The Van Gujjar Migration


                                                   story, images and video by Michael Benanav



The people of northern India's Van Gujjar tribe are nomadic water buffalo herders whose lives revolve around caring and finding food for their animals. Winters are spent in the lowland wilderness of the Shivalik Hills, where the thick jungle foliage provides plenty of fodder - and plenty of isolation from the rest of the world. By April, however, temperatures soar above 110 degrees; leaves and grasses wither and die; creeks run dry.

With nothing left for their buffaloes to eat or drink, the Van Gujjars must move. Entire families, from infants to the elderly, trek with their herds up into the Himalayas, where melting snows reveal lush alpine meadows laced by gurgling streams. When the cold sets in at the end of September, they head back down to the Shivaliks, where the jungle has sprung back to life following the monsoon rains. True nomads, they've followed this cycle of seasonal migration - shunning settled village life - for over a thousand years. But things are changing...

This multimedia feature documents the Van Gujjars' annual spring migration, following one family on their journey into the Himalayas. Their story vividly illustrates the Van Gujjars' nomadic way of life -- both its age-old essence as well as the modern challenges that threaten it -- offering a very personal glimpse into their rarely-seen forest world.

Click here to enter the forest and migrate to the mountains with the Van Gujjars!


The stars on the map mark the migration route. Zoom in for a better look! There are more maps throughout the story.


The Van Gujjar Migration project is brought to you by Traditional Cultures Project, a nonprofit organization. Please visit our main website to see what else we are up to - and if you like what you see here, please help support our work!