Thursday, November 09, 2006

Yes folks! It's what I've been waiting for - our camel safari in the Thar Desert!

Nov 9th. So excited about the camel safari! We headed out into the Thar Desert in a couple of battered jeeps, courtesy of Deepak Guest House, via the ancient ruins of Bada Bagh; a cluster of limestone cenotaphs built in memory of Jaisalmers rulers, which we found about 6km outside of town. Then a wee bit more driving and it was time to "giddyup on them there camels" ..yes, just a little easier said than done! Actually, it wasn't too bad, you just have to lean back, leannnnnnnnnnnnnn back! Then the camels push forward on their seemingly totally bendy legs, front first then back, then hey presto you are up and looking at the world (well, at least the desert around you) from a totally different perspective!

My driver was just lovely, and as the day progressed, I realised he was also the main man running the joint...and wow, a powerful talker too (and i know what they are like, ahem!) Mr Poussara was his name and he was just gorgeous; so smiley and yet regal looking with his giant turban, white shirt and dhoti (cloth wrapped around as trousers, looks really comfy.. as long as it doesn't fall down!). His English was amazing, I mean I know he has been doing these camel safaris for years but still, its pretty impressive stuff! He and generations of his family have lived in the same desert village close to where we would be camping, yet he can speak a number of foreign languages although English is his favourite, and he certainly knows alot more of our language than I could possibly know of Rajistani or Hindi, so all in all, an amazing man! My camel - whose name escapes me (I know, how rude!) was pretty big, pretty smelly and pretty comfortable. Think it might be due to my quite impressive padding in the posterior area, but i had no problems riding a camel. Some of the gang felt quite sore, quite quickly but I was fine, and loved being up high, floppily lolling along, taking in the barren but beautiful desert scene in front of us. What more romantic mode of transport could you ask for (ok the romance wore off a bit when a million flies decided to land on my poor camels' neck but hey, they didn't really bother me and that's all i cared about!).

We rode for nearly 3 hours I think, and it was really relaxing as we walked, listening to the camel drivers chatting away to each other. It's funny; most of these men are one big extended family, so all related one way or another, and work together all the time, yet they had so much to chat about, you'd think they hadn't spoken for years! The older camel drivers dressed in traditional clothing and looked so exotic, but the younger ones all wore western style clothing. Mahindra said when they get older they might be more inclined to change dress sense, but more and more of the younger Indians are moving away from dhotis, sherwanis, kurtas and the like, which is such a shame, as they are so much more interesting to look at (hark the tourist calling; some men might just like to wear easy pull on western clothes, i know, i know!).....

Poor Helen and her camel and driver (yup that's him in the pic!) always seemed to be at the back, and as Helen does like to be part of the conversation it was a bit of a bummer for her; we did shout to her on a regular basis "are you ok back there...?" She was not amused, poor thing! Nah, just kidding, and actually we all had a fit of giggles about it so everything was a-ok in camel world!

We arrived at our "campsite" just before the sun began to set. There were giant sand dunes everywhere, pristine and sunsoaked. It was a gorgeous setting and we soon realised that the camel drivers were also the camp setter uppers, chefs, bar men, singers and dancers too, so of course, they went up even higher in our estimations!!!. Our "beds" were pulled out of a thatched hut, and we sat around taking in the beautiful views around us, chatting away, nibbling on the most amazing snacks. Yes,after our tough few hours sitting our big tourist bums on camels, while the drivers walked the whole way, we were exhausted you know (please note heavy sarcasm here)! Sometimes i do feel too luxurious on this tour, don't get me wrong, I'm loving it but do feel a tad uncomfortable too! Anyway, back to the food (see i am shallow)! The snacks were amazing - and cooked on a big fire the men had set up just over the dunes - home made potato crisps, hot off the pan vegetable pakora, lots of other bits and pieces - and of course hot chai! It's official! I love that stuff- think im actually addicted to it at this point! Then we quickly moved onto India's other national drink (ahem maybe just for us foreigners but hey!) the lovely and somehow nice and cold, beer!!! FAN-tastic! We sat and watched the sun set and it was just gorgeous - the sky looked wrapped up in about fifty colours of red and pink, just gorgeous!

Our camp beds were then moved into a semi-circle around another big fire that was set up in front of us. As the night got darker, and the beer flowed on, everyone realised what a special night this was. Ahhh yes, especially as it was Ricardo's birthday and Mahindra had managed to secretly bring a beautiful cake to our camp - in one piece no less! So with lots of toasting (suddenly a giant bottle of whisky appeared from Ricardo's backpack!!) and plenty of "for he's a jolly good fellow's" sung, the night took on an even happier theme....and it had already been pretty happy let me tell you! Sitting on a camp bed in the middle of the desert looking up at the stars - and there seemed to be millions of them tonight - what more could you ask for! I'll tell you what - dinner served to you right in your bed! I mean really - total luxury or what! The food was incredible and tasted so much better from eating it in the desert! Then the band arrived - and the singers and dancing girls! This evening just got better and better!

Absolutely hypnotic! I know I am given to superbole quite often but really, this was just magical. As the dancers spun around us, their dresses glistening and twinkling in the light of the fire, grabbing us to come dance with them (check out Helen and Ingrid who danced their wee socks off!), the traditional music played on drums and a violin type instrument, and then the camel drivers coming to sit next to them and singing their hearts out - right into the wee hours of the morning.. magical! That is what this night was for me! Clearly one of the best experiences I have ever had - and that is saying something - as i have had so many incredible experiences already on my travels! The night was capped off by a beautiful Hindi prayer that everyone sang, which wished all of us good luck now and in our future travels. What was incredible to me was that these people did this type of safari a few times a month (at the very least) yet the joy and excitement and passion they had for their "job" was just unbelievable!

A few funny endings to the night - one of the dancers getting me up to dance with her then twirling round so fast she managed to punch me in the face by accident - no broken bones, and a good giggle had by all! Then we had Mahindra (be honest sir, you were a tad tipsy!) trying to get us all to go to bed - ok trying to get Helen to go to bed - then Ewan and Helen going back and forth with their witty repartee, for hours, it seemed! Maybe it was the beer, the whisky, the singing and dancing, or just the starry, starry night - but this was the perfect - ridiculously silly tho' it was - end to an absolutely perfect day!!!

Nov 10th. Woke up early this morning around 6am - and saw one of the most incredible sun rises I have ever seen in my life. What a wake up call! Seeing the sun rise, the camels silhoutted against a beautiful pink background, hearing the camel drivers chatting away, and smelling a yummy breakfast - wow, wow, wow! The only thing that had hampered an amazing sleep had been the stereo sounds of Ricardo and Mahindra snoring loudly enough you MUST have been able to hear it back in Jaisalmer!

Yet more luxury; piping hot chai delivered to us as we woke up, then a fantastic Indian breakfast spread out for everyone! After we had freshened up, we got back on our camels and into the desert again for a couple more hours of riding before we met up with our jeeps again. Check out Lindsey and Ewan enjoying their chai below!
As we rode along, the camel drivers picked up wild watermelons, growing in the desert, chopped them in half and we shared them among us - fab!!! A last surprise - as we came over the hill and saw the jeeps, the camel drivers kicked us all into top gear and began running, which of course meant the camels ran too - or do we say trot where these animals are concerned! Either way it was a lovely end to a wonderful trip.

Back in the jeeps and into town - had one last look at the beautiful fort, picked up our bags and then we were off on a 1:30pm bus to our next destination - the blue city of Jodhpur!


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