It did not take a lot of convincing to take a tour of the Bishnoi village near Jodhpur. We arrived at our hotel, Blue House Guesthouse (highly recommend), and within five minutes of the hotel owner telling us about this lesser known part of the common Rajasthan tour packages, we were hooked. He talked about seeing where these tribals in India were living, going in their homes, seeing how they cook and make textiles, and even seeing how opium plays a role in their lives.
Every hotel and travel agent will have a lot of attractions listed that you can go see in Jodhpur and most will stick to what’s right inside the city or some temples and lakes a bit further outside – but for the adventurous, there is another option: visiting tribals in India (well they are often called tribals but it seems that they are really a religious sect) and going to their homes in the Bishnoi Village.
Read more: a guide to Jodhpur
A Lesser Known Option than the Standard Rajasthan Tour Packages
I’ll tell you a little bit about who the Bishnoi are and how you can get out there to see them. Our hotel offered a tour that was just my friend and me in a Jeep with a driver for 600 Rs. per person. The price doesn’t change per person if you get more people to come although I think you could probably negotiate it a bit. 600 Rs is about $9 so it’s a great deal for a 3-hour tour. We chose to go early morning to avoid all the dust on the roads (pre-traffic) since we were in an open-air Jeep.
It was still pretty dusty! They said, “do the Jeep because it’s all about the adventure” and mentioned that cars couldn’t make it down the roads. The roads were fine though and if you wanted you could ask for a car to avoid so much pollution. Totally up to you!
Who are the Bishnoi and what can you expect visiting the Bishnoi village?
These people are known for their commitment to the trees – and they never cut one down. In fact, the story is told that when the famous Mehrangarh Fort was being built, they protested the cutting of the trees by tying themselves to them. The workers were under orders to continue so they chopped down the trees with the people on them, cutting off their heads in the process. They say over 300 Bishnoi people died this way.
You’ll only find the Bishnoi in the far West of Rajasthan near the Thar Desert. They are quite strict and follow “29 principles“. It was founded all the way back in the 1400’s by their guru, Jambheshwar. The name actually comes from the Rajasthani language with “bish” meaning 20 and “noi” meaning 9. Another principle they have is to not kill animals. They were pretty pissed off when famous Bollywood star Salman Khan came out here hunting deer illegally.
They also can’t wear blue, because blue dye is made from too many shrubs and they wouldn’t want to take so many shrubs from the earth!
After all this time, they are still living the exact same way as if time hasn’t passed and it’s a unique experience to step outside the city and see how people in the rural areas are living. Although their principles are unique – many Indians don’t believe in killing/eating animals and others, like Jains, wouldn’t cut down a tree either. While their values are a little more intense, the way that they live isn’t that unique. I have been to many rural areas around India and it’s quite similar (basically just imagine going back in time with things being a lot more basic – farming without mechanical equipment, eating natural food they grow, grinding the flour by hand, etc).
Stop One: Seeing a local family & how they live
Our first stop was to a local family home. They don’t go to the same home every time, but you can tell that the family was very used to having tourists come there. We were encouraged (very heavily) to leave them a tip as that was the only way they can get money (although it’s a bit off as paying them should be included in the tour and offered to them from the person who arranges it regardless in case someone did not tip). But you should assume no one is getting paid and tip because it’s not that surprising if the tour agencies don’t share their money.
The tour was quite relaxed. The family didn’t speak English so I tried my Hindi out and told them they had a nice house. That lightened the mood a bit!
There was already a blanket set up with a little contraption on it and we were told to take a seat as they were going to show us how they take opium.
Opium is illegal in India but it is commonly taken and was legal for a very long time. They grow poppies (I think?) but can’t legally do opium so they have to buy it illegally now. The thing is, it was part of their culture for hundreds of years before it was made illegal. They take opium for EVERYTHING. A couple that made me laugh was that they take it when pregnant to ease pregnancy pain and when two people are arguing they will be told to take some to chill them out so they will make up and be friends.
So how do they take it? Most will not be able to afford a lot (so they cannot smoke it). Instead, they melt it down into a sugar cube (what’s in my hand) and they drink it in their tea or water two times per day. Apparently, addiction is quite a problem. I’m told that almost all Bishnoi males take opium and many of the women also, although they don’t take it daily.
