The Bishnoi Village

By Marie McCarthy

This is another installment from my e-book, Travels in India, the tales of my first trip to India in 2011. In this segment, I’m in Jodphur, taking a day trip to buy a dhurry and search for the tradititional Bishnoi villages.

* * *

I had seen photos of the Bishnoi traditional villages near Salawas and wanted to have a look. Prem had never been there and got directions from the hotel. As it turned out, it would have been better to have gone on one of the two or four-hour Bishnoi village jeep tours that the hotel could have arranged. I didn’t see anything like what I’d seen on the internet, but I had an interesting day all the same.

I wanted to visit Salawas because I’d read on the internet that Salawas is known for weaving dhurries. I wanted to see them being made and of course to buy one or two. Salawas was close to the Bishnoi villages and only about 25 kilometers from Jodhpur.

There were no road signs for either the Bishnoi villages or Salawas, but it was easy to tell when we were drawing close. Signs popped up offering dhurries for sale. The first one I saw had three attractive dhurries hanging outside, and I asked Prem to stop. As we were getting out of the car, the owner, who had been sitting across the street, dashed over to greet us. He was smallish and thin with a unibrow and a big smile.

Dhurry Maker Bishnoi Village

He showed us into the small courtyard and sat down at the loom to show me how it was done. It wasn’t a typical shop but his home where he and his wife both created the dhurries and sold them. He posed for a couple of photos demonstrating the technique. He seemed stern and serious at first, but he was soon joking and laughing.

“These dhurries, not carpets,” he explained. “Carpet is one side only. Dhurry is two side good. This side Sunday, this side Monday. Hee! Hee! Hee!” He flipped the dhurry over, showing me that it was exactly the same on both sides. There was no wrong side. I was amazed. He also explained that two people could work on one dhurry at the same time, he on one side and his wife on the other. He indicated a dhurry hanging up nearby which was maybe two by three feet long.

“That one takes 30 days to make, two people.” He stood up. “You like to have tea and have a look?”
“Of course!”

Then he turned around, grabbed a pre-wound red turban and jammed it on his head. He was now in business mode.

“This too hot for all day,” he confided. “After ten minutes, I have to take it off. Hee!! Hee!! Hee!!”
The courtyard was laid with large marble tiles. The sales area was shaded but otherwise open to the elements. I sat on one of the plastic chairs offered while he went inside the small storeroom nearby and started bringing out the dhurries, flinging them onto the marble tile in front of me so I could have a good look.

Soon his tiny son, who couldn’t have been more than four years old, began picking up the smaller dhurries, unfolding them with a flourish and flipping them out for display, just like his papa. I grabbed my camera and started taking pictures. The man grinned.

“I have five children only. Hee! Hee! Hee!”

As he went back for more dhurries, I took photos of his wife who had also come to help with the display. His wife was shy and didn’t speak to us. Maybe she didn’t speak English, but she didn’t even speak to Prem in Hindi. She seemed preoccupied and looked worried to me. I wondered if she were worrying about not having enough money.

Grandpa

Nearby the grandmother was playing with a baby. At the far end of the courtyard, grandfather was playing with another child and talking to someone. I took photos of them all.

Kissing baby

As I was looking at the dhurries, one of the small girls picked up the baby and carried him in my direction. I think she wanted to show me the baby because she was making eye contact with me but was too shy to come any closer. When she gave the baby a kiss on the cheek, I was ready and snapped the tender moment.

I turned my attention back to the dhurries.

“This one is all cotton. This one cotton and silluk. Then there is the jute quality. The cotton you wash with a powder and a brush. The cotton and silluk fold up nice and small, and you can put in washing machine.”

The cotton dhurries were a bit stuff. The cotton and silk felt and looked almost like velvet. The workmanship was so beautiful. Now it was just a matter of how much money I was going to have to spend. There had been a beautiful red dhurry in cotton and silk that I’d already been taken with. It was a bit larger than I wanted, maybe three by four feet. I asked if there were smaller ones. The smallest size was perfect for a bathroom floor or for cushioning the feet in front of the kitchen sink.
A six-year old girl came with a tray and offered Prem and me tea. He asked her name. Her name was

Fatima. She smiled shyly. Prem smiled.

