Scenes of an alternative universe

Exploring the unique culture of the lambada settlement around Gandhari

By Author   |   Saurabh Chatterjee   |   Published: 29th Oct 2017   12:02 am Updated: 29th Oct 2017   12:21 am
Lambadas
A woman stands at the doorway of her house. Photos: Saurabh Chatterjee

I have always been fascinated by the lifestyles of different people, especially in India. Though we are a part of the same country, each State and each region has a different culture and lifestyle. During my research, I stumbled upon the settlements called ‘tandas’ around Gandhari.

Kayitha Lambadas also known as Mathura Lambadas are a unique tribal group living in small settlements or ‘tandas’. Numbering a few thousand, they are scattered in Gandhari, Lingampet, and surrounding areas. It is said their origins trace back to Mathura and they are descendants of Lord Krishna’s family.

Unfortunately, from a socio-economic standpoint, their condition is very poor. The residents of the tanda are mostly farmers and cattle grazers.

Their literacy rate is about 15 per cent. The dismal figure is due to the children not being allowed in the local tribal schools for many years as they were not classified as tribals. Fortunately, in 2014, the government decided to classify them as Scheduled Tribes.


First look


Lambadas
An old woman wearing the tribes characteristic headgear.

My first trip to these villages was about four years ago. Ever since, I have visited these enchanting villages several times over the past few years.

So one early morning, we took the NH44 till Kamareddy and then a detour towards Gandhari. Google maps are not very helpful here as these settlements don’t show up easily. So it’s best to ask the locals along the way to avoid getting lost. Following directions of those working nearby, we found ourselves on a narrow unmetalled road and continued for a few kilometers.
As the road started to get worse, we wondered if we were on the right route. Fortunately, we found one person who told us to take a left and we reached the village after driving for another kilometer.

The settlement near Gandhari is a small one with about 25 houses. Most of the older houses were made of stones binded by mortar and the doors painted with vibrant colours.

As you approach, you get this feeling of entering a different world. We were quite apprehensive as to how they would respond, but the people were very warm and welcoming. They were also inquisitive and asked us what we were doing there. They assumed we were from some government organisation. But we told them we were travel photographers looking to capture the beauty of the place.

Everything from their language to attire is different. The most striking part of their costume was their head-gear. They use a wood covered with a cloth on their head. It’s very strange how this custom started. Most of the older women have become bald because of wearing it. Heavy on jewellery, their attire is a simple choli and ghagra.
Multiple heavy metal earrings like coins hung down the ears of these women. Some of these earrings were so heavy that persistent wear over the years has enlarged the size of the tiny earhole.

The women also wore beautiful silver bracelets on their upper arms. Another striking feature was the vibrant multiple strand bead necklace they wore and the heavy metal anklets. These are never taken off unless they become a widow.

The villagers were very friendly and the excited children took us around the village. Their hospitality didn’t end there and they insisted we stay for lunch. Soon, it was time to head home.
Every time I go back to the village, I carry prints of the pictures as a token of gratitude.

Lambadas
Tribal woman preparing food for her family on traditional clay chulha.

How to reach


The settlements are 30 kms from Kamareddy and 150 kms from Hyderabad. It’s best to drive there or take a taxi. If you are in the mood for some adventure, a bike ride is a good option.


Tips


There are hardly any places to eat or drink en route, so please bring your own food.
Late mornings and evenings are the best times to visit these settlements. The place gets very hot during summers, so plan a trip after September and before March.