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Facing tough times, Rajasthan's Raika herders hold first-ever camel cheese festival

By Rosamma Thomas* 

During the pandemic, the annual Pushkar camel fair in Rajasthan did not occur for fear of contagion; in 2022, it was called off again as lumpy skin disease affected cattle. At Sadri in Pali district, however, festivity continues – a two-day Camel Cheese Festival was held on November 23 and 24, 2022.
Visitors spent time with the camel herds and their Raika, drank camel-milk tea with the herders and then returned to lunch at the Kumbhalgarh Camel Dairy, from where the Kumbhalgarh Fort is visible, to taste camel cheese.
The Raika herders have been facing a tough time – camels are no longer used as much for transport or agriculture in Rajasthan. The animals have limited utility, but their milk is prized. Camel Charisma, the dairy at Kumbhalgarh, sends camel milk across the country to people who use it in therapy – for autistic children, improved blood sugar levels, or even to treat cancer.
It is believed that the health benefits of the camel milk is because the animals are herded by nomadic pastoralists, and graze on a variety of trees and shrubs in the course of their travels – unlike stall-fed animals that do not walk much and are fed a set diet. Many of the trees that camels feed from are also listed as important medicinal plants in Ayurveda.
Hanwant Singh Rathore, co-founder of Camel Charisma, explains that the milk sale is mostly to people who seek it out for therapy. Camels herded by Raika are treated like members of the family, and the fact that the milk production occurs with no cruelty is a major point of interest for buyers like UAE-based Augusta de Lisi, whose firm Nomadic Nutrition sources camel milk powder from the dairy.
“Animal welfare is in the centre of my concerns, and I source camel milk powder from the Raika since I’ve seen the close and caring relationships with the animals,” she says.
The dairy is currently promoting camel milk as a unique product from the state. “Like Darjeeling tea, Cheddar cheese, Parma ham or Bordeaux wine, camel milk could be the USP of Rajasthan,” says Ilse Kohler-Rollefson, who founded Camel Chrisma and is renowned as an expert on camels.
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*Freelance journalist

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