A morning in the Banni grasslands of Kachchh

Pastoral Times
3 min readJun 22, 2022

By, Chhani Bungsut

*Clang-dong, clang-dong*

The bells reverberated through the calm dawn as we waited for the buffaloes to come home. Forced awake at 3:30 AM, we groggily sat on plastic chairs near a herder’s shed, dozing in and out of conversation. Around 4:30 AM, the bells grew louder and clearer, the animals coming back to their owners, just like the morning before and the day after as well. I had seen Banni buffaloes in daylight before, but they looked even more majestic under the moonlight, harsh shadows replaced with a soft glow ebbing from their smooth skin.

Photo credit: Ishaan Raghunandan

Speaking in clicks and whistles, the Maldharis (pastoralists) who were sitting with us got up with their sticks and guided the buffaloes into the shed where calves impatiently waited for their mother’s return. Another bumpy jeep ride away, we watched from afar as women milked their buffaloes into tin cans. They had clearly mastered the art of milking them, leaving just enough for the calves that stood nearby.

“Let’s get going, or we’ll miss the sunrise” our driver, Rasulbhai, called, and we hurried back into the jeep. As always, I didn’t know where we were headed, but I had learned to simply follow our herd of jeep travellers and our herders — the driver and Imranbhai. No matter where the day took us, I knew I’d return home (the research station) at the end of the day, just like the grazing buffaloes. It had been like this throughout our two-week exposure trip to understand pastoral lives in Kachchh and the Banni region of Gujarat. We drove on the metalled roads for a while, keeping an eye out for the occasional wild animals that crossed our path. Suddenly, Rasulbhai veered onto the desert-like terrain. Up and down, side to side — our bodies bounced against one another and danced to the rhythm of the jeep as we chased the sunrise.

Photo credit: Author

When we finally stopped, it felt like we were nowhere, the dry grassland stretching endlessly on each side. The sunrise was as beautiful as promised, but I was more awestruck by the footprints embedded in the dry soil. “Herders travel through these grasslands all the time,” Imranbhai informed us. “But how do they not get lost?” I enquired, feeling silly as soon as I asked the question. They patiently explained how they had walked these paths many times before and were adept at finding their way around. We apparently lacked the same talent, as we spent the next fifteen minutes looking for our way back.

The road finally came to view and I thought, surely it’s time to go back and eat! But the jeep pulled up behind a fence of thorns and we made our way to a village seasonally occupied by Maldharis. I don’t remember the name of the village but could never forget their hospitality. When we made it through the thorny gando bawal (Prosopis julifora — an invasive shrub rampant in the Banni grasslands), a resident Maldhari immediately set up seats for us and ordered his sons to bring us chai. The creamy, sweet chai they served in ceramic plates remains one of my fondest memories of the trip.

Gando bawal in the Banni grasslands Photo credit: Ishaan Raghunandan

After a conversation with the Maldhari and his sons, where they told us of their business making coal out of the gando bawal, we finally returned to the RAMBLE station, another cup of chai and breakfast awaiting our arrival. Another packed morning had passed and I knew more awaited during the day, but I needed a nap first. After rinsing my plate and cup, my head hit the pillow before I could even process my walk back to the room. I dreamed of shiny buffaloes, sweet milk, and infinite grasslands.

Chhani Bungsut is the editor of Pastoral Times and a member of CfP’s communications team.



Pastoral Times

Highlighting pastoralist lives and livelihoods — their crafts, foods, breeding practices, struggles, and more. Contribute: editor@centreforpastoralism.org