“Bhagwan jaane kya ashubh chhupa hua hai wahan” (God knows what evil is hiding there), Kishenlal Negi, the leader of a group of migratory herders based in the Pin valley, in the district of Lahaul and Spiti, told me with a sigh. It was early August 2014, and I was in a remote sub-division of the district in Himachal Pradesh, surveying wild goats and vegetation for my doctoral research in wildlife biology. Negi, like many other herders, took his livestock grazing to the high mountains in the region during the summer months of July and August, and brought them to lower hills in the Shimla and Solan districts during winters.
Negi was telling me of a rumour: that the Shinsa, a small stream that flows through a high Himalayan pasture, had fallen under an evil spell, and that the pasture was killing herders’ sheep. He claimed he had had a direct encounter with the sinister pasture.
“Three years back, I decided to move my flock”—roughly 400 sheep and an almost equal number of goats—“from a pasture near the Bhaba pass to the Shinsa, deep inside Ensa valley,” Negi said. “I had been grazing them near Bhaba pass for about ten years. But the pasture had become very crowded and my flock was not growing well. I heard the Shinsa had no herders around it. So I made an arrangement with the villagers of Tailing”—the closest settlement to the pasture.