By SHAINA SHEALY
It’s nighttime in a forest in the western Indian state of Gujarat. By the light of his cell phone, camel herder Jat Saleh Amir, 18, pumps milk from the teats of groaning camels. The milk smells strong, like gamey butter.
Later, I join his family around a fire by grass reed huts. Everyone watches as I take my first sip of frothy camel milk from a steel bowl. I gag a little and smile apologetically – the milk is fatty, sour and salty. It’s nothing like any milk I’ve had before. “Tell them I like it!” I elbow my local interpreter Liyakat Ali Notiyar. When nobody is looking, I slide Notiyar the warm bowl. Having grown up on camel milk, he slurps it clean in an instant.
Few Indians outside this district of Kutch and its community of camel herders drink camel milk. But that’s about to change as one of India’s largest dairy brands is set to mass market it. The milk will be sourced from this community of nomadic camel herders called Maldharis who roam the district of Kutch.
Maldharis have herded camels and consumed the animal’s milk for centuries. They drink camel milk tea and serve it plain with breakfast, lunch and dinner. And they consider the milk a cure-all – they tell stories about camel milk curing everything from acid reflux to fever and pregnancy ailments. They also believe it can help manage diabetes. Elisha Harissa, 45, who has diabetes and lives in a nearby village regularly drinks camel milk. He claims it regulates his blood sugar. A few studies suggest there may be some scientific merit to these claims – camel milk seems to help regulate insulin secretion and blood sugar levels in patients with Type1 diabetes – suggesting it could potentially be used alongside other medical treatments to manage diabetes. However, scientists are still investigating the therapeutic potential of camel milk.