Bakarwals: The Army's Weathermen
By N C Bipindra - NEW DELHI
Published: 08th Dec 2013 10:05:22 AM
There are similarities between the Indian Army and Red Indian tribes when it comes to predicting weather.
The story goes that once a Red Indian tribe chose a youth as their new chief. Now the tribe wanted to assess the genius of its new chief, who had never learned the way of his ancestors. And they asked him: “Chief, will this winter be bad?”
The young chief was short of an answer and to buy time, asked his tribe to go and collect firewood in preparation for the year’s winter. Soon enough, he called up the national weather forecast agency. “Will this winter be bad?” he asked the weatherman.
“Yes,” came the response. The chief returned to his tribe and asked them go collect as much firewood as they can before winter sets in as it would be very cold.
Now, to make sure he was right, the chief once again called the weatherman. “Are you sure and positive the winter will be very bad?”
“Absolutely,” came the response. “It is going to be the severest of all.”
“How do you know?” asked the chief.
“Because the Red Indians are gathering firewood like crazy!” responded the weatherman.
This popular joke of the Americas is actually playing out to the full in Jammu and Kashmir, virtually every winter.
The Indian armed forces and their weather offices are relying on the Bakarwal tribe of the state to assess how severe the winter cold would be year after year.
If the Bakarwals, who are high altitude nomadic shepherds and goatherds, migrate to lower altitudes of the Himalayan and Pir Panjal ranges before the onset of winters, that is a sure sign of harsh winter, according to some Indian armed forces officers. They vouch for the accuracy of their weather predictions, including snowing in tourist spots like Gulmarg, based on the migratory trends of the tribe.
However, last year, the foolhardiness of this exercise dawned on the Indian armed forces that have internal meteorological offices to carry out their assessment of the weather in the border state for reasons military.
“The Bakarwals had migrated from the higher reaches to lower altitudes that winter and we assessed that it would be a severe winter season,” said an Army officer. “We chatted up with a group of Bakarwals after they migrated to the lower altitudes and that’s when the irony dawned on us. The Bakarwals had decided to shift to lower altitudes that year because they had heard about Met predictions of harsh winter that year on television,” he said.
Weather forecasting is science, based on empirical data. Nations and the militaries spend huge amounts of money and employ several scientific means to predict weather.
Such predictions can be exploited for better management of air traffic and economic or military activity to meet the nation’s strategic objectives.
This apart, in states like Jammu and Kashmir, weather forecasting is used for evacuation of local population from places hit hard by snowfall and bad weather.
All the three Indian armed forces—Army, Navy and Air Force—have meteorological wings to study, analyse and predict weather for military and aviation purposes.
The Bakarwals, a scheduled tribe, are found in all three regions of Jammu and Kashmir’s mountains, including Ladakh, and they belong to the same racial groups such as the Gujjars. They usually lead a lonely and tough life, migrating between the upper reaches and lower altitudes of Himalayan and Pir Panjal ranges of Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh during summers and winters in search of grazing ground for their goats and sheep.