Bhavita Bhatia
Bhavita Bhatia rides her friend’s horse up the rugged Penn La Pass in Dolpo
2023

Bhavita Bhatia

Eco-feminist/Storyteller

Cowboys of the Lost Horizon

meet bhavita

Bhavita Bhatia is a storyteller, adventurer, eco-feminist, and a budding horse conservationist with more than a decade of experience around the pastoral communities of the Trans-Himalayan region in India, Bhutan, and Nepal. Bhatia’s documentary work reflects her love for the wilderness, which led her to chase Himalayan nomads across the most remote areas of the mountains. During the past four years, she has single-handedly built a grassroots conservation project to study and support the lives of horse herders of Nepal. Her special focus is on the fast-disappearing ponies of the Himalaya, from Mount Kailash to the valleys around Mount Everest.

Cowboys of the Lost Horizon
Nominated by: James Friedman MN'19
Class of 2023 Location India
Bhavita with Karma and his father, long-time horse traders headed to China for an annual trade fair in Chaangthang
Bhavita with Karma and his father, long-time horse traders headed to China for an annual trade fair in Chaangthang

The High Himalaya presents many challenges for explorers. Many regions in upper Nepal are highly inaccessible and restricted. The areas where I work have no roads: one either walks for days or rides a horse. In the media, the people of this region are often portrayed as an exotic “dwindling breed of pastoral nomads from another time,” with little context provided on the multiple challenges these mountain pastoralists currently face. Moreover, conservation efforts are overwhelmingly focused on the region’s “charismatic” animals, such as snow leopards. A recent multimillion, five-year snow leopard conservation plan funded research, conferences, and reviews, yet provided little for herders whose lives are impacted by the cats. In a small hamlet, Charkha in Dolpo, for instance, nearly 100 of their horses were killed by snow leopards in a single year. Understandably, then, many of the leopard killings are in retaliation for livestock losses. Unfortunately, the dominant narrative in the snow leopard/human conflict story continued to ignore the intense suffering and loss to livelihood for goat, yak, and horse herders. Without addressing these issues, long-term solutions will remain elusive. If we are to find sustainable solutions to wildlife conservation in this region, we must listen to, and work with, its Indigenous communities. This includes addressing the complex problems of herder communities—domestic violence, alcoholism, gender inequality, and access to education and economic opportunity—which play into preserving the larger ecosystem.

Long-time horse traders Mingmar Gurung and Tsultrim Tsering return from the annual trading ground at China, captured along the high passes of Penn La
Long-time horse traders Mingmar Gurung and Tsultrim Tsering return from the annual trading ground at China, captured along the high passes of Penn La Author: Bhavita Bhatia

“If we are to find sustainable solutions to wildlife conservation in this region, we must listen to, and work with, its Indigenous communities.”

- Bhavita Bhatia

For my project “Cowboys of the Lost Horizon,” I am documenting the lives of the few horsemen remaining in their homelands, weaving together conservation, science, biology, and traditional equestrian economies. In the process, I hope to challenge their notions of race, gender, and age positively when it comes to what a young woman of color can accomplish in these areas, and to inspire and pave the way for more women, particularly Indigenous women, to follow suit.

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