“I love all childrens.”

I usually like to shop around and don’t tend to buy at the first place I visit, but I had a good feeling about this man and his family. Moreover, the prices he quoted me seemed quite reasonable, so much so that I didn’t ask for a discount. He gave me a small discount anyway. I made my selections.

Dhurries

I made my choices then asked the total price, holding my breath. The price for the smallest size was only 2,500 rupees, about $56. (Today’s exchange rate: US$1.00 = INR45.) They would have been much more if sold at a shop in a city, and I liked buying directly from the family that made them. However, because this was a small, at-home business, I didn’t think he was set up for credit cards. And he didn’t ask how I wanted to pay, which further told me he made cash sales only.

I was getting to the point where I needed to visit an ATM. I checked my wallet. I only had enough for one of the smallest ones.

“I need to visit an ATM,” I explained. “We will pass by here tomorrow.”

“No, no! You take with you. No problem. You are my mothers!” He cried, beginning to fold up the dhurries I’d chosen. “I wait under your car, you go to ATM, then I come back.”

I was having a hard time following what he meant. He and Prem spoke in Hindi, then Prem explained. The man would come with us in the car, then after I went to the bank, he would return home from Jodhpur on the bus.

As they wrapped up the dhurries I had bought, I asked him if he knew where the Bishnoi villages were. Prem had never been there before. I only knew they were somewhere around the village of Salawas.

“Yes, I know the Bishnoi village,” the dhurry maker said. “I take you there. No charge.”

Just then some tourists arrived, greeted me in English and sat next to us. I was a little disappointed, thinking that now the man would have to take care of his customers and couldn’t come with us. But his first duty was to his family, and if he needed to stay and do business, so be it. However, he let his wife take care of them. He yanked off the turban, giggled and climbed into the back seat.
“I take you to Bishnoi village, no problem.”

I thought this was a great idea, since Prem didn’t know where they were. Everything is facilitated with a local guide who knows the way around and knows the local people.

“But I will give him something,” I whispered to Prem. “How much?”

“As you like.” This was Prem’s standard answer, but it didn’t help.

“No! Tell me.”

He hesitated a little. “Minimum 200 rupees. Then, as you like. Mmmm… one thousand.”
From that I gathered 200 would be an ordinary guiding fee with no tip. One thousand would be a generous fee, with tip included. Prem had also told me that this man had an extended family. He was supporting his five children plus grandparents.

“That’s a lot of responsibility.”

Once we were all in the car, I asked the dhurry maker his name.

“Riyaz,” he said.

“I am Marie.”

“Murry!” That’s what it usually turns out to be in India, Mary or more often Murry. Murry, rhymes with curry. No hurry, no worry.

Black Buck

On the way to the village, Prem pulled off the road. Riyaz had pointed out some deer in the distance. I finally spotted one. It was black and had very long, spirally twisted horns. I’d never seen this type of deer before. I learned later it was a black buck, a type of antelope.

We parked at the village, and children began gathering as soon as we got out of the car, mostly girls. Prem looked a little nervous.

“Mmm, you go with him. The car is not safe here, so I stay with the car.”

“Not safe?”

“Mmmm, the children…”

Curious children could make mischief, and Prem wasn’t taking any chances.

I followed Riyaz to a nearby home. The children were getting aggressive, asking for money, pens and candy and gathering around me far too close for my comfort. There seemed to be a little frustration on their part, or maybe too much excitement, but one of the girls grabbed one of my earrings and pulled. I yelled a little and glared so they would stand back. This is not how I hoped I would interact with Indian children, but I didn’t want part of my earlobe torn off, either.

Indian Huts

These were traditional houses, some of them round and with conical straw roofs, but they didn’t look anything like the photos I’d seen on the internet. There must be another painted village out there.

Riyaz showed me inside a couple of yards and invited me to peek inside several of the huts. He explained to me that the huts were made of dung and mud then painted in two colors, white and red. Most of them were white and had some small designs on them.

