The Sasan Gir sanctuary in the state of Gujarat is home to the endangered Asiatic Gir Lion. However, the forests of Gir and the adjoining wooded hills of Barda have also been a sanctuary for the Maldhari tribe that has inhabited the region for almost a millennium. Unfortunately, the tribe is on the verge of extinction as the government since the past three decades have been desperate to clear the national reserve and the Banni grasslands sanctuary of human population.
The numbers of Maldharis who had peacefully coexisted with the fauna in and around the Gir forests are fast dwindling. Following the declaration of the forested area as a protected reserve, the Maldharis were looked upon as an impediment to the preservation of the ecological diversity and balance. However, many anthropologists, and sociologists have come forward to help the government and NGOs in their efforts to rehabilitate the members of this tribe.
Maldhari which literary means possessor or bearer of goods is an individual of the eponymous tribal community who originally migrated from different regions of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan to the forested area in Gir and Banni grasslands about 1,000 years back. They moved along with their most prized possession, their cattle and livestock including cows, buffaloes, goats, camels, and sheep. Even today, the tribesmen spent the better part of the year moving from one pastureland to another while their cattle graze on the grasslands.
At present, about 8,400 Maldharis stay inside the national reserve and many of them belong to sub-groups of the tribe including Me, Mutwas, Junejas, Jat, Hingorja, Hingora, and Halaypotra. They live in hamlets which are called ness. The Maldharis always have and continue to live a very primitive lifestyle without any access to even basic healthcare, primary education, electricity, and running water. They earn their livelihood by milking the cattle and selling milk as well as milk products in the nearby markets.
Ideal Visiting Time
You’ll certainly come across some of their huts and nesses when you visit the Gir forest or the Banni grasslands at any time of the year. However, if you can plan a tour during the monsoons, you might be lucky enough to view a Maldhari wedding event. Weddings are mostly reserved during the rainy season when the Maldharis take a break from their peripatetic occupations.