Bishnoi Village Safari Tour

 We booked a very last minute tour last night to go and see a few of the villages outside of Jodhpur. It was supposed to be a morning spent relaxing but we had been told that the village tour was a must do by a our taxi man in Udaipur and after looking it up in trip advisor the reviews were pretty glowing. 
Pickup was at the clock tower and when we arrived we were met by Shambhu who was dressed in an immaculate cream safari suit standing in front of a white Mahindra jeep. A pretty good start. Driving out into the country side we took to him very quickly and within 15 minutes we were learning lots of interesting facts about everyday life in India.
The countryside was what was to be expected in Rajasthan. Dry with not that many trees. We did stop and see a few trees called the Khejarli tree whose berries we actually had in our curry last night. We were told of a story about the local Bishnoi people whose village we were heading to. They are a religious sect who believe trees and wildlife should be protected. The story told was of a community of Bishnois who found out the king has sent soldiers into their area to cut down green trees for his palace. Upon finding out about it the villagers came to oppose the soldiers and the soldiers not wanting to disappoint the king continued to fell the trees along with over 360 Bishnois. 
The village we stopped at was very primitive with most houses made from mud, cow dung and straw. Each family had their own area with two or more huts depending on how many family members were living there. The family we visited had 3 buildings. One for the mother who was a widow, one for her oldest son and his family and another for her second son and his family. We were invited into the mother’s hut and it was very primitive with a built in fire pit, cooking utensils and a bed for her which didn’t have any sheets and it looked like it hadn’t been used in awhile. We assumed she probably slept outside. The mud and dung was a great insulator with the hut several degrees cooler than outside. The floor inside and out the hut was hard packed mud and dung which when dried pretty much was exactly like concrete. The family was very accommodating to us which was lovely considering we were intruding into their home and were offered home cooked snacks. We asked Shambhu about it and we found out that his family predominantly run the tours as a community project. They don’t just go to one family but rotate throughout the families in the village and surrounding villages as well so everyone gets some money.
We then drove around in the scrub for awhile looking for Black Butt deer. We had spotted females within minutes but it took a little while to spot the male who had the distinctive curled horns. We were having a great time especially since the conversation had turned to the differences in our marriage customs. Shambhu was very forthcoming and honest with us in a lighthearted way so we didn’t feel uncomfortable asking the personal questions. We find the concept of arranged marriages in this day and age fascinating so were eager to get a young Indian’s point of view. Shambhu had never seen his wife before his wedding day and was quite candid in telling us that when he lifted the veil he was quite disappointed in his parents choice. He knew her name and knew from about the age of 11 who his parents had in mind but you cannot marry until the man is 21 and the woman 18.
Tim asked if it was possible to tell your parents who you wanted to marry but he just shook his head and said no. You got what you were given pretty much! I think his exposure to western culture and women from his time with his family running the tours has greatly influenced him. He really didn’t seem overly impressed with married life but seemed resigned to his fate. Again we were asked how long we were married for and how many children we had. His surprised expression when we said none was quite funny and proudly said his first child was born 11 months after being married. 
By this stage we had reached our next stop which was a family of block printers. We were shown the process and several designs and their patterns were a lot more intricate than the ones we saw in Vadadora. I am still not convinced that all were block prints as they seemed too precise but nonetheless the quality of the basic block prints were lovely.
Just down the road we stopped off at a potter family. Mostly they make the clay water jugs for the locals to transport and store water but they also did all kinds of other pottery. We were shown the process and the most amazing part is that the wheel was manual. He turned it by inserting a stick into the hole in the top and spun it faster and faster. He was so quick in his work and with about 2 mins had made a cup, little shallow bowl and jug. I even got to have a go and it is much harder than it looks. Tim has been fascinated with the ladies carrying the water pots on their head so purchased one and we all had a go walking around the courtyard. The ladies were all laughing at us from the hut and then two came out and showed us how it was done. One even said she could dance with it on her head and proceeded to put us to shame with her balancing skills. Some of the ladies balance 3 full pots on top of each other.
We then got back in the jeep and drove to Shambu’s family village and home. On the way we had a great conversation about the ladies dress and the subtle differences in their style and jewelry which allows you to establish with sub-caste they are from. 
In the family home we were introduced to his parents who were sitting down at a hand loom. The family come from the weavers caste and had formed a co-op with 46 other weaving families to sell their hand made dhurries or carpets. We sat down and watched them work for a good 15 minutes fascinated by the process involved. The size of carpets they made needed two people to work the loom. 
We then sat down and got to see some of the work the co-op had produced while drinking some of the best chai (tea) we have had in India. These were cotton on cotton carpets and the designs were beautiful. We have seen finer carpets from Kashmir made from wool and silk but these were still fantastic and the colours and traditional Rajasthani design beautiful. We have been wanting to buy a carpet to have a souvenir of India and was holding out for a Kashmir one but the experience we were having with the family sat in their home and seeing the carpets made on the loom made us change our minds. We also learnt that 85% goes to the weaver who actually made it, 10% to the co-op to fund projects such as hiring ambulances to pick up women in labor and transporting them to hospital. The other 5% went to the family as commission. We loved the designs and dhurries so much we bought two. It was also lovely doing a deal without the usual haggling and pushyness of market salespeople. The price we paid was more than reasonable for a carpet that takes 2 people 12 days of 8 hour weaving to complete. 
During all of this we were being cooked a delicious meal by one of the boy’s wives which we sat down to while the mother and father tied off the ends of our carpet.


