The forest is filled with sounds and silence…mostly silence. It takes a special kind of listening and looking to know the presence of an animal or bird.
Following the call of the jungle fowl in the breaking dawn, our group of wildlife fanatics had set out on a safari into the Sasan Gir forest. We had one objective – to get a glimpse of the lions in their natural habitat.
Read here – When The Lions Went Incognito In Sasan Gir
Our search in the rising dust and swaying grasslands, lead us to a settlement of the fearless Maldhari tribe.
We are not allowed to embark from our safari jeeps, so we could only watch them from a distance. Later, we also visited another settlement living at the forest’s edge. This brief encounter with them gave us a telescopic view about their lifestyle, fears and dreams.
Coexistence with nature and wild animals is a way of life for them. They allow their cattle to roam freely in the forest to graze the wild nourishing grass. There is no fear of attacks from the lions as they have an understanding of the balance of life and death.
The community has a blend of Hindu and Muslim followers, who peacefully coexist and do not let the politics of religion, discriminate or divide.
Their status and wealth are measured in the number of cattle owned by them. Cows are milked every morning and taken to a central collection point. The milk is sold to a cooperative usually found in the nearby villages.
The Gir cows are considered to be one of the top breeds since they feed, free range on the forest grasslands. Gir Cow Ghee has high demand across the country.
The men and women are fierce, but hospitable and friendly. They love to chat about the current state of affairs over hot cups of tea.
Every house usually has an open courtyard. It serves as a living area for the family. Daily chores take place here due to the natural lighting. In the evenings the family members, especially the men relax on wooden beds with a smoke or hookah.
Cow dung is mixed with mud to make a paste like consistency. This is spread over the walls and floor, every morning by the ladies of the house. The dung and mud mixture keeps insects away and keeps the house cool in the day.
The walls outside the houses are painted by hand with traditional motifs like peacocks and trees. Red clay tiles adorn the roof.
The cattle have a separate bamboo and dry brush enclosure. After the days grazing, they retire into this space.
The attire for men is a white shirt, pants, loose at the thighs and crunched at the ankles. The attire for women is an ankle length, flowing skirt, blouse with back strings and a dupatta to cover the head. Men and women wear jewelry – silver anklets for women, gold earrings for both genders.
The Maldhari #Swag
Originally living a nomadic life, the Maldharis eventually settled in the Junagadh district, in the state of Gujarat. Living with the lions in the Gir forest has proved that man can coexist with nature and survive.
This way of living could be threatened with the urban lifestyle influencing the younger generations. They may want to give up their current ways and live in the cites.
My encounter with the Maldharis in the forest was an accidental experience. However I also had the opportunity to interact with some of them who lived at the forest’s edge.
If you wish to engage in a similar experience, you can contact Chirag from Rural Pleasure. He is an expert on travel to Gujarat.