Monday, June 30, 2014

Bishnoi Village Safari

Global warming is the buzz word nowadays. Rising temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns which we now witness are all attributed to it. We have world summits which talk about carbon credits but usually they lay down a path which seems less like a solution but a problem in itself. We, the most intelligent of all the species have probably ended up tinkering too much, so much so that we must now pause and think if we are indeed on a path of modernization or is it a self-destruct button we have already pushed. In an era when there is a dire need of environmental activism with a collective effort required from the entire community, it is apt to talk about the Bishnoi Samaj a sect which has adopted die-hard environmentalism as a way of life, at the heart of which is bountiful love for animals and trees.They are the only Hindu sect which buries their dead in order to conserve trees. They are strict vegetarians and are against killing any animal. This intriguing community must be acknowledged as the pioneer of environmental activism in our country. Hence we were compelled to go for a Bishnoi Village Safari when we were in Jodhpur, just to have a closer look.

The Jeep in which we were to take the safari had arrived on time. I was full of excitement with the idea of moving around in a Mahindra Jeep which had brought back memories from childhood, when it was routine to venture deep into the forests tagging along in one of my father’s tours. It was a cold morning and an open jeep did nothing to shield us from the chill, it only increased our yearning for some “Garam Chai”. Our driver stopped at Bhatti Tea Stall where, according to him, you got the best tea in Jodhpur. I am sure there would be hundreds of other stalls who would also boast of serving the “best tea in Jodhpur”. That is the thing about our Chai, everyone makes it in his own way and probably takes pride in his tea tasting the best. After being comforted with the warmth of our tea we got going and left the city limits within few minutes. In the countryside in about an hour, the roads had become narrower and the sound of our speeding jeep the only noise which disturbed an otherwise quiet atmosphere. The driver spotted a Neel Gai and slowed down so that we could get a better look. A little further we also saw quite a few peacocks, a sign that the Bishnoi village which we were going to visit was nearby.
There in the village, far from the clutter of urban life, the air was clean and the ambience serene. The driver parked our Jeep in front of a neatly built house which was a little unexpected .An old woman clad in a red Ghaghra welcomed us. She wore an enthusiastic smile, someone who had grown used to of visitors like us dropping by to have a peep into her household. Her husband, wearing a white kurta-dhoti, sat on a cot in one corner of the small courtyard while she took us around talking in an accentuated dialect which I tried very hard to grasp. We got to taste the Bajra Roti from their kitchen, a staple food here. She also showed an assortment of grains (all grown on their own land) and spices which they use in their cooking. They still used Chulha to cook, our modern cooking ranges probably are unheard here or simply unaffordable. Once we were done looking around we sat down talking with the old couple who were playing our host. We inquired about their routine and source of living. They told us that they had recently got their entitlement as a BPL family which they had used to build the pucca house I had earlier mentioned. As we talked another vehicle had arrived, another visit by curious outsiders awaited the old couple and we decided to get going. While we were on our way to the next stop in our safari our driver kept telling us more about this truly remarkable community. He alluded to the attire of the old couple which identified them, Bishnoi women always wore red and men white dhoti .They follow a set of 20 rules which are sacrosanct to their existence. He told us how hundreds of Bishnois, in order to save Sangri trees ,which thrive here, from being cut down under king’s orders, hugged them losing their lives as the soldiers ruthlessly carried out their king’s order. When the king got to know of their sacrifice he reversed the order and forbade any such activity in this area. Such is the fervor with which these people devote themselves to protect their mother nature. We next stopped at what was a natural reservoir converted into a good vantage point by the forest department. We spotted some Kingfishers and out in the distance we could see a pack of Blackbucks. A little further down the road we found one such pack right next to the road. Black Buck is a beautiful animal, its black and white skin had a lovely sheen under the bright sun. As I got down to capture some photos one of them kept looking at me as if posing for it. Once this session was over they carried on with their grazing and we moved on.
Our jeep halted in front of a small premises, pieces of finished pottery lay here and there in the small courtyard. Nizamuddin an adroit artisan whose hands would have given shape to pieces of hardened clay we saw around us, sat in his small verandah. He demonstrated his art, how the wet clay rotating rapidly on the potter’s wheel took different shapes with masterful strokes of his fingers. He showed us the variety he had to offer, his enthusiasm not wavered despite his awareness that he was the master of an ill paying art. We bought a set of tea mugs, two glasses and a wind chime from him and wished him well. In a quarter adjacent to Nizamuddin’s a man from Chipa community welcomed us and courteously asked us to have a look at textiles with handmade block printing using absolutely natural colors. The process he described to create natural dyes was fascinating, for instance the pink color for block print is made by boiling a mixture of water, lemon juice, oil and Ber leaves. Some of the colour and prints which they had to offer were beautiful and hence just as a souvenir we got ourselves a pretty looking bed-sheet. The industry and dedication of these men to the profession which has sustained generations in their family was marvelous, although you could always sense a little disdain as they knew that they were in a David and Goliath’s story.

The tour was over and on our way back we stopped at a place called the Dhaba for lunch. During our entire stay we had struggled to get the authentic Rajasthani flavours, menu at most places seemed to have been tinkered and spices a little toned down for the foreigners who frequent this part of India. So with our fingers crossed we asked the manager to serve us with something which would make it to a local platter. He assured us that we would get and took us the kitchen where a woman cooked our meal on a Chulha. The food served finally brought a quest to an end in an unlikely place, we had found our rajasthani meal.

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