Drugs in India are illegal but they aren’t so frowned upon like in the West. You might remember my article about how to take bhang lassi safely. Those are yogurt based drinks with marijuana in them which are sold by the government in Rajasthan and on special occasions even children will drink this, like on Holi. One Hindu god, Shiva, was quite the lover of ganja and partly because of that, it’s always been okay even now.
They will show you how they make the drink with opium in it and offer you some. The amount they are offering is split between everyone there and it’s VERY small – you can decline this and it won’t offend anyone but they do show this to every tourist who comes through. It’s not so odd actually – it reminds me of Chefchaouen Morocco where hash is illegal but not frowned upon and locals always offer to take you on a tour to where they make it.
Below, giving a skeptical look about the whole thing, lol.
Next up: learning about making chapatis
Next, his wife gave us a little tour of the huts around the house (but not inside the home). We learned how to grind and make flour and saw how they store everything. This was fun mostly because this lady was so nice and kept hugging us and smiling.
When it was my turn to try, she was telling me that I wasn’t doing it fast enough and took my arms to speed them up – it’s quite hard work! I can’t imagine doing this all the time. They do grow all their crops outside and you can see them, but it’s been a bad monsoon this year and without a lot of rain things aren’t doing well this year.
The next stop: seeing how Bishnoi rugs are made
So, I love love love seeing how handicrafts are made and have done this numerous times like in Karnataka and Arunachal Pradesh and shared about their way of making items but this just didn’t sit right with me. For one, it didn’t seem real. It seemed to be set up for tourists as a way to sell rugs at a very high price.
Some of the rugs were the exact same designs I saw in export shops in Jaipur which were in bulk and said to be Rajasthani designs, nothing about Bishnoi. On the other hand, there were some designs here that were Bishnoi with deer and other animals on the rugs. I wonder if they mix in a bit of original and some that they buy cheap and try to upsell. I know I sound probably cynical, but it’s how I felt.
I am also totally open to paying what something is worth but when these prices were 10x higher than that in Jaipur, you have to wonder – who is taking that huge amount of money, the people who made it or the ones who set up this place for tourists to pop by?
It was fun to see how the rugs are made and they had a sample one set up. There were other tourists here as well. There wasn’t pressure to buy and although I’m not sure of the origins of all these rugs, I still feel like it was a cool place to stop by.
PS: shoulders and belly shouldn’t typically show so much while traveling in India, but this image was for a fashion brand so I took my shawl off – there were no other people around at the time.
there were some huts here that you can stay the night at if you want to. They look really cute but I didn’t look around to see what the bathroom situation is or what you would eat if you stayed here. It would be an adventure, though.
More stops on the Bishnoi village tour
The next places to see where a factory where they make the textiles (cloth) and an export shop where you can buy things at a low price – after seeing the rugs we felt it would be just a place trying to get us to buy stuff with our guide taking a commission, as it’s common in India, so we decided to skip since we have both been in textile factories (Tia works in fashion and I have toured them all over India). We saved our big shopping for Jaipur. If you haven’t seen a factory though, I would say go because it’s pretty cool to see how they make things. If you look at my post about Melukote you can see a bit of that or in Mysore where they make the best silk sarees.
PS: see my guide to Jaipur here
Another thing you can opt to see is ceramics. They will take you to a place where pottery is done on a wheel and you can watch.
The next big part is wildlife spotting. While you aren’t likely to see a leopard, they do have them there. You are more likely to see birds and possibly a deer (the kind with those skinny spiral antlers, not an antelope though, I forget the name!). As it was hot and we had a lot to do that day, we told our driver to head back. But for nature lovers, it is cool that in the price you can go see the local animals as part of your trip.
While my hotel set up this tour last minute at a very low price, I know some people prefer to book this type of thing ahead. You can find decently priced tours to see the Bishnoi tribes on Viator. I’ll link to the best ones I found here. Remember that as with all India tours, including the one I just did, they will try to take you to places they get commission and you need to use your voice to say “no” instead of feeling pressured.
- All day tour in Jodhpur (all hotspots) and the Bishnoi with hotel pick up and drop off – book for $44. This one seems like the best deal.
- All day tour of the Bishnoi and a camel safari which is about two hours long in the Thar Desert – book for $60. If you aren’t going to a camel safari in Jaisalmer, this is a fantastic deal.
- 5-hour Bishnoi tour with pick up and drop off from your hotel – book here for $85.