It’s a guided migration. Of bovines tended by humans. Every year, the milkmen of Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur district steer large numbers of domesticated water buffaloes across the River Devi. This happens during the hot summer months when seeking fresh grazing pastures on the other side. And then they swim back. It isn’t quite the migration of Serengetti National Park. But an extraordinary sight nevertheless.
I witnessed this exodus one day near the Naharana gram panchayat. The village is located on the banks of the Devi. The river flows through the Jagatsinghpur and Puri districts of coastal Odisha, and is a principal distributary of the Mahanadi.
Many fishing communities live in the villages surrounding the Naharana gram panchayat. The Devi Nadi (river) is their main source of livelihood. This coastal area is also home to a large community of milkmen. Many other households own cattle, and that gives the families an additional income.
The Odisha State Cooperative Milk Producers Federation is well-established here. The milkmen and others who own cows and buffaloes don’t have to worry about finding a market for their produce – the federation procures it from them.
The estuary is barely 10 kilometres from Naharana, and because the mouth of the river is wide, numerous deltas have formed in the villages. Locals who have, over time, lost their farmlands to the river, use the deltas for sparse agricultural activities and temporary habitation. These deltas are also the greenest grazing pastures in the area.
In Patarapada village in the adjoining Bramundali gram panchayat, a milkman’s family sells the milk of the 150 water buffaloes they own. For such families, traditionally not landowners, it is not easy to maintain a cattle-shed and find grasslands for so many buffaloes. The banks and deltas of Devi Nadi come to their rescue. The buffalo-owners pay a hefty Rs. 2 lakh every year to the owners of the delta grasslands for allowing their buffaloes to graze. During the night, the buffaloes rest on the river banks under the casuarina trees. During the day, they swim over to the delta to graze. This continues until the deltas form freshwater bodies in the monsoon, which the buffaloes can use to quench their thirst.
The accompanying images depict the one-way journey of the buffaloes in their daily pursuit of greener pasturelands.
Dillip Mohanty works for a sports broadcast network but harbours varied interests, ranging from rural India to photography.