“The transhumance represents total connection to the now,” Jones says. “There’s nothing else like it.”
Transhumance travel seems to be gaining steam in small ways, with a handful of tour operators around the world offering small group trips to participate. It’s easy to see why—the practice of moving livestock on foot is pretty rare to come by, and it’s an unrecognizable practice from the perspective of an average modern workday.
Aside from Jones’s trips, tour operator Village Ways runs an 11-day trip featuring two days of trekking with Anwal shepherds and their sheep in the Himalayas. Pannier offers a cycling trip following herds of cattle through France, Spain and Andorra.
Manisha Pande, managing director of Village Ways, says that transhumance trips with the Anwal shepherds have “raised pride in the community about the importance of their contribution to rural life.” Aside from financial support, the tourism partnership has also provided the shepherds with gear like tents, shoes, sleeping bags, and headlamps for their long journeys to the glaciers. Ultimately, trips like this can help to sustain long-standing traditions, she says.
“The traditional practices of organic farming and keeping bees and livestock are important sources for livelihood, and the role of the shepherd community in preserving these practices is very instrumental,” she added. “Tourism brings in the much-needed additional income to the villages to support these main traditional activities and preserve rural life and communities like the Anwals.”
As much as transhumance can be a “medicine” for the uber-connected way of life today, Jones says it’s also important that we don’t over-romanticize it, or fetishize living off the land, which can be reductive and offensive. “It’s incredibly difficult,” Jones says. “It’s a very, very hard life, and it warrants respect and actual, deep understanding. I think that’s why, right now, people live this idea of herding and connection to the land through animals, because there’s a kind of innocence there and the heritage there, which has been uncorrupted.”
So, how do travelers fit into that balance without destroying that innocence? It’s a tricky question. Jones participated in transhumance for several years before bringing guests for the first time and said he’s deliberated significantly over whether it’s right to bring people on tours.