by Ben Davidson
Kariska Village visit
The ride up to Kariska village took us through some more varied habitat than we had seen in our previous visits to the Sariska Tiger Reserve. After passing through a small oasis of palm trees we headed up a steep rocky track. The road had a steep drop off and had been formed with large uneven rocks, it was a very bumpy ride. The track then opened up to an open arid landscape and took us past the odd herd of buffalo and zebu cattle with herdsman attached.
We could see small villages scattered across the wide valley. These villages were surrounded by dry rock walls, the houses were made of dirt with roofs constructed of wooden branches/poles. Kariska village consisted of between 10 and 20 small houses dotted with outdoor pens for cattle, stacks of hay and utility buildings, a large stone wall surrounded the village.
My first impressions were how simply these people lived with everything built from local materials (within 1-2 km), no electricity or running water. The houses were very small by Western standards with minimal furnishings or worldly possessions. These people would be considered very environmentally friendly in my home country. It was a reasonably hot day and the doorless and windowless homes were surprisingly cool with their foot thick walls.
I talked to a very fit 80 year old who still walked 9-10 km a day. He said he had lived a good life and had left 30 grandchildren with possibly more to come. There was a noticeable segregation of men and women, with women doing the cooking, singing and dancing while the men smoked cigarettes and at one stage had a stone lifting competition. There was a steady line of young women carrying large piles of dried grass on their heads from the fields to the village.
With no schooling available there was a large group of children around, from toddlers to teenagers. Many of the girls had very short haircuts and could have been mistaken for boys, this may have been intentional by the parents who only talked about their children in terms of how many boys they had. This was in a village where some of the older women didn’t know how old they were, time didn’t seem to be important here.
These villagers have been asked to leave their homeland of over 200 years to reduce the impact that they and their cattle and buffalo are having on the National Park. Their exit would also reduce the amount of human-wildlife conflict.
Before I visited this village I would have considered it necessary for these people to leave, but after this short visit, I wonder if there is another way? I think the cattle and buffalo need to go in order to protect the wildlife habitat. This would mean the villagers would require another source of income, could they be trained as local rangers and guides? Or could income come from hosting tourists like me wanting to experience an hour of two of a village such this? Instead of collecting firewood, alternative fuel stoves could be used. Maybe without the cows, the villagers wouldn’t want to stay anyway?
Driving away we passed through the remnants of the neighbouring village, all that remained were the crumbling stone walls and piles of rocks. The inhabitants long gone for a ‘better life’, and maybe they had!