Mary Ann Issac
Bishnoi Village Tour- All you need to know!
Updated: Aug 27, 2020
Bishnoi village is 22 km from Jodhpur, and there are several tour operators that organise day trips to experience the village, meet local families, and spend time interacting with them, to learn more about their culture.
The Bishnoi faith is an offshoot of hinduism, and founded on 29 main principles, most of which promote environmental conservation. Blackbucks, chinkara (Indian gazelle), vultures, peacocks, the great Indian Bustard, and others, find a safe haven in Bishnoi, and are even allowed to graze freely in their farmlands. They keep vessels filled with water around the neighbourhood and hang pots from trees filled with water for the animals and birds. Some Bishnoi temples like the one in Jajiwal are rescue shelters for injured animals. The priest here cares for and has nursed back to health many animals like the blackbuck, nilgai, and chinkara. It is common to see these animals roam the villages of the area unafraid of human sightings. Bishnoi women have even breastfed rescued calves until they are big enough to fend for themselves in the wild.
In 1730, when the Maharaja of Jodhpur wanted to build a new palace, he sent his troops to the village of Khejarli to gather the wood required for construction. A Bishnoi woman, Amrita Devi, literally hugged a tree, and encouraged others to do the same, proclaiming that a chopped head is cheaper than a felled tree. She couldn’t bear the destruction of her faith and the village’s sacred trees. 363 people were killed whilst trying to protect the scared trees of the forest. When word of the atrocity got back to the king, he rushed to the village to apologise, and declared Bishnoi as a protected area, forbidding harm to animals and trees. The legislation still exists in Bishnoi.
It is in this area that a popular Indian actor shot & killed a blackbuck and rose to notoriety.
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What to know before you book a tour to Bishnoi Village
- Research well, and choose a tour operator that has good ratings.
- If traveling solo, enquire with the tour operator whether there are other travellers who have booked with them for the trip. The journey is through fairly deserted parts of the outskirts of Jodhpur. I was on my own, and my driver was alright, but it is possible for this to be a scary experience for a solo female traveller.
-The tour begins and ends at your hotel.
The tour begins at the house of a Bishnoi family. The family I met was very friendly & made me feel at home. He was a farmer, and showed me his plot of land where he cultivates rice, a part of which he keeps for his family’s needs, and majority of which he sells. They have a cow and a bull, and they are kept on the premises of the house. It was very humbling visiting a family that seemed to have so little, but appeared content in their lifestyle.
His daughter and granddaughter lives with him, as his son-in-law works in the city.
She put on a wedding lehenga ( an Indian outfit that has a blouse, skirt, and shawl) on me, and I was surprised to see how different I looked! In that outfit, I looked like one of them! It is intriguing that, that’s all it takes to look like someone you thought you had nothing in common with.
I participated in the Amal Sabha, a celebration of friendship and brotherhood, the highlight of which is the brewing of opium! The Bishnois consume opium regularly, and it is an important part of their religious rituals. He chants a few prayers in honour of Lord Shiva while brewing it, and in the end, every drop of the brew had to be consumed.
Traditionally, the participants drink the opiate from the palm of the eldest member of the group, and women are not allowed to be part of the ceremony. They make a few exceptions in the effort to appease all visitors, as I was allowed to partake in the ceremony, and I was given the opiate in my palm to drink.
The opium nugget is a mix of opium & molasses, and once brewed tastes slightly bitter. According to him, opium in small doses is not harmful, but strengthens the body. Apparently, they give opium in small doses to women before they go into labour!
I tried a few drops of it as part of the ceremony, but I didn’t feel any different. He did offer me more, but to be honest, I was rather scared to try more than the few drops that I was initially offered. (especially considering I was all alone in the middle of nowhere!)
Though opium is banned in India, it is grown in the hinterlands of Rajasthan for it makes an important part of sacred rituals.
The tour operators don’t pay them for taking their customers to visit their homes, instead, they help with basic medical care.
They do expect a tip from the tourists who visit them.
The drive through the forest on the fringes of the village there are deer and black bucks running free and unafraid of human sightings, thanks to the Bishnois lifestyle & activism.
The tour continues to the workshop of a dhurrie maker, where hundreds of colourful dhurries were on display. A dhurrie is a handwoven rug which can be used on either side. The weavers are happy to demonstrate the process for visitors, and readily answer any questions. The dhurries are reasonably priced, and can be shipped worldwide.
Next, they stop at a potter’s home, where the visitor is encouraged to partake in a quick lesson in pottery.
The tour continues into the home of a block printer, where the family demonstrates the technique of block printing and dyeing the material.
We visit yet another shop, before finally stopping for a traditional lunch at a local home.
The best part of the tour is obviously the visit to the Bishnoi family. The rest of the tour is worthwhile for those who want to shop.
Can you go on your own to Bishnoi Village?
Yes! If you have your own transportation, then a trip to Bishnoi is fairly easy, but getting in touch with local families might be a little difficult. There are two ways you could tackle that.
- Book yourself into a hotel in Bishnoi, and the staff will take you to meet with local families.
-Go to the weavers' or one of the larger shops, and tip one of the employees (heavily) & convince them to take you to one of the homes.
I hope you found this article helpful. Do leave me a comment below if you have any questions!