Every family has a donkey, an invaluable part to the well-being of the family. Some farmers used to keep 10 to 15 donkeys and run a business in hiring them out as transport in this mountainous area where the fields are not level enough to take a tractor. In the past donkeys would be rented out by other households for the moving of crops.
In spring, the donkeys would help to fertilise the land in the spring when the manure was brought out from the stables from winter. This was a natural way of using up the animal manure and not turning to chemical fertilisers.
In summer they would carry the sacks of peas to the main road to be transported to Delhi where they would end up on smart dinner party tables as the new season’s vegetable. Threshing was once an important job for the donkeys and the animals were booked in advance by the farmers. They were used for many farming activities. Threshing the barley is an important job, but now the government have provided the farmers with subsidised mechanical threshing machines, and this has cost the donkey keepers their livelihood.
In winter, the donkey is used for carrying water to households when the temperatures are well below zero. It’s hard carrying 20 gallon cans up slippery slopes covered in snow and ice.
Gathering fuel for the winter, in order to keep warm and cook in sub zero temperatures, wood and twigs must be collected and stored during the short time available in the summer months. The donkey once more is the beast of burden.
Now there are more roads to transport goods by truck. The donkey men are now out of a job and cannot afford to feed their animals, so they are abandoned to the hillside where they are often taken by the snow leopards. How sad is that? But it’s all in the name of progress.
When Spiti Projects was building the School in Mane village in 2002-5, there was no road to Lower Mane village. We had to bring in all the building materials by donkey, down across a small bridge over a stream and up the other side of the valley. It was a massive achievement by the donkey owners at the time!