The afternoon was mild in Jaisalmer. I've done most of the
things I planned on doing in this ragtag city, but I was left with the more challenging and
intimidating leg of my visit: a traipse in the great desert. At 4 PM, a
bemoustached guy who was rushing around collected me from my room in Hotel Peacock. I was lead to a jeep where, as
its lone passenger, cinematic images run violently through my mind. This was
how imagination almost overwhelms reality. We trudged away from the
center, speeding through byways further out into the fringes of Jaisalmer. My
heart was beating fast as we sped through barren strips of land; dwellings
42 kilometers later, mysteriously undulating expanse of
golden sand spread as far as the eyes could see. We arrived at a shanty where I
was to meet Deepsingh, a camel herder. I shook the hand of the gentleman with
serious eyes as he led me to Deeshka, his camel – and for the remainder of the
day, he would be mine too. We further moved towards a remote village called
Ratulashir (which I couldn't find in the map below) where my camel safari would commence. For 2 hours, I’d get to ride
Deeshka around the desert. But our destination was a lookout point where other
tourists would gather to wait for the sun to set at the horizon.
|The road to the Great Thar Desert|
|Tourists are usually taken to either of the two sights: Kuri or Sam Sand Dunes.|
The ride was uncomfortable, mostly because the camel’s hump
insinuated uncomfortably at my groin. When Deeshka moved forward, the uneven
protuberance further drove against my intimates, but I guess it’s a matter of
maneuvering oneself to find a more comfortable position. This isn't an easy
thing for a newbie like myself who's main objective in mind was how not to fall off a moving animal. Thirty minutes later, it got easier. I could
see my shadow rush on the sand. I was finally warming up to this. We passed
through a pond near Pithala where another camel herder was bathing his camel. The clear sky
reflected on the calm waters like a mirror that could open up into wonderlands.
Later that day, I saw my desert sunset. It had the sheen of blood. Honestly, I didn't have romantic notions about
the experience, but as the golden bowl of light gradually dipped into the
horizon, a gentle wind blew against my face. The sensation felt like I’d been
touched by an angel.
From there, I was led to a small desert resort where I
joined a small number of tourists gathering around a bonfire. I sat in front of
a cottage, facing the gradually burgeoning fire. In a matter of minutes,
musicians started beating their percussion chanting and singing some
dissonant songs while a lady dancer moved around the fire. She seemed in a
trance, occasionally contorting her body into limber forms. Meanwhile, dinner
was served: chapatti, sweet lassi (yoghurt), dhal, some pickled vegetable, baked potato and steamed rice. It felt like watching an adventure movie where I was part of
the cast. I pinched myself a couple of times. This was real. The whole show
must have lasted for an hour and a half.
Europeans and Me
After dinner, Deepsingh gathered several other tourists who
would be joining me sleep at the desert. No,
we weren't sleeping at this village resort because we paid to experience
sleeping under the stars. The company I had was interesting: 3 French nationals
(siblings), a Spanish couple and myself. We silently followed our camel herder
into a desolate corner of the desert. Upon reaching a clearing, Deepsingh
started laying down foam beds over the dunes. There would be no tents. It was 9 PM, and before a medium sized fire that lasted for a mere 30 minutes, we gathered and acquainted
ourselves with each other. The French siblings were headed by the elder
brother – a flight steward. The Spanish couple were best friends who used to be
lovers before they decided it was less complicated to stay out of a romantic
relationship. The Spanish guy, the son of a veteran actress, was himself an
actor. In fact I saw him in a Pedro Almodovar movie called “Bad Education” with
Gael Garcia Bernal. Interesting company, isn't it?
