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.


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.


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:

More by Marie

On the Way to Jhujhunu

The Rani Sati Temple and Arrival in Mandawa

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