This is a memory from a long time ago. Way before I figured out the internet beyond checking mail. This is a time when I was a nomadic horsewoman in the Himalaya.
I was living in the high pastures of the Kullu valley with my herd of horses. We were in the pastures below the Hampta Pass – about a 6 hour walk from Manali. The winter had been rough, and we were just camping out in the high altitude pastures where we leave them for the summers, supplementing their diet with some grain, to help them catch on on their health a bit faster.
What a place to be in! We were camped in the meadows at Juara. Alpine meadows – the air is crisp, the water is crystal clear and flows right through the pasture. A few empty stone structures that would later become nomadic tea stalls plus camps of herb gatherers dotted the scene, with sheer black cliffs rising on both sides in stark contrast with the lush comfort of the place. A place straight from some fantasy tale. Once could believe some nature spirits living here, particularly on moonlit nights, when the scene goes black and white, with the moonlight strong enough in places to register come colour. What a life – the horses living free around me, prancing with their improving condition. Pye, my bitch, by my side and the sounds of the stream for company.
The days were pretty idle. Feeding the horses a couple of times a day was no pain – they used to come happily enough for the treat. Beyond that…. not much to do. Cooking, enjoying the paradise I was living in, early to bed, early to rise. Perhaps an occasional visit to Sethan – the last village on this route, and the only fully Buddhist village in the entire Kullu valley, where my god-family lived. A timeless idyll.
Occupation came in an unexpected way. A gaddi camp was passing by, planning to camp a little higher than the pasture we were in. I recognised the shepherd, and invited him for a cup of tea. When he saw me, he decided to camp near our camp itself.
Over a cup of tea, I realized why.
A filly of his, had been attacked by a bear a week ago, and had been hurt badly. Originally, believing that she would die anyway, he hadn’t taken her to a vet. But she hadn’t yet died. She was in a bad way, with her wounds infected, and was struggling to keep up with the moving camp, to follow her mother. This was creating a problem, as the mare used to keep waiting for her, and slowing the caravan.
I had already gained a solid reputation as an animal lover, and my animals were often a point of interet for local livestock owners for the glowing condition I used to maintain them in. Plus, I was gaining a reputation as an enthusiastic “unofficial vet” from the knowledge of animal medicine I used to gather for the well-being of my horses in a land where vets were not easily available, and often very far from the place of need.
He wanted me to take a look at the filly and see if there was any hope for her, as well as see if she could be put down, if there wasn’t. I refused flat out to put her down, as I am not of the opinion that animals should be killed when they are fighting to recover. Plus I lacked the kind of knowledge and equipment it would take to put her down. I agreed to take a look and see what I could do for her.
We went out into the pasture and unloaded his horses to set up camp and then look for the filly. She was in a bad way. She was sleeping, exhausted at the end of the pasture without even coming to join the herd, once she saw that they had halted.
We got her up and brought her up to my tent and tied her in front of it. I started to take a good look at her and see what it was that I was up against.
She was a beautiful, black filly. Three months old, lovely conformation – she would have made a fine mare when she grew up, if she survived this scenario. Her rump and neck was covered with deep gashes from the bear’s claws, and a week of neglect had allowed infection to settle in. Most of the gashes had developed pus, and a couple had maggots in them – icky as that is, it is better, because the wound is cleaner – except for the maggots of course. You will not find pus and maggots in the same wound, unless it is really bad and the maggots haven’t done their job yet. Except that you want them out now that they have done their bit. My whole being recoiled at the thought of having to clean up this mess.
If I had to save this filly, I had to do it, no matter how repulsive it was. I felt a surge of anger at the shepherd for neglecting her treatment like that, and vented my fury in choice words, yelling at him and his wife for being callous to the very animals that made their livelihood possible.
The filly stood there shivering from the early morning air and her exhaustion.
I made the couple promise to rest in the pasture for at least a week, before I would touch the filly – it was pointless to begin something, if it wouldn’t be sustained. As an incentive, I praised the quality of the filly, and asserted that she would become a very valuable animal and bring him good money and work very well, if she was helped to recover. This seemed to strike a note of interest.
I had some anitbiotic injections in my animal first-aid kit. I gave her a shot. She hardly noticed. Then I knew, that I had to get over my nausea and actually deal with those wounds, and took a look at my medical supplies. They were minimal. The anti-septic I had, would hardly deal with half the wounds she had before running out. The same with the creams. Now what? I shoved the supplies back into my sack, and kept only the bottle of phenyl. The rest would have to be home remedies (which was what I preferred in any case).
I made a strong solution of tea in a huge pot and used that to clean the wounds. Yes, I just plunged in, and cleaned them all thoroughly, pus, maggots and all, till the flesh showed clean. Some of the deeper wounds still harboured maggots – of that, I was sure, so I used some gauze soaked in phenyle on them to dress them. On the rest, I applied a light film of honey and stuffed them full with crushed garlic.
All done, I walked away from the tent area and puked.
The evening saw a repeat performance. On the next day, the maggot wounds were clean too, and they received the honey and garlic treatment, and by that evening, some of the lighter cuts had begun to heal, and the filly was acting more interested in life, and giving me trouble to catch for treatment 🙂 But she seemed to understand that I was trying to help, so she flinched and nudged with her nose, if it hurt, but never tried to kick at me or hurt me in any way.
After that, I taught the couple how to do what I was doing, and told them that they would have to repeat this till ALL the wounds were healed, and that the filly could probably begin walking in a day or two.
They seemed to have got the point, and the two days were uneventful – so to say (not counting one of my fillies who seemed to be jealous of all the attention this one was getting)
The time was up, and the gaddi camp moved on, and the filly became another memory, until a few years later, when I ran across the same gaddi again. There was a beautiful mare in his herd – the one I had treated. I recognised her instantly and was happy for her. The couple put camp once more, to spend some time with me, and that evening, I was invited to a special dinner, where they thanked me with tears in their eyes for saving their beautiful mare.
Their animals also looked better cared for, since the last time. I was happy, that things had worked out well, and that they had developed some love and concern for the living factors in their “business”