruding visitors," said Ram Singh, a 'gaddi' who is camping on a nearby hill with his livestock. "For the past few years we've seldom gone to Triund, which otherwise was the long-established route," he added.
Singh is not against tourists coming to the hills but wants it to be in a controlled manner so that their territory is not intruded upon. He is all praise for foreign visitors who come to enjoy the beauty of the green hills.
"It's our own people - visitors from neighbouring states - who often create a ruckus and cause a disturbance. If this is the situation when tourists have to trek for 8 kilometres to get here, what will happen when a ropeway that we've heard the government is planning is constructed? If the project materialises other grazing lands on the alternative routes will also be endangered as Triund is already overcrowded," Singh said.
Prem Sagar, a local belonging to the community, admitted conditions in Triund had worsened with over 1,000 visitors arriving in the hills on any given day during the peak tourist season.
"Things get worse on weekends when the number of tourists triple. There are hardly any facilities here. Visitors urinating and even defecating in the open, littering and creating a nuisance has caused the 'gaddis' to leave this traditional pastureland," he added.
Another shepherd, Bilasu Ram, said the 'gaddis' used part of grazing land for cultivation so that vegetables grown there could be used when they return to the lower hills. "Most of us have abandoned this practice as the crop is found destroyed most of the time. The government always talks about promoting tourism but what about us?" he asked.