Put out to Pasture: Each Spring, the Van Gujjar, a Nomadic Muslim Tribe, Herd Their Buffalo from Lowland Forests in Northern India to the High Alpine Meadows of the Himalaya, Where They Spend the Summer. but Recently, the Journey Has Become More Difficult as Their Traditional Pastures Have Been Absorbed by National Parks, Where They Are Increasingly Unwelcome

By Benanav, Michael | Geographical, December 2009 | Go to article overview
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Put out to Pasture: Each Spring, the Van Gujjar, a Nomadic Muslim Tribe, Herd Their Buffalo from Lowland Forests in Northern India to the High Alpine Meadows of the Himalaya, Where They Spend the Summer. but Recently, the Journey Has Become More Difficult as Their Traditional Pastures Have Been Absorbed by National Parks, Where They Are Increasingly Unwelcome


Benanav, Michael, Geographical


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OPENING SPREAD (pages 18-19): seventeen-year-old Mariam leads her family's caravan through the forests of Uttarakhand just after dawn on day 19 of their migration to Himalayan pastures. She's carrying her infant niece in the shawl around her shoulders. Mariam's family are Van Gujjar, a tribe of nomadic buffalo herders who've been migrating across the far north of India for more than 1,500 years. There are currently around 50,000-70,000 Van Gujjar living largely in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. One of the last forest-dwelling nomadic tribes left in the world, they are Muslim vegetarians, who never eat their buffalo or sell them for slaughter, using only their milk. Instead, the animals are treated as family members, and are mourned and buried when they die. Every year, this family (this year, Dhumman Kasana, his wife, their seven children, their extended family and 110 buffalo) take the same route from the lowland forests up to their summer meadows in the Himalaya, but recently, their journey has become more difficult. The family's summer pastures have become part of a national park whose officials are hindering the Van Gujjar's access to their pastures because they claim the tribe's lifestyle is damaging the park's environment, and they don't want 'outsiders' using state resources. In April, the Kasana family set off for their summer pastures as usual but weren't issued the necessary permits in time and, anxious that he might be arrested or that fodder for his buffalo might run out, Dhumman was forced to lead his family higher into the mountains in search of alternative grazing; PREVIOUS SPREAD (clockwise from top left): Van Gujjar families camp together where their migratory routes converge, just west of Uttarkashi; migrating on the roads of rural Uttarakhand in the early morning; Karim, aged four, gets his milk straight from the source; Dhumman, a Van Gujjar lambardar (tribal leader), with his favourite water buffalo, nearly six weeks into the migration; 16-year-old Sharafat carries fodder for the herd; Akloo holds her daughter, Hasina, who's about a year old; Bashi, aged 12, comforts a buffalo yearling with a broken front leg. The young buffalo's leg was crushed by a tree that was swept over a cliff during a hailstorm. Rather than leaving it behind to die, the tribesmen splinted its leg and carried it up to the high pastures where they spent the summer; Abdul Ghani warms up by a fire while camped at about 3,000 metres above sea level; THIS SPREAD, FAR LEFT: cooking potatoes for midday brunch; LEFT, TOP: a group of Van Gujjar men carry a buffalo yearling with a broken leg up and over a 3,800-metre mountain pass to its summer pasture; LEFT, BOTTOM: Sharafat takes a break during a hot day along the Yamuna River

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ABOVE: a Van Gujjar family winds its way through a forest towards the alpine pasture where they'll graze their buffalo for the summer. During the winter, the buffalo feed on leaves from the trees growing across the Shivalik Hills.

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Put out to Pasture: Each Spring, the Van Gujjar, a Nomadic Muslim Tribe, Herd Their Buffalo from Lowland Forests in Northern India to the High Alpine Meadows of the Himalaya, Where They Spend the Summer. but Recently, the Journey Has Become More Difficult as Their Traditional Pastures Have Been Absorbed by National Parks, Where They Are Increasingly Unwelcome
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