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How to Identify an Old Packhorse Route

Fascinating insight into the old packhorse routes which criss crossed the area and how to spot them. Just clink on the button below to read the article.

Packhorses in the Himalayas

This video gives an example of how packhorses can be used and the effective and relentless pace that they naturally travel. Here Darshan has joined a small group of packhorses carrying gear for people trekking in the area. Notice the way that one horse leads and knows where it is going and the rest, including the drivers follow. The small horses are loose headed, apart from a couple being led - maybe they are new to the team or have been borrowed to carry extra. Young packhorses learn the job by following their mother - there is a baby packhorse in this group. Notice the bell, the way that they are careful over rough ground, without pausing and how their constant pace is also unaffected by the wind, the mist and steep sections of the track - they only pause to let a couple of land rovers past. The trekker Darshan who has joined them is a jolly chap who chats away (in the local language) and sings as he walks, he does eventually get left behind only catching up at the end when they come to their stopping place, where the horses are grazing.  Watch the video here 

We can learn at lot about what packhorses were like and how they worked in the Sheffield Lakelands Area from YouTube clips of them working in the Himalayas. There are several more examples below:

Trek in Leh - taken in 2022.


Here the small pack train is a mixture of packhorses and mules. They are carrying what look to be heavy loads of camping gear and food up a very steep track in the Indian Himalayas . They are pausing briefly every so often to take a breath, as needed. 


Small horses, also called ponies, are often confused with mules (a cross between a horse and a donkey). Here the differences can be seen. This train is being lead by a horse, followed by a mule (note the long ears and less mane). The third and fourth animals are horses and the rest are mules. Three more, at least two of them horses) are quite a long way behind, but will probably catch up when the track becomes easier. Nobody seems worried about them.

A commercial pack mule train in the Himalayas taken by Julien Serrano in 2012


This pack train of mules is much more commercial - there are at least 15 mules and the train could well be double that number. They are carrying a heavy consistent load of steel cable for building, maybe a new suspension bridge, up a steep track in the Himalayas. There are a lot of bells to warn other road users that they are coming, the round ones are the same as were used in the Sheffield Lakeland Area (there is an example of this sort of bell exhibited at Bishops House in Sheffield). These mules have proper wooden pack saddles and some of the front animals are decorated with colourful tassels, packhorses were also decorated in this country. There are very few men needed to guide the train and collectively they are carrying a great deal, maybe what could be several lorry loads.  It does show what an effective form of transport this is over difficult terrain.

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