In the countryside of Rajasthan, around the area of Jodhpur, are the farming vilages of the Bishnoi people. The Bishnoi are an interesting group of people, as mentioned they are farmers, they farm lentils among other things. They drink no alcohol, ever, and they are what the Hindus describe as pure veg. This means that not only do they eat no meat but they are not permitted to eat eggs either. There is even a story about over three hundred Bishnoi losing their lives to protect a group of trees from felling by the Maharaja.
The Bishnoi however do have one interesting habit: they drink a water based solution of Opium to relieve the rigors of the hard lives they lead and to welcome strangers into their villages. We thought we should pay them a visit.
Even before we can be shown around the village, small though it is, we need to be welcomed. We sit in a ring outside the headman’s hut and he brings forth a mortar and pestle and a large device for straining all the unwanted particular matter from the solution. This device is basically a T frame with a straining cloth on each arm end.
Our host then starts to mix the Opium with water and a little purified butter, this small amount of fat apparently allows the Opium to be dissolved fully in the water. The mixture is then strained twice to remove any particular matter, all of this is done to incantations in the local tongue.
When the mixture is ready it is then proffered to us, for the ladies it is poured into their own hands while us men are to slurp the liquid from the right palm of our hosts hand. It will of course only be offered in the right as the left is the toilet hand.
Opium is of course illegal in India but it is everywhere here in the north, neither Pakistan or Afghanistan are very far away, although we were told that this Opium is cultivated in government controlled fields just outside of Udaipur and the Bishnoi are given governmental permission to use it. Even without this permission however the use of Opium in ritual form is so widespread it would be hard to stop. We were told by another man that in his home near the Pakistan border, the local men would find a stranger hard to trust if they refused to partake of some Opium as a welcoming ritual.
We have never been ones to scoff at tradition, and we like the Bishnoi.