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As Himalayan tribes in Bhutan are forced to slaughter more yaks and erratic rainfall kill yields, villagers resort to appease local deities

Highlanders living at the base of the snowcapped Himalayan Mountains in Bhutan are witnessing unprecedented change in weather patterns. They have no clue why it is happening and resort to blaming their fate or appeasing the mountain gods and local deities or both.

Every winter, they are losing an increasing number of yaks, their main source of livelihood. Last winter was one of the longest in recent memory and the highlanders lost many yaks because of the lack of pastureland which was worsened by the relatively longer winter.

The lives of these mountain people living in alpine altitudes revolve around the yaks. Their clothes are woven from yak fur. They drink yak milk. They make butter and cheese from the yak milk and sell it in towns downhill and it is also one of the major sources of cash income for them.

There is huge demand for the fresh yak cheese in Bhutan as the Bhutanese menu is incomplete without cheese. The highlanders also sell the popular dried cheese which is consumed in its raw form at any time of the day just like a chewing gum is consumed in other parts of the world.  They also depend on the animal for meat and for transport.

While local tribesmen say that they are losing an increasing number of yaks every winter, the records of the casualties are difficult to maintain as there are no government extension offices at such extreme altitudes which is not even connected to motor roads. These people still live miles away from civilization.

Of late, the highlanders are also under pressure to slaughter more yaks for cash income because the only other income source, the collection of the rich medicinal fungus, Cordyceps Sinesis, is dwindling.

The government legalized the collection of the wonder fungus in 2003 and since then the trend of killing the yaks for money had decreased notably. The locals were also happy about it as they strictly refrain from killing animals which is considered a sin by the affluent Buddhist tribes. But the caterpillar fungus is becoming increasingly rarer and it has forced the locals to pick up the butcher’s knife more often that they would want.

These highlanders, who have been battling the cold in the Himalayas for generations, also testify from experience how the glacial have been retreating.

They know nothing of climate change and it would be futile to explain the Science to them.

Down south in the sub tropical parts of the country, the weather has become equally, if not more, unpredictable.

While winter has prolonged in the higher altitudes, summer has stretched itself in the lower regions and rainfall has become highly erratic. Water sources have started drying up and crops have started wilting because of it. Even drinking water has become a luxury.

The fields in some villages have become so fallow that farmers have stopped guarding the fields at night as they claim there is nothing even for the wild animals to feast upon.

Looking for a solution, villagers have resorted to what they know best – invoking local deities. A local newspaper quoted a farmer saying “In the past, the deities would answer our prayers, but not this time.”

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