On the outer fringes of the Thar Desert in Rajasthan, some forty kilometres South of the rocky red and blue city of Jodhpur live one of the world’s oldest ecological tribes, the Bishnois. Founded in the 15th century by a conscientious leader, Jambo Ji, they are a small minority community living directly off nature.
The first time when I met the Bishnoï community, nearly two decades ago, during my various tours to Rajasthan, it was a pleasant encounter of a smiling lot who lived in robust mud houses with thatched roofs with almost no or little furniture, one roped cot, also called Charpai, per adult, that is placed either outside in the open or occasionally inside the hut according to the season, 2 huts per compound and a cowshed with several healthy bovines that are very well taken care of usually just outside the intimate compound while the goats roam freely with the humans!
Nearly two decades later, when I visited them recently (some intermittent visits notwithstanding), I noted with muffled awe that almost nothing had changed since; no electricity, not taps with running water, no concrete structures, same ancient rainwater harvesting and unlimited smiles. It is difficult to imagine such an existence in the 21st century whilst I myself sat in their midst with multiple mobile devices logged on to multiple “social media” platforms feeling like an utter idiot! Very soon I would start to panic trying to look for options to charge these devices!
The term Bishnoi has been coined from Bis + Noi meaning 20 + 9 or 29; there are twenty nine rules laid down by their founder, Jamba Ji, 6 centuries ago. These were simple rules of life based on loving life, living organisms, loving nature, the earth, whatever the earth produced and respect for fellow humans. Following such rules, evidently the Bishnois never turned out to be soldiers or avid meat eaters. They are loving vegetarians. They live by meticulously tilling their land and by doing rotational cultivation of cereals like millet, pulses, several vegetables and exotic fruit produce from the thorny busy vegetation of the desert, deriving milk products from their cows and goats and having a good night’s rested sleep.
There were interesting stories to hear from these folks of how when the King of Jodhpur ordered the cutting down of trees for his furniture, they hugged the trees and protected their land and space and everything within to prevent such a violent act being committed to the flora of the region. And we are talking about something that happened nearly 300 years ago! Later when India became a Republic, they were honoured and congratulated by the President of the country for such a courageous act.
Once in a while you do come across a solitary tractor being hired occasionally to plough the fields. That is the height of technology! Mobile phones are still centuries away. Children have somehow started going to school. Though schooling is not really top priority. Nonetheless, they are not any worse off!
Thanks to my multiple mobile devices, I managed to download a photograph of the lady of the family that I had shot and uploaded a decade ago; she was thrilled to see the photo and showed it around to all in her family. That generated a lot of excitement. But what was amazing is that in 10 years, the lady showed no signs of ageing.
When you are touring in Rajasthan or touring in India, visiting minority tribes (like the Bishnois in Rajasthan) and learning about their ways, their food habits, their beliefs and their practices can be a very fulfilling experience. Your touring in India can become very special as this really takes you out of the beaten track to visit something “real”. Knowing such experiences myself, we at Maavalan have designed itineraries that specifically let you discover these little known secrets of this vast and amazing country that is Incredible India!
Text and Photographs: Krishnendu KES
The Author has extensively travelled in Rajasthan for over two decades. To know more about Rajasthan and travelling to Rajasthan, you can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.