Bishnoi traditional villages near Salawas

At one home a woman was busily painting the side of her hut with what looked like red mud. She used no brush, just wiped it on the wall with her hand. I asked Riyaz how much to give her. Since I was a stranger being invited to gape at private homes and take pictures of poor people’s houses, it was the least I could do. Ten rupees was the correct amount.

We went to another home where a very old woman showed us how she ground flour by hand with a very rudimentary millstone. The children had some time ago lost interest in me, since there was no candy or money coming, and had quit following us around.

At the car I told Prem how one of the girls had grabbed and pulled on my earring. He looked concerned.

“A small mistake,” Riyaz said. “The children get too excited for visitors. It is a small mistake.”
Mistake or not, I wasn’t taking any chances. I took my earrings off and didn’t wear them again for the rest of the trip.

We found an ATM machine at a gas station not long after we had returned to the main road. I paid Riyaz for the dhurries, and gave him 1,000 rupees as a guiding fee. He thanked me profusely, then went to catch the bus home.

Prem agreed he thought Riyaz was a very nice man.

“We’ll pass by there again tomorrow on the way to Ranakpur,” I said. “I want to stop tomorrow and buy you a small dhurry for your new house. I buy gifts for my friends, and you are my friend, too.”

Prem smiled bigger than usual.


From Travels in India, © 2012 by Marie McCarthy.
Reprinted with permission.
See more photos from this trip at my blog: http://indiatravels2011.wordpress.com

More by Marie

On the Way to Jhujhunu

The Rani Sati Temple and Arrival in Mandawa

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41 Responses to “The Bishnoi Village”

  1. Michael Belk says:

    What a lovely article, I am glad you explained the difference between. I had no idea what a dhurry was. They are beautiful.

    I bet they last a long time and they look so cultural.
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  2. Very interesting account.. and you have a good subtle sense of humor also… loved the beautiful pics. thanks.
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  3. bunga says:

    That’s what i call “great post”, nice and cool village and thank for share to me.
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  4. Shalu Sharma says:

    Very nice narration of your trip to the village Marie. I had no idea how these “carpets-like” or “mat-like” dhurries were made.

    Just wondering, who were the other tourists that came after you?, this means that these dhurry makers must be selling directly to the tourists which is good for them by cutting out the middlemen.
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    • MarieMcC says:

      It was a married couple. They said hello to me in English, and they looked and sounded American. Yes, definitely, Riyaz sells directly to tourists. He has several dhurries hanging right outside of his house, and his house is on one of the main highways out of Jodphur, so you can’t miss it. He told me he ships all over the world. No website, though. He has no computer.
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  5. Medha N says:

    Handy crafts that are available in India are the ultimate display of craftsmanship. The pictures talk a lot here, they are not only telling the tale of the economical conditions of the family but also speaks volume about how little people have to value their talent!

    I really don’t think you can find anything handmade (to perfection) like these dhurries elsewhere in the world, can you!
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  6. I love the point of narration which is so exceptional in this article. We Indians cannot see what you have seen most of the time Marie.
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    • MarieMcC says:

      Thank you so much, Farida. Yes, sometimes familiarity makes you take things for granted. That’s the best thing about travel. You really appreciate the differences between what you have at home and what you see when visiting. India is so rich in color, culture, art, architecture, you name it, that visitors can’t help but notice. I had to write of my experiences every night just so I could remember it all.
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  7. Ileane says:

    What an interesting story and it’s so full of culture. I haven’t seen a hand made dhrurry before, but I have seen some done by machine. I love the pics that you took. They truly helped to illustrate the story and bring it to life for us.
    One day, perhaps you can put all the photos together and make a YouTube video.

    Thanks!
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  8. MarieMcC says:

    Thanks for your kind words, Desi. I really enjoyed taking photos of this family. I mailed them copies after I returned home.
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  9. Hi Marie…..

    It was like i am visiting Bishnoi ans Salawas village myself… Article was long but it was very interesting.

    I like the way you have explained your experience with that Dhurrie maker….

