The humidity of the monsoons had started to give way to a cool breeze in the northern part of India, which meant the season was right for an escape from our everyday routine. Choosing to take a break in rural Rajasthan, four friends and I friends left Delhi in search of a travel experience that would be different than the usual touristy stuff.
After studying some travel portals and traveller reviews, we decided on a Bishnoi Village Safari, which included an adventurous trip through the deserts surrounding Jodhpur and an intimate experience of the rural life of the Bishnois – an ancient clan from Rajasthan.
A Journey by Jeep
First, in the city of Jodhpur, we met our local tour guide, Deepak, who set out with us by jeep for the Bishnoi village. As we travelled across the golden sands of Jodhpur, he filled us in on the Bishnois and their rich cultural heritage. Deepak told us that one possible derivation of the word Bishnoi is Vishnu, which is the name of a Hindu god. Another more likely one is that bish means 20 and noi means 9, a reminder of the 29 precepts that the Bishnois follow. They are a true Aryan race well known for animal and plant conservation and an eco-friendly lifestyle.
They are also praised for their block-printing work and known as fantastic shepherds and cultivators who have eked out an existence across the Indian states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. While many Bishnois around India have made a mark in fields such as information technology and defence, within Rajasthan they are still primary attached to the land.
The Rural Terrain
Our village safari included visits to several Bishnoi villages in Rajasthan. The terrain was usually pretty rugged, but there were a few welcome patches of green. Although we chose to travel by jeep, I am sure that Deepak’s option of a journey by camel would have been a whole lot more adventurous! That is something I will consider for next time.
Deepak told us that Bishnois plant bajra during the monsoon season, while at other times they protect against soil erosion with the help of bushes, which also serve as fodder for their domesticated animals. Along the way, we could see hints of wildlife too, chinkaras being the highlight. We took such signs as proof of the Bishnois’ conservation skills. As we passed Guda Lake en route to one of the villages, we were even lucky to spot a group of cranes. I witnessed them marching in unison by the lake, which was a wonderful first for me.
A Remarkable Homestay
The highlight of the safari came when we arrived in a village for an overnight stay in a local home. The villages of the Bishnois are not too large. In fact, they are very small hamlets called dhannis. They have round huts with thatched roofs and are notable for their cleanliness, despite floors plastered with mud and, in special sections of the houses, cow dung to protect the grains stored there against vermin.
Learning about the Bishnois cultural beliefs was simply fascinating. During our interaction with local villagers, we learned that they adhere to 29 tenets laid down by their spiritual leader, Guru Jambheshwar. While some of the tenets are pretty simple, such as waking up early, having patience, being modesty, and not killing animals or felling trees etc., others were a bit unusual to us. For example, one tenet requires the Bishnois not to wear blue clothing. Considering that the old part of Jodhpur is full of blue houses, the restriction came across as a surprise.
Going with the Locals
Interacting with the local villagers was a lot of fun for all of us. We tried milking their cows, but without great success. We even tried our hands at pottery. The Bishnois are skilled at working with clay, but unfortunately the art is slowly dying since the newer generation is looking for more lucrative career opportunities. From my first-hand experience, though, I can tell you that playing with mud and giving it the desired shape as it continuously spins around is an addictive experience.
Our special Land of Kings tour was a cultural experience that will remain etched in my memory for long time to come. The next time I make a more extensive Bishnoi village safari, I will be sure to bring something to leave behind as a gift for the villagers. Deepak suggests a simple white dhoti and kurta, as most Bishnois wear them most of the time, since they’re comfortable in hot weather. You could also bring along intricately crafted utensils or something else that they could use in their daily life.
I would recommend this trip to anyone looking to experience something more of Rajasthan than the city-based royal palaces and ancient havelis. An ideal length of time for a Bishnois village safari would be five or six days, which is how long I am going to stay the next time I go. This would really allow time for taking things in, including the rugged lands surrounding the villages that are ideal for easy hiking, with wildlife to see along the way.