Jacket blurb – According to myth, the camel was created by Lord Shiva at the behest of his consort Parvati. Parvati shaped a strange five-legged animal from clay and asked Shiva to blow life into it. At first Shiva refused, saying that the misshapen animal will not fare well in the world, but later gave in. He folded the animal’s fifth leg over its back giving it a hump, and commanded it to get up, “uth”. That is how the animal got its name. The camel then needed someone to look after it, so Shiva rolled off a bit of skin and dust from his arm and made out of this the first Raika.
Historically, the Raika of Rajasthan have had a unique and enduring relationship with camels. Their entire existence revolves around looking after the needs of these animals which, in turn, provide them with sustenance, wealth and companionship. When German veterinarian, Ilse Köhler-Rollefson, arrives in Rajasthan in 1991, she is Immediately enthralled by the Raikas’ intimate relationship with their animals but also confronted with their existential problems.This is the story of the quest that follows to save a globally unique and humane animal culture and find a place for the camel in rapidly changing India.
It is a journey that is often exasperating, sometimes funny, but keeps revealing unexpected layers of rural Rajasthani mores. A travelogue of a sort, this book takes us deeply into the diverse cultures that make Rajasthan such a fascinating place.
Relentless. That’s what best describes this beautifully intense book. There’s an underlying passion with which the author brings out the many insights on the existential issues faced by the nomadic camel herder communities – like the desert’s ecology, traditions and practices followed, and even the politics played.
The writing is beautiful and brings out how strongly the author, who herself has dedicated 20 years of her life living among camels and the Raikas, feels about this unusual relationship. Being a vet herself, she invested some time in learning the traditional healing methods and the diets of the animals in various seasons. She even went out to set up an organisation imparting training courses and to supervise the work being done, while coordinating with many contributors to create a camel lobby. What really brought them under the microscope is the delicious camel milk ice-cream, invented while researching camel milk. Rumors of its taste spread far and wide, and pretty soon the team received interview requests from BBC World Service and New York Public Radio.
The author further studied how like other pets, camels satisfied people’s emotional needs. The kissing camels herded by Raika around Sadri are most unique creatures offering travellers an unforgettable experience, and their likes cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
The next time I travel to Rajasthan, I’ve got to make sure these two things – eat camel milk ice-cream (it’s available in two flavors, better taste both) and kiss this majestic beast.
This is one of the best travelogues you’ll be reading this year. Very informative and entertaining.