Nagara buffalo, lush light

Some kinds of light are just made for photography. The time before and just after sunset often gets called ‘the magic hour’ because of the lovely warm angled light and rich colours that you often get when the sun is low. Or the dramatic, clear and intense colours created by the light as a big storm approaches and hits, with big black storm clouds and the air almost visibly crackling with electricity. Then there is the light reflected off water, illuminating some already attractive landscape, making every detail almost too crisp to believe it’s real.

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And if you’re very lucky indeed, you might get it all at once. When we drove over to South Kalimantan at New Year, we went by boat late one afternoon through the village of Nagara, west of Kandangan and about three hours north of the provincial capital of Banjarmasin. Our goal was to see the swimming buffalo, but to get there we had to travel through Nagara and Pihanin Raya villages, and the flooded plains to the west.

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They don’t often get visitors, and as we travelled up the river there was a near-continuous rush of children (and some adults) to the riverside, wanting to check us out, and greet us with waves, big smiles and shouts of “Hello Mister” and “Selamat sore!” (Good afternoon!)

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The storm looked to be passing us by, to both the north and south sides of our river. But once we got past the last village, and out into the huge area flooded with the wet season rains, it became pretty obvious that the storm would soon hit us too. Boat after boat raced past us, speeding in the opposite direction to get back to their villages.

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By now the storm clouds were ominous and the rain was imminent. We transferred from our boat which had a roof of sorts, to a little klotok (motorised canoe) which had none, because the area where the buffalo go is too shallow for the bigger vessel. Just enough room for four people, two cameras and two umbrellas!

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After a short journey we met up with a herd of 30-40 buffalo, just as the rain started to let down. It was a challenge to hunch down under the brolly and try to take photos at the same time! We got soaked, but somehow managed to keep cameras mostly dry.

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The buffalo spend the wet season housed on little wooden platforms in the river. They have a ramp to get them in and out of the river, and every day they are herded out across the water to areas where they can feed on the luxuriant water plants. They walk and/or swim across the water, apparently quite happy with their aquatic lifestyle.

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We got back to our ‘covered’ boat, which was sort-of protected from the worst of the rain, and made our way back to Nagara village and our waiting, cozy dry car. It was a very different looking landscape (with no other boats, no waving children) on the return journey.

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