We had been interested in checking out the Vishnoi villages since Michael Palin visited them — an entire tribe of tree-hugging, opium-drinking, vegetarian goat-sucklers? Right up our alley.
The Vishnoi, who live in Rajasthan — mostly around the outskirts of Jodhpur, live according to 29 principles, taken from both Hindu and Muslim dogma. The principles mostly focus on a fierce respect for plants and animals, a respect that manifests itself in some, er, surprising ways.
The Vishnoi throw their firewood on the ground three times to get rid of any potential insectile burn victims. They filter their water at least twice, to release any wee bugs lurking in it. And, most notably, it’s not uncommon for the women to breastfeed orphaned deer.
Their commitment to protecting wildlife also led to a pretty grisly incident in the year 1730, when Vishnoi villagers, seeing the Maharajah’s soldiers chopping down trees for firewood, flung their arms around the trees, with a brave, ‘If you want to mess with the trees, you’ll have to go through us!’ (or something along those lines, I imagine.) The soldiers did, quite literally, go through them. Over 360 villagers died that day.
And on that cheery note… Our guesthouse (Cosy Guesthouse), like every other guesthouse in the area, offered a day-long tour of the villages. At almost $15 a head, it wasn’t super cheap, but with the promise of opium tea in mind, we signed up.
We started the day early, attempting to avoid as much of the midday sun as possible (it was mid-May, and the afternoon temperature hovered around 45 degrees). Our first stop was a memorial for the victims of the massacre. It was a pretty sobering stop, but a worthwhile one.
Next, we visited a traditional village house for the highly anticipated opium tea ceremony. Although illegal throughout India, the Vishnoi (according to our guide) get kind of a free pass on opium possession. We sat on the (spotlessly clean and surprisingly springy) cowpat floor and watched as the moustachioed, white-clad Grandfather prepared the tea, while a wide-eyed baby played with the pipe and filter. The tea is usually sipped from the host’s cupped hands. We, thankfully, were allowed to feed ourselves a couple of sips. The verdict? Fairly tasteless and gave us a nice semi-tipsy buzz.
Next, feeling pleasantly blurry, we stopped at a pottery shop, where we made misshapen, thick-rimmed pots on the pottery wheel and politely browsed the merchandise for a minute or two. Then onto a weaving shop for more polite browsing, while the weaver assured us, ‘Oh, I would never force people to buy my weaving! Only if you like it and it makes you happy to buy it, I will be happy!’ …. We didn’t buy anything. He wasn’t happy.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly (tied with the opium tea), we stopped for lunch: millet chapati, beanstalk curry, and chilli-yoghurt sauce. We had high expectations for the millet chapati, and were not disappointed — . We ate about 5 big ol’ portions each.
So, would we recommend the tour? Well, parts of the trip were plain ol’ lame — the weaving and pottery, while interesting enough to watch, just felt like a really forced sales pitch. That said, $15 for some opium tea and piles of millet chapati? Not too shabby.