Untravel Coastal Special: Kambala Buffalo Races in Tulu Nadu

Part 2 of 3: Almost 150 pairs of specially bred buffaloes are pegged against each other during this four month Kambala buffalo races season, where numerous teams from entire Tulu Nadu (coastal Karnataka) travel through villages for hefty prizes.


India is one of the few countries that can boast of palm shaded pristine beaches, the warm glow of mesmerizing sunsets & sunrises and temptingly lethargic destinations along more than 7500km of its coastline.

Amongst these, the Karnataka’s virgin beaches have been discovered only by the intrepid. For those who are eager to be soaked in the warm clammy fish smelling air weighing down upon the coast and add it to the adventure that it promises, a trip through Mangalore to Murudeshwar is just what you need. These series of articles reveal some secret hideouts to stay, ideas to nudge that adrenalin, explore the best temple hopping route and even help you witness the trilling buffalo races in the region.

The crisp sound of the whip tears into the tense silence weighing down on the tracks and suddenly the sidelines erupt into deafening cheering. All you can see through a slushy wake is a pair of shiny buffaloes followed by a muscular farmer steering them. The event, is the annual Kambala Buffalo Races on the fringes of the Karantaka coast and if you find yourself in this region between early November and March, you can promise yourself witnessing this thousand years old traditional sport.

Almost 150 pairs of specially bred buffaloes are pegged against each other this four month long festive period, where numerous teams from entire Tulu Nadu (coastal Karnataka) travel through villages for hefty prizes. The all year round training of the buffaloes ends in astounding results like it taking a trio ( two buffaloes and a farmer running behind them with a hull) only as much as 11 seconds down a 160 metres slushy track. Such is the level of physical agility and competitive spirit. No doubt that loosing teams often lash out at the animals, irking animal right activists and lovers in general, but its difficult to influence this old tradition by any modern contextualisation of the practice for the villagers. The norms for hitting the animals have been relaxed over the years.

Setting this issue aside, this practice is packed with history. The races symbolize gratitude to the Gods for a good harvest. Since the buffaloes are of utmost importance to plough the fields, the races included them as well. Even though agricultural practices have evolved over time, the buffaloes still remain an integral part of the fields as livestock and thus, being the heroes of these races. Participants spend as much as two to three lakhs per annum on rearing these buffaloes and training them for the races. Prizes include gold and cash and the winning team can rake up a fair amount through the season. For travellers, this is one of the most authentic festivals on the coast, still untouched by lucrative sponsorships which rob the vibe of the festival.

A Kambala track is a basic dual path of about 160 meters, ploughed into a field and plastered with mud. Water is poured into this a day before the race, increasing the difficulty level of running it exponentially. A small ceremony and a parade into these tracks of all the teams, kickstarts the two day long races. Different levels and kinds of races are held over the day and night, leading upto a grand finale the next morning. Delirious crowds flank the tracks as buffaloes whiz past them through the day. The end of the track elevates into a ramp to break the speed, where assistants of the team douse the buffaloes and the runner with water, just as they arrive; this is to cool off immediately.

The last morning is when the festival reaches a crescendo during the finals. If you are attending this make sure you see the beginning, the night festivities when the area turns into a village fair and the final races.

Planning a trip: The races are held under the banner of the Kambala Samithi (Association). The calendar is circulated at the beginning of the season through local newspapers; local knowledge is the best way to get your way around here. It is best to arrive in the region in end of January by staying in touch with a hotel where you are planning to stay, who can help you with the exact date and venue. Some of the more authentic races are held in villages like Eedu and Moodabidri. Larger cities like Mangalore may seem to slightly commercial and large scale.

Season: The races are typically held on weekends from November through February.

How to get there: Mangalore is well connected by air, rail and bus services. Coastal towns of Mangalore and Udipi are the two hubs which have sufficient stay options to make base to reach the villages. These are both connected by overnight buses and trains from Bangalore and other South Indian cities.

What else to look out for: Bhuta Kola, a traditional dance happens at the same time as the races.


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Even though Bangalore based travel writer, Supriya has always loved travelling mapless and ungoogled, she tweaked her vagabondish ways to pen guidebooks for Lonely Planet. She is currently authoring her sixth one more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Even though Bangalore based travel writer, Supriya has always loved travelling mapless and ungoogled, she tweaked her vagabondish ways to pen guidebooks for Lonely Planet. She is currently authoring her sixth one more

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