The Bishnoi villages are a must-see for any budding environmentalists. They are a tight-knit desert community united by their religious practices, which place great emphasis on the protection of the environment. It is, for instance, forbidden to kill animals, fell green trees or use the blue dye produced from bushes. Members of the community are required to make sure that any firewood they use is devoid of insects and often just resort to burning dried dung instead. The Bishnoi villages are scattered just a 45-minute ride away from Jodhpur, where water is scarce and many use sand to clean dishes and utensils. Khejarli, one of the main settlements, is well-known as the place of the Khejarli massacre, a striking act of self-sacrifice on behalf of the Bishnoi to protect their local flora. When a royal party arrived in the village to fell trees sacred to the community for use in the construction of a new palace, many protested by hugging the trees and giving their lives in defiance of the official order; 363 of them were slain.
The religion of the Bishnoi also strictly forbids them the use of any drugs or alcohol, however, this rule is not usually adhered to: they are the only people in India who are still legally allowed to consume opium for religious purposes, which range anywhere between wedding celebrations and welcoming travellers. The drug is usually consumed in the form of a brew made from various parts of the poppy plant’s head, such as poppy seeds or the dry pod itself. This tea is served ritualistically at so-called opium ceremonies, where the host pours a small amount of mixture into their cupped hand and the guest licks it off their palm. While it is possible to extract some quantity of opiates with this method and there is, indeed, an addiction problem among the Bishnoi, these ‘opium teas’ are usually very mild and are unlikely to have any perceivable effect if consumed. We would recommend a half-day excursion, available for 1500Rs. per person, which includes a jeep ride out the city and a guided tour round several of the villages where you can watch traditional craft activities, like pottery and carpet weaving, as well as one of the traditional opium ceremonies.