The village of Surander is just 15km from the main town in north Kashmir's Bandipora district, but it feels as if it belongs to another world. Surrounded by dense forests and lush meadows, the village is watered by a deep cold stream that is fed from water coming from the upper glaciers.
Due to the heavy snowfall in winter, the village remains cut off from the main town for several months. When I walked on the foothills and muddy roads leading to Surander a few weeks ago, the whole village was covered with a white carpet of snow. As my feet crunched into the icy ground, I felt transported by the beauty of the meadows. Birdsong and the sound of waterfalls gave me a sense of the music of nature.
Ethnically, the residents of this village are semi-nomadic Gujjars. The villagers traditionally travelled from mountain to mountain, through lush green pastures, with their herds of sheep that are their source of income. They have more or less settled now but life is still hard.
Surandar lacks basic amenities - there is no road connectivity, electricity is still a far-away dream, there is no tap water, no markets, no shopkeepers and no transport. The villagers need to go to Bandipora town to buy things for their daily needs. To collect timber and fodder, they go into the forests. The children usually help their family in their daily chores, and most do not attend school.
The village is not too far from the district authorities, but the villagers are at a seemingly insurmountable distance away from the conveniences of the town just a few kilometres away.
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A family embarking on their daily trudge to the stream to collect water.
A little Gujjar boy poses outside his hilltop house.
A makeshift wooden bridge across the glacier-fed stream.
A quick rest on the long journey to Bandipora.
A woman prepares a meal on a traditional chulha.
A young Gujjar girl.
A man in front of his traditional mud and wood kotha (house).
An elderly man collects fodder for his livestock.
Conifer-dotted slopes en route to Sundandar.
Fog envelopes the mountains around Surandar.
Rajballi, 54, poses with his family outside his mud house.
Safeer, 16, carries home grass for the family's herd.
Villagers returning from the forests with the day's spoils.
With no running water, a small pool serves as a dish-washing station.
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