Needless to say, it was a colorful pastiche of
personalities. These days, the actor mostly works with teleseryes. We must have
exhausted a lot of topics and covered a lot of ground, becoming fast friends by circumstance. At most
times, I’d probably look elsewhere to amuse myself with, not because they’re
unadorable, but because there are certain conventions I am not comfortable
with. The French flight steward was particularly hospitable, knowing fully well
that I was alone. He’d been friendly at the village, intuitively considering
that it must have been lonely traveling on my own. Did I look vulnerable? It is a lonely planet after all. But I had done this hundreds of
time – and I almost never feel the solitude. But I was grateful nevertheless. I have
always thought of the French as a bunch of stiff necks, with stiffer
lips than the Brits, but this French man disproved this fallacy.
|Choosing my camel|
|Deeshka, my camel|
|Hmmm. My shadow even looked like I came straight out of the "Lawrence of Arabia" movie.|
|The pond near Pithala where camels are taken for a bath.|
|A camel herder bathes his "pet". Had trouble getting a steady shot while riding Deeshka.|
|Waiting for the sun to set.|
|I caught this on cam. A fox?|
Just before bedtime, something was passed around which I
politely declined. It was uncool
but they didn't seem to mind. What would they
otherwise do, throw me in some desert pit? J
My bed was placed beside a knee-high bush. We were earlier forewarned to watch
out for desert foxes
because they’re known to sneak around and pillage through
knapsacks. “They howl
,” Deepsingh reminded us. I looked around and couldn't almost see anything. We were bathed in pitch darkness.
By 10 PM, we went silent, staring at the a million stars
spread like faint-to-bright Christmas lights. This was one of those rare moments
when we realize how beautiful the Solar System is, yet we move around
dismissing them like they don’t exist. Somehow I knew this was possible
too. Some of these flickers of light may have completed their lifetime; they could have
disappeared and imploded in the vast skies. Sigh. And I was a mere speck
of life in the cosmos of the universe. Bearing these thoughts, I pulled my comforter closer to my neck. The
temperature started to dip into uncomfortable levels. True enough, at
around 2 AM, I couldn't contain myself from the cold. I was shivering so bad, I
had to grab my jacket and tried to double the sheets around me. But it wasn't working. I needed to survive this without whining. My desert mates seem
comfortable enough in lala land. And I was miserable. Miserably cold. One day later, I was sporting a hoarse voice and tonsilitis as I made my way back to Delhi.
5 AM - twilight was upon us. It was almost poetic to
watch the sun rise in this rough terrain of undulating sand. At 7, we gathered
our stuff. I washed my face with the remainder of my bottled water and gargled
fast. We left our niche without saying much. I gazed at our shadows as they moved away.
Deepsingh moved briskly, hauling away the foam beds, placing them on top of each other at
the back of a cart being pulled by his camel. We were then taken to the same village we had dinner last night - Mangalam
Resort. We were served our breakfast.
Before long, we went our own separate
ways. Deepsingh stayed with me while others disappeared from my sight. Where
could they have gone, I wondered. This was still part of the desert, but they
must have had their own arrangements. I saw my jeep driver from yesterday. He was there to collect me. I placed
my backpack at the back of the jeep. Then I hopped beside the driver’s seat,
and off we blazed the sands of the Great Thar Desert, speeding back midst wind turbines,
back to Jaisalmer. I couldn't wait for a hot shower in my room.
My guest house’s owner, the one who aggressively peddled this
safari – and even offered a free room - was right though. I also learned that
my safari package was more expensive by 200 to 300 rupees compared to my desert
companions', but then I was the only one taken there on a jeep and back. This
Asian got the “red carpet” treatment. This chapter of my itinerary would
forever be among the highlights of my Indian journeys.
This is the Eye in the Sky.
|A row of tourist cottages and a bonfire at the center.|
|Dissonant chanting and singing by Rajasthani musicians.|
|A dancer commences her number around the fire while we sit on the ground partaking dinner.|
|Thick paste of white powder cover her face while she danced seemingly in a trance (above and below).|
|Dinner: rice, chapatti, sweet lassi, dhal, some pickled vegetables and baked potato|
|Darkness falls in the undulating dunes.|
|The Massi siblings (French, left) and the Spanish couple. Yup, the guy is an actor who's appeared in a Pedro Almodovar movie ("Bad Education").|
|Serenity at dawn|
|Luxurious accommodations, not even a tent!|
|Foot prints of what?|
|Breakfast with the French.|
|My camel herder's house|
|My driver had to passby a different village before taking me back to Jaisalmer.|
|Mud house painted and ornamented|
Absolutely breathtaking. Hard to believe it's all in India.
Miles to go before I sleep!
To tell you the truth, I envy you @Eye!
Me too, I wouldn't have known this was in India if I didn't brave the unknown, so to speak. :)
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