At the Tail of the Buffalo is the story of the Van (forest) Gujjars, a nomadic people of buffalo herders living in the central parts of the Indian Himalayas. The Van Gujjars migrate with their herds between their winter camps in the Shiwalik foothills and their summer pastures high up in the mountains at altitudes up to 3-3,500 meters. The world of the Van Gujjars is a world of forest. They own no land and have no villages and are completely dependent on the resources of the forest for their survival. In winter they have their camps along the monsoon rivers in the sal forest of the foothills where they feed their animals on leaves lopped from the trees. In summer they stay in the spruce and fir forest at the tree limit and pasture their animals in the alpine meadows above. They live from producing buffalo-milk which is marketed in the towns outside the forest.
In the autumn of 1992 when the Van Gujjars returned to their homes in the Shiwalik foothills from the high ranges, they were stopped on the way and told that they were not allowed to re-enter the forest. The forest was being turned into a national park, a sanctuary for wildlife from which people were banned. This was the start of a conflict over nature conservation and a Van Gujjar movement for the right to continue living in the forest. The author migrated down with the Van Gujjars in 1992 and she describes the conflict over conservation and how different agents all claim to ‘speak the voice of nature’.
The study is based on fieldwork. Pernille Gooch has shared the life of the Van Gujjars in their summer and winter camps and she has walked with them along their tracks in the Himalayas. She provides a detailed and compassionate description of the Van Gujjar life-world in the forest.