Though it has been declared ugly by the only species which makes such declarations, among all organic matter a camel has first right to put its hoof beneath its chin and wonder at the hot desert sands the whole purpose of life. Loyal, submissive and low-maintenance, the camel is still the most precious thing in the desert, despite its characteristic flatulence and tendency to bite during the breeding season. It provides the cheapest mode of transport as well as the most fuel-efficient. To add to its eco-friendliness, most camel carts today come fitted with tyres rejected by the aviation industry
Naturally, the camel was an important component of medieval trading caravans. But it also played a crucial role in defence strategies. Bikaners eighteenth maharaja, Ratan Singh, won over the British with his gesture of sending across 200 camels to serve in the first Afghan War. And it was the progressive Maharaja Ganga Singh who founded the worlds first camel corps when he raised the Ganga Risalla. By the time World War I commenced, the Bikaner camels had a well-established reputation and were called into service in Egypt. And after India got its Independence, the Risalla went on to become an army battalion. Although later disbanded, the Border Security Force still uses camels for patrolling its long desert border with Pakistan. That a nation with one of the largest defence budgets in the world employs camels is proof that, like the umbrella, the camel cannot be improved further. It is not surprising then that the National Research Centre on Camels is located in Bikaner, 8 km from the city centre. Close to 300 camels live here. Among Indian breeds, the Bikaneri (distinguished by its tawny colour) and Jaisalmeri (lighter of colour and slimmer of build) are considered superior. The Bikaneri is known for its strength, hence employed on the battlefield, and the Jaisalmeri for its speed, best used for patrolling, though both have been employed equally for the less glorious purpose of carrying loads over long distances. The third most popular Indian breed is the Gujarati camel. Darker and smaller than the other two, its said to yield the highest quantity of milk, though only adivasis in the region drink it.