The fascinating story of how a research trip to India led to a remarkable and unending effort to save our camels and help pastoral peoples worldwide to survive into the modern age. Ilse’s book takes us into the secret world of the Rebari camel herders; both an extraordinary adventure and an entertaining introduction to the culture of rural Rajasthan.
— H.H. Maharaja Shri Gaj Singhji II of Jodhpur‑Marwar
Ilse’s passion for camels strikes a poignant chord in Camel Karma, which recounts the joys and heartaches that go with caring for these magnificent creatures and their keepers in Rajasthan’s sometimes harsh, but always beautiful landscape.
— Romulus Whitacker, Madras Crocodile Bank, Tamil Nadu

Camel Karma

Twenty years among India's camel nomads

According to myth, the camel was created by Lord Shiva at the behest of his consort Parvati. Parvati shaped a strange five-legged animal from clay and asked Shiva to blow life into it. At first Shiva refused, saying that the misshapen animal will not fare well in the world, but later gave in. He folded the animal’s fifth leg over its back giving it a hump, and commanded it to get up, “uth”. That is how the animal got its name. The camel then needed someone to look after it, so Shiva rolled off a bit of skin and dust from his arm and made out of this the first Raika.

 Historically, the Raika of Rajasthan have had a unique and enduring relationship with camels. Their entire existence revolves around looking after the needs of these animals which, in turn, provide them with sustenance, wealth and companionship. When German veterinarian, Ilse Köhler-Rollefson, arrives in Rajasthan in 1991, she is immediately enthralled by the Raikas’ intimate relationship with their animals but also confronted with their existential problems. This is the story of the quest that follows to save a globally unique and humane animal culture and find a place for the camel in rapidly changing India.

 It is a journey that is often exasperating, sometimes funny, but keeps revealing unexpected layers of rural Rajasthani mores. A travelogue of a sort, this book takes us deeply into the diverse cultures that make Rajasthan such a fascinating place.