8. Raikas

"Our home is under the sky. our village is the forest. For 300 days out of 365 we are on the road. Using the motor road you get to your destination quickly. But we move along the narrow by-paths in the fields. Others would get lost. Instead of taking us to the end of a journey, these paths always take us to new places. Each new place is a destination. In each new place, we again sleep under the sky, our pillows. Our home is the sky. I find it wherever I go."                                                                        -Kherji, a sheep herder

 

Naguar Mela

The Nagaur Mela is the largest cattle fair in Rajasthan and draws a great deal of camels as well (at least two or three thousand). It was a perfect opportunity for me to meet some Raikas (a sub caste of camel herders) from all over the state who are doing long distance migration and see how they traveled to the fair.

The Raikas are traditionally camel breeders, though some types of Raika (mostly from the Godhwar region) also raise sheep and goats. The Naguar Fair was my first real contact with these people and a large factor in me later deciding to head down to Pali upon leaving Jaisalmer to learn more about them. More than any of the many nomadic castes in Rajasthan, the Raikas are still moving and traveling and dealing with a lot of the issues central to my project. With the Raika (as with all ghummakar in Rajasthan) mobility is intimately tied up with issues of natural resources -- distribution of land, water and food. And their lives have been impacted greatly by the changing social and physical landscape of the region.

Raikas don't build anything at all. Some use carts and some caravans, but mostly, the Raika I have met just walk and walk and walk and walk. Smaller dangs (nomadic camps) bring almost nothing with them, but rely on communities to provide them with food and fodder in return for fertilizing their fields where they stop. They carry just a few blankets or shawls, a pot for collecting camel's milk and making tea, and a small sack of sugar, tea and maybe some flour. They leave behind nothing but three stones and some ashes. Everything gets tied onto the camel and off they go.