Author and photographer Michael Benanav’s latest book didn’t seem like much of a stretch. Benanav is used to trekking into the vast unknowns of our modern consciousness, highlighting cultural experiences we would be unlikely to otherwise encounter. His first book, “Men of Salt: Crossing the Sahara on the Caravan of White Gold,” found him driving camels across an endless stretch of desert carrying salt to civilization. Freelance work captures Navajo sheep herders, Bedouin communities in the Middle East, or the Maasai people of Kenya. Each piece dives into Benanav’s fascination with tribal peoples, with nomadic cultures around the earth built from a childhood love of “Lawrence of Arabia.”

In “Himalaya Bound: One Family’s Quest to Save their Animals and an Ancient Way of Life,” which was released by Pegasus Books last year, Benanav is again in the far reaches, this time following a nomadic family of water buffalo herders of the Van Gujjar tribe in northern India. The family comes alive in Benanav’s telling, each a fully fleshed character built from his connection and love for them.

“I became really unexpectedly close to this family,” Benanav said in a phone interview this week, describing has visited, but other communication isn’t possible. “...It made it very important to me to tell their story accurately,” he said, “maybe in a way I felt really reflected their truth.”

Each spring, as the weather warms and water dries up, the family has journeyed from their winter camp in the Shivalik Hills to summer meadows in the Himalayas. But in 2009, access to those meadows was again under threat. Though historical lands for the Van Gujjars, the area became part of Govind National Park in 1990, and the forest department began threatening access to the nomadic people in 2006.

“Despite the threats made by the park authorities, Dhumman (the family’s patriarch) said he had to try to reach his family’s meadow,” Benanav wrote in “Himalaya Bound.” “If there was one force in life more powerful than the forest department, it was Mother Nature, and she was urging him to get moving. Temperatures in the Shivaliks were already skyrocketing, there was hardly any water anywhere, and the forest foliage was rapidly beginning to fall.”

Though the indigenous peoples had used the lands for thousands of years, one school of thought of protection of wild places means removing people from them, which would mean total destruction of their way of life.

“It’s sort of a great irony that this thing that we all think of as preserving something as fragile and endangered causes harm to something fragile and endangered,” Benanav said.

In conservation circles, Benanav explained, this is known as the “Yellowstone model.” It happened here first.

According to the National Park Service’s website, “Greater Yellowstone’s location at the convergence of the Great Plains, Great Basin, and Plateau Indian cultures means that many tribes have a traditional connection to the land and its resources. For thousands of years before Yellowstone became a national park, it was a place where Indians hunted, fished, gathered plants, quarried obsidian, and used the thermal waters for religious and medicinal purposes.”

Similar stories have played out throughout the world, although Benanav said new models are emerging in which indigenous people are partners in conservation efforts.

Benanav will be at Country Bookshelf, 28 W. Main St. in Bozeman, at 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 15. He will discuss the book and his travels with an accompanying slide show. It is free and family friendly.

“I’ll be taking people along on this visual journey into the Himalayas with this tribe,” Benanav said. “It’s really a look into this completely other world.”

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Rachel Hergett is the editor of Ruckus, the arts and culture publication of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She can be reached at or (406) 582-2603.

Rachel Hergett can be reached at or at 406-582-2603. Hergett is on Twitter at @hergett.