Bikaner, the Camel city

The reason why there are not so many foreign tourists in Bikaner is because there is no airport. The plan though is to have one built soon. According to the locals most of the foreign visitors are from Spain or Italy.

Here, the Fort is owned by the Royal family but they live in another place. The Fort is just for tourists to see, and the money collected (entrance tickets) goes for the restoration of the Fort, consolidation of the building, and giving a new life to the wall paintings. The city is well known in India for its Botanic painting school and from this school, students come and help in restoring the Fort.

During the visit, we meet a group of French people and my guide tells me, a big smile on his face, that their guide is his student, listening carefully to what he was saying. The said student was turning his back and as soon as he was finished, he saw my guide and felt embarrassed, and joined his 2 hands as a sign of respect to his “Guru” (teacher, someone who teaches you something), who complimented him on the job. I told him when passing next to him: “Vous parlez très bien le Français!” (“You speak French very well!”…in French) and he smiled, pleased with the compliment. His Guru explained to me he had learnt French at the Alliance Française in Bikaner, and then went to study a few months in Switzerland. The boy was his nephew. My guide himself, gets to go to the Italian part of Switzerland (Tessin/Ticino) quite often and has some friends in Lugano (beautiful place by the way…!).

Then I could choose between 2 visits: Jain temples, or the Camel Research Institute, I chose option 2 where I have learnt so many things about the hundred of camel living here!

A camel lives for about 25 years, It is mature at the age of 3-4 years old for a female, and 5-6 years for a male.

The main 3 different breeds are:

– the Bikaner Camel: very tall, brown color, long eyelashes

– the Jaisalmer Camel: slightly smaller, light brown

– Gujarat Camel (Gujarat is a state of India): white and not a good breed

In one park we could see only females with their babies, under their belly trying to feed themselves.

The institute is like a small town, several buildings for each purpose, and around, some grass and flowers. Here scientists, researchers, doctors, … are working but also trainers, who know the Camels’ behavior very well, get them fit with physical exercises and train them for races.

One of the main subject studied at the moment is the skin diseases and dentition problems which are the main issues the Camels face in their lives.

And oh! I made a wonderful discovery: Camels, in winter, love the smell of Tobacco! Did you know that ? It is why the Camel cigarettes (the company I work for) uses the Camel logo. Well, that is what I was told. I am sure it would surprise many of my work colleagues. The fact has been proved but the reason is still to be found.

Now let’s talk about money…a camel usually costs about 5000 USD and a well trained camel, from the institute for example, is 10 000 USD!

In Bikaner, the camel is often used for handicrafts: you will find a lot of souvenirs in Camel bones (I was assured they do not kill the Camel for that, they “recycle” the bones when after a natural death), and Camel whool. For that the hair of the neck is used for a quality whool as it is the softer hair. You will also find scarves in Pashmina (which is the sort of sheep the whool is taken from), Baby Pashmina (even softer) and Antilope whool.

Anyway the nickname given to Bikaner is “Camel City” and now you know why !

As I said above, the botanic art is Bikaner’s signature and I was lucky enough to meet Raju Swami. The name may not ring a bell to you, it was my case but he painted one of the pieces exposed at Galleries Lafayette in Paris. One feels honored to be taken to his private studio. He also draw some cards for UNICEF, which he showed me.

He works with painting made of precious stones, and squirrel tail enabling him to draw things in details. I could see a tree he drew, and he counted more than 17 000 leaves on it. He was painting some everyday and counted on a daily basis the leaves he had added…That requires some patience…that I certainly don’t have…

He told me about Competitions he had won everywhere in the world and about his Awards. In the studio, there were some articles from magazines and newspapers about him on the walls, even one from a French newspaper.

In this studio, he has 9 students coming everyday and they also expose their paintings. People passing by can stop to see them and buy if they wish to. I have bought a lovely one representing a blue flower which he has kindly signed for me, in front of me! Thank you Raju!

His website, where you can see his Botanic art: http://rajuswamiart.com/Flowers/

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