Sunday, October 26, 2008

Camel, Camel, Cow

At the last minute Jon had to cancel out of the safari. India had caught up with him the way India likes to catch up with newbies. In total there were nine of us and our jeep driver. All of us would go into the desert for sunset, some would return and some would stay the night. We were staying the night, sleeping under the stars. I had been dreaming of starry, starry skies for a couple of weeks. I was so excited to crowd into the jeep, and crowd we did!

DSC03806Our first stop in the way to camels was in Bada Bagh to see the royal chhatris, which when compared with the ones in Bikaner were a bit of a let down. I had seen them from the roof terrace of our hotel in Jaisalmer and was curious to see them. Their current condition makes one doubt if they are at all maintained and the backdrop of energy windmills, communication towers and power lines killed any feelings of awe and any pictures taken had to be from very specific angles to edit them out. Some of the cenotaphs had crumbled either completely or their domes had caved in and it seems like only a matter of time before they are complete ruins. While the ones in Bikaner feel aged and respected, these felt old, neglected and somewhat abused, which is sadly the situation for a lot of incredible historical sites here.

After Bada Bagh we made a brief stop at Amar Sagar, the gardens of the Maharaja which sound far more grand than they were, except for one spot here we looked out over a dry lake bed to beautiful Jain temple. Then it was back in the jeep and we were soon speeding into the desert toward Pakistan.

DSC03829 Most of the camel safaris from Jaisalmer go to the Sam Sand Dunes, and what sounds like a nice experience away from the crowds can be ruined by the number tourists that do the safaris. We were in luck. Our hotel owners also own about 50 camels and they conduct their own safaris, limited to a maximum of about 10 people and they go to an area about 40 kilometers from the touristy spots. We arrived at a village whose name I do not know with only a few inhabitants and whose livelihood depends on camels and the income generated from the safaris. We took a brief tour of the village and met pretty much everyone living there. The homes were made of mud walls and  grass roofs. After thirty minutes or so, we were each assigned a camel – mine was named Kala – and off we headed into the desert. Kala stopped at every bush to take a bite and I heard the common complaints from Ulco, who was directly behind me, that my camel was a bit gassy.

DSC03889About forty minutes later we arrived at our spot for the night, about an hour or so before the sun set. We had our chai and the camels were taken to a small oasis to feed while we all watched the sunset, just forty or so kilometers from the border of Pakistan. We could not see a building, hear a car or anything other than the small group several hundred meters away whose voices we could barely hear in the silence of the desert.

Our guide made us a great supper over a fire and the group of us – nine, including the two guides – played all sorts of games that we haven't played since we were six. the innocent game of "Duck, Duck, Goose" was now a more vicious version called "Camel, Camel, Cow". The moon was full and so bright it blocked out most of the stars I was looking forward to sleeping under. But a full moon casts a wonderful light on the desert. It was bright enough to see quite far into the distance, making out the silhouettes of distant camels and solitary trees. It was like the world was flat and we were dangerously close to the edge. 

DSC03994 We slept on flimsy mattresses on surprisingly hard sand. Walking in it, it feels all squishy and soft. Trying to sleep on it, I felt every ridge and dent. I woke up to a damp and slightly foggy morning, a mist hanging over the dunes of the desert making it all the more mysterious. I took a bit of a walk on my own and after passing over one dune, I found myself in a valley with nothing but sand and fog around me. I could hear the voices from the camp and with my footprints still visible, I had no fear of getting lost, save for a sudden sand storm.

All too soon it was time to get back on our camels and this time it was a much longer journey to the pick-up point. At first the camel seems very uncomfortable and as there are no stirrups giving one a sense of foundation or balance I felt like if I moved the wrong way, I would slip off.

All too soon our journey was over and it was back to Jaisalmer in jeeps for our last night before heading off to the blue city Jodhpur.

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