The first Bishnoi family we visited specialized in making pottery. Pots of every shape and size were stacked neatly in rows across their courtyard. The Bishnoi woman taught me the art of balancing a clay water pot on my head… Not as easy as it looks. Next, we watched the eldest son work his magic on the potter’s wheel, a skill that had been passed down in his family for generations. I’m not using the word ‘magic’ lightly either — he molded (AND decorated) a water jug, a flower vase, and a piggy bank in seconds, right before our eyes. What’s more, the potter’s wheel wasn’t motorized; he had to spin the wheel by hand with a stick.
At the next Bishnoi farmhouse, we got a good picture of what daily life was like. We saw where they cooked, where they ground their millet (on a hand-powered millstone), where they slept… but the main attraction was brewing and drinking “herbal” tea. The tea is brewed and filtered in an elaborate mechanism that looked like it was about 300 years old. It is customary for the host to offer tea to his guests, but what we didn’t realize was that the tea was supposed to be slurped straight from the host’s palm. No cups necessary. My dad gave it a shot and proclaimed it to be good, so I threw caution to the wind and enjoyed a palm-full myself (my own palm — I wasn’t as adventurous as my dad in that respect). The farmer father, an “herbal” tea addict, lives in the hut with his daughter-in-law, an attractive 40-something woman with a brilliant smile. We snapped several photos with the family and said our goodbyes. Later on that night, when looking at the photos, we noticed that the woman looked very stoic, not at all like we’d remembered her. Amazingly, just 2 days later while I was rummaging through a bookstore at the City Palace in Udaipur, I came across a book with the same woman’s photo on the cover, smiling brilliantly! I doubt she ever knew that she was a minor celebrity (see photos). Smalllll world!
Last but not least, we visited a family that has been making Dhurri rugs for centuries. This man was very intelligent, very outgoing, and he had organized hundreds of weavers around the countryside into a cooperative that shipped rugs around the world. He had been declared a master craftsman by the government of India and proudly displayed pictures of himself with celebrities and politicians who had visited his home, including David Rockefeller and his clan just last month. The craftsmanship was amazing; the amount of work that goes into each of those rugs is truly staggering. We watched the man and one of his daughters work on a rug on a handmade loom, set out under a thatched roof to protect from the sun and the elements. Then, he and his youngest sons spread a dozen rugs out in their courtyard to show the beautiful array of colors and patterns (he has 150 patterns stored in his head) — it looked like a kaleidoscope.
After the Bishnoi village tour, we were off to the airport once again.