It happens

Star Buffaloes

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These race animals have swimming pools and air-conditioned enclosures

Kambla is the term for buffalo races held in the coastal Karnataka region. It is a competitive sport but one man is taking it to a different level. In his pursuit to clip half a second from the existing 140-metre record, Vinu Vishwanath Shetty has built a swimming pool for his buffaloes to train.

Shetty, a hotelier in the Gulf and coastal India, started owning race buffaloes in 1999, when his herd won 13 of the 15 medals on offer. “I even bought land to house and train them. It’s a passion and we have been winning every year,’’ he says.

Shetty’s buffaloes have consistently been running the 140-metre course in paddy fields in 12.5 seconds. By exercising them in water and rearing them on special supplements, he wants them to finish in 12 seconds. He owns seven pairs that participate in these races held between December and April. They train and eat at Padebettu village, 45 km from Mangalore. Normally, buffaloes love to wallow in slush and water bodies, but for Shetty’s buffaloes, there is an exclusive large square pool.

They are fierce and handled from a distance with a long nylon rope tied to their flaring nostrils. There is also an air-conditioned enclosure to keep them cool during summers.

Race buffaloes cost anywhere between Rs 5 and 15 lakh each, depending on their age, girth, fitness and size of their horn. They are temperamental beasts. “They have to be kept at a distance from each other. If they come into eye contact with other buffaloes, they can gore or injure themselves,’’ says Ashok, Shetty’s relative and one of 40 assistants who look after the buffaloes.

The races are very popular in the region. Farmers come in droves to watch and bet. Normally, a pair of buffaloes are tied together with a wooden beam to run the course. Sometimes, two pairs are raced together, upping the excitement. At Shetty’s farm, Pandu, a buffalo with bloodshot eyes, is a prized possession. “He has never let us down. Our boss whispers in his ears and Pandu delivers. The cash prizes and gold that they win are donated to temples,’’ says Ashok.