    It was really interesting…. I was also visited Jodhpur once but I was not aware about these two villages… but your article have gave me a feeling like I am visiting the place with you…

    Great picks
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  10. Ehsan Ullah says:

    Great story Marcie, I’m sure you’ve enjoyed your journey at those villages.

    The people of India, especially from villages are very honest. I know because I’ve been with like those peoples in Pakistan.

    You’ve taken some great pictures which is adding more value to this story. :)
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  11. I have traveled extensively throughout Rajasthan- the endless deserts simply enchant me. There is so much more that this land of warriors has to offer by way of handicrafts and that too at such reasonable prices that I almost end up buying much more than what my modest budget would allow me.
    Great place. Adorable people- simple and rustic. Must visit this lovely land!
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  12. Chloe B says:

    This is one of the magical things about travelling, seeing and experiencing local cultures. I always get a sense of friendship when meeting local traders and going to local markets. Plus the good feeling inside when you know your supporting the local economy. It’s what travelling is all about, experiencing and embracing those differences.
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    • MarieMcC says:

      Chloe, I know what you mean about that feeling of friendship. Talking to people is the best! It’s not as easy in some cultures, i.e., Europeans see tourists all the time and are not so interested in us. But in other cultures such as India’s, it’s easier to get to know people, and I come away with a much more meaningful experience.
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  13. erda says:

    What a lovely article,and you have a good subtle sense of humor also.Nice and cool village and thank for share to me.

  14. I love your willingness for a bit of an adventure by choosing to travel to the village on your own rather than using a guided tour. Everything that you’ve written here makes reading about your trip even more interesting and fascinating. Great job, Mary!
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  15. Ashwin says:

    Beautiful narration with good sense of humor. Must have been an adventurous journey in the remote Bishnoi village and writing abut dhurries, something which is vanishing fast.

  16. MarieMcC says:

    It was a bit of an adventure! We were driving in a Tata Indica on roads where local tours generally take jeeps: lots of holes and ruts. Fortunately, my driver was extra careful.
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  17. Fatima says:

    Village life always intrigues me for its simplicity. Your post was really interesting. Hope you have similar trips and experience to share in the future as well:)

  18. Felicia says:

    Hi Marie,
    Thank you for sharing with us your experiences while visiting Bishnoi Village. I bet it takes a significant amount of time and effort in making those dhurries.
    I’m happy that you got to meet Riyaz and Prem, they seem to be good and honest Indian men.

    • MarieMcC says:

      Hi Felicia.

      Yes, it takes at least a month to make one of the small ones. I feel fortunate to have met so many nice people on my trip. Hope my luck continues when I return in a couple of weeks.

  19. Very informative, comprehensive post… It has added to my information on Bishnoi Tribe and their habitat. Thanks!!
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  20. akhilendra says:

    very informative post, great pics combined with great story. hats off to you for putting it to world where we often we ignore these things.
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  21. For durry Salawas is O K , to see bishnoi village you should visit ,Guda bishnoiyan and Khejarali village .
    Salawas is not a bishnoi village .Some tourist guide and driver and even hotelier reports Salawas as bishnoi village ,their interest is to sell Duries.
    No one of bishnoi is durry weaver ,bishnoi are known for their work to protect environment .

  22. Thank you for sending me the link of this precious post. Mow I don’t move out from this urban jungle to visit my foster-kin – the aborigines – any more. So this article is most charming news at the end of the year (though I don’t believe in linear time just as adivasis do).

    I now live – my way of living – is in tune with that of aborigines’ way, in harmony with NATURE – within and outside. So don’t need to seek happiness with external aids.

    Best
    – Remi
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  23. Rahul says:

    thank you shalu ji for sharing this beatiful experience.

    While reading your article i was feeling like visiting the bishnoi village.

    Keep it up :)
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  24. Bishnoi Village Safari started by a group of local people to help tourists take a glimpse of rich cultural life of Bishnoi Villages and True Rajasthan.

  25. Hi,
    for visit to bishnoi village safari with guide who live in bishnoi village that will be best idea for doing real village safari by open jeep.
    Now we have our own website for bishnoi village tour guest can book online from our website that they don’t have to pay extra commission to travel agent or to hotel.

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