On an unexpectedly warm afternoon in Haridwar, I navigated away from Haridwar Road (also known as NH74) towards a dense forest cover. I noticed how the trees on the hilltops here were shaped differently—clear at the trunks and thinly trimmed at length. This was so stark that I assumed it was another species altogether. Gautam, driving me to the forest, corrected me saying that it was the same variety. And introduced me to the Van Gujjars settled here.
Van Gujjars are a tribe of nomads from Uttar Pradesh. Literally translating to ‘forest Gujjars’, these pastoral people have been moving for decades now from the mountains to the plains. They are all Muslims and their mainstay is the production of milk. They domesticate cows and other livestock and deliver milk to a number of homes and dairy factories.
Clambering tall trees and trimming the leaves and the branches, which serve as fodder to their animals, comes naturally to this tribe. Also explains the cotton-like patterns of the trees.
In this village of Kangri, there are 75 families living. Their homes are made of mud and are spotlessly clean. Most thatched huts comprise a section of the house, i.e. there are different huts for prayers, sleeping, kitchen and common living spaces. I was told it takes them a couple of months to make an entire home, which is unbelievable time! I loved the hand painted walls and designs which were fresh from Eid’s celebrations.
Most of the children in this village went to school and as usual, would rather invest their time playing outdoors. I found the women shy, creative and hospitable, and the men articulate and friendly. Their dependency and use of science was impressive, which reflected well in ways they built their homes with healthy drainage systems, among others. I suppose that comes from being true travellers!
Have you met the hospitable and creative Van Gujjars yet?