After packing up our dhurries and reluctantly saying goodbye to the family we drove the 20kms back to town. When I look back on the day I feel almost privileged to have experienced the day we had. Yes it was a paid tour and obviously they make money from it but we still felt that the experience was genuine. I can honestly say that it was not only a highlight of India but of our whole entire trip. The people of India have wriggled their way under our skin and into our hearts. What. An. Amazing . Day!S

The Bishnoi mother milking her goats.

The inside of her hut and her inbuilt cooking stove.

The individual huts. Needless to say we didn’t get in and out as effortlessly as she did.

The goats pen.

Me talking to Shambu and one of the sons. His hut was behind him and you can see his brothers family hut behind me. Also notice how smooth the floor made from mud and dung is.

The male Black Butt.

The block printer explaining the process. In this pattern the yellow is stamped first, then red over the top. After that has dried they stamp a clay and gum mixture to stick to the pattern so when they dip the whole sheet in the blue dye the clay protects the red and yellow. The material is then washed and the clay comes off leaving the pattern.

Our pottery man spinning his wheel.

I needed quite a lot of assistance. Apparently I wasn’t patient and slow enough…. who knew!?

The water pots. Tim also calls them cobera pots. He has been very disappointed to have not seen one being charmed yet.

Tim’s attempt.

Our all dancing, balancing instructor.

Shambu and I in the jeep.

Shambu’s mother and father making one of the dhurries.

Cutting the extra threads. These carpets are made in such a way that there is no difference between the top and bottom sides.

Shambu’s Dad had the best moustache ever. He started the tours years ago and you can see why they have been such a success due to his and his sons charisma.

The traditional huts they rent out as a home stay. We were disappointed we didn’t know about them sooner as we would have loved to live in the village for a night or two.

The living room of their family hut.

Shambu’s sister-in-law cooking us lunch. We heard the mans side of the story of marriages etc from Shambu but it must be really tough on the wives as they usually have to move to another village and into their husbands family house where she knows no-one.

Some of the dhurries we were shown.

Me probably asking another question while our dhurries where being knotted. Look how beautiful they are! 

More handicrafts. We stopped off at a co-op on the way home. These are all patched up from reclycled clothing. Women in the village are given the material and they make up the patches which are then attached to backing in the factory.

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