On a field trip to Jordan in 1979, German veterinarian Ilse Kohler-Rollefson became fascinated by the relationship between pastoral peoples and the camels they shared their lives with. Disillusioned by the assembly-line method of animal rearing back home, she knew she had hit upon something—only, few others seemed to share her interest. A little over ten years later, she arrived in India, and thus began her remarkable story of ceasing to be merely an academic and becoming a representative of the Raika of Rajasthan.
The bond between the Raika and their camels was the stuff of legend, but it struggled to survive amid a rapidly changing world. To the Raika, the camel provided sustenance and wealth, and just as importantly, companionship. For Ilse, this offered not just a glimpse of the history and culture of Rajasthan, but also a way forward in her personal journey. The hope of saving both the camel and the Raika way of life took her and her spirited ally, Hanwant Singh Rathore, from vet labs in the city to Raika settlements in the remotest corners of the Thar Desert, and everywhere in between. The intractable dilemmas— both bureaucratic and cultural—they were often confronted with required creative solutions. And as they adapted to their circumstances, they found their orthodox Raika friends adapting with them.
Full of unexpected twists and turns, Camel Karma is an enduring first-hand account of the decades-long struggle of Rajasthan’s desert nomads to find a place in a modern India.