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The Desert Dwellers of Rajasthan
Bishnoi and Bhil people

continued (page 2 of 5)

Although the Bishnoi are renowned for dedication to their faith, one incident in particular ensured their place in modern Indian history. In 1847, the Jodhpur king sent his army out to cut trees to build his palace. When his army started to log a Bishnoi forest, they staged a non-violent protest, offering their bodies as shields for the trees. The army’s axes killed 363 before the king, hearing of their courage, halted the logging and declared the Khejarli region a preserve, off limits for logging and hunting.

The Bishnoi eat remarkably well despite the harsh desert environment and the strict rules by which they live. During the monsoon season, they grow millet, which is then ground into flour for their staple food, chapattis. Sangari, the small, bean-like fruit of the khejadi tree, is dried and mixed with the berry of the kair, a desert bush. Chapattis, sangari and kair berries are the staples at most meals, frequently supplemented with butter and yogurt, delicacies from the few cows that Bishnoi families raise.

July and August, the monsoon season, usually brings rain to the Rajasthan desert. In a good year, the harvest season extends through October and the generous yield will feed a family for up to two years. Sometimes, rain may even fall in the off-season, allowing the Bishnoi to also grow barley. The threat of extended drought always hangs heavy over the region, forcing the inhabitants to plan far ahead to survive on their reserves of food and water.

Both vegetation and fuel for fires are scarce in this arid region. In accordance with their principles, the Bishnoi never cut living trees for firewood or building materials. Instead, they rely entirely on the scarce, dry, dead wood they find and much of their fuel for cooking comes from dried cow and water buffalo dung.

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A young boy learning the Bishnoi religion and principles of life, which are traditionally passed down from fathers to sons.
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Bhil women cooking the chapattis that are their dietary mainstay--dipped into hot chili paste, they are only occasionally supplemented with birds, lizards or rabbits.
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Rajasthan Cultural Eco-tours

Take an extraordinary journey deep into the remote Rajasthan desert to experience its colorful indigenous cultures first-hand.

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