Here, camels don’t lament

Here, camels don’t lament

A research centre in Bikaner wants to uphold the camel heritage of Rajasthan. Kamala Balachandran writes about her visit

Camels are an important component of the fragile desert ecosystem.

Rajasthan! The very term, which means ‘Land of Kingdoms’, invokes colourful images of formidable forts, intricately carved palaces, handsome men in colourful turbans and curled moustaches, beautiful women in lavish ghagras that flare out during the ghumar dance! Another picture-postcard image of Rajasthan is of the magnificent desert: in the golden-yellow backdrop of sand dunes, a row of camels with herdsmen in white holding the reins, silently navigating the ocean of sand.

Hence, to completely experience Rajasthan, a package tour of this largest Indian state must provide the tourists a glimpse of all these. Plus, a visit to a Camel farm, which is now listed as a tourist attraction in tour books.

The Camel Research Farm, located on the Jodhpur bypass road about 8 km from Bikaner city, is one-of-a-kind institute in India... It’s also known as Camel Breeding Farm, established in 1984 by the central government with the objective to protect and save the camel breeds of Rajasthan.

In the desert

Camels are an important component of the fragile desert ecosystem. While camel numbers increased in other countries in response to climate change and economic viability, Rajasthan’s camel culture was disappearing fast. The knowledge and expertise needed to maintain camel herds were increasingly available with only a few old-timers. The younger generation was drawn to easier and more lucrative modern-day careers. It became apparent that unless camel breeders were helped to survive, the decline in camel numbers would only continue. Hence, the government stepped in to provide the necessary support.

The farm allows tourists between 2 pm and 4.30 pm. The guide assigned to us was knowledgeable and took us through the places in the right sequence. He informed us that he was from the Bishnoi tribe, known for its conservation practices. He pointed to us the native trees and shrubs of Rajasthan.

We also got to know a lot of interesting facts about camels! For instance, most of us had known that camels were of two kinds: single-humped and double-humped. We were told that the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources has registered nine breeds of Indian camels. At the farm, we were introduced to the Bikaneri, Jaiselmeri, Kutchi and Marwari breeds, indistinguishable for the lay people. Only when he pointed it out did we observe that the camels varied in colour, from blackish-brown to almost-white! It was a surprise to know that unlike horses and elephants, camels did not recognise their masters.

There are about 400 camels on this farm. They are taken out to the desert for natural grazing in the morning and brought back to the shelter after three in the afternoon. It is a beautiful sight to watch large herds of camels, along with their frolicking, long-legged young ones, willingly get back to their enclosures.

The method in place

Having filled us with a load of knowledge on camels, the guide led us to the other attractions of the farm. Camel ride, which is a primary touristy entertainment of Rajasthan, is available here, too. The farm has a museum detailing the growth of the institution and the camel’s place in the local ecosystem. A souvenir shop inside sells camel products like artworks made of camel bone, shawls; caps and purses made of camel hair, camel-skin bags, and keychains made using camel teeth.

The guide made it clear: only animals that died naturally were used to draw raw materials from for these products. No animal, not even the old and the sick, were ever slaughtered. The last stop was at the camel milk parlour where the tourists can taste a variety of products. Camel milk is thin and salty. But the kulfis and ice creams made of it are delicious.

Camel milk is said to have high insulin content and hence considered good for diabetics. It is also said to cure allergies in children. The unique flora of India’s Thar desert region includes plants long used in traditional medicine. These are now increasingly recognised by modern medical sciences as having therapeutic effects. We were told that a lot of research is going into scientifically establishing the medicinal properties of camel milk.

In the long run, the centre hopes to promote and popularise camel milk and set up a dairy.

As we were leaving, I recalled the poem The Camel’s Lament, in which the camel laments its fate: while most creatures are prized, pampered, or at least tended to, the camels are left to forage and sleep in the merciless desert. As if in reply, bellows emerged from the enclosure.

It sounded like the camels here were denying that they had anything to lament about!