Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A camel caravanserai

So here I am, on a camel in the middle of the Thar Desert, in western Rajasthan. While a picture exists of this event, you can be sure it will never see the light of day, and therefore you will have to make do with this photo of Ali, my camel herder.

I'm doing an incredibly touristy thing and taking a camel trek through the desert, to an overnight camp where I'll spend the night under the stars. Normally I would run a mile from this kind of business, but as it happens I am a total sucker for camels. I love the things, and take every opportunity I can to ride one.I've ridden them in Dubai, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Broome and now Jaisalmer, India.

And this trek is working out well so far. I'm being borne aloft by a camel called Lucky, and seeing as his name means the same thing as mine, I figure we're going to get on well together. Ali clearly thinks the same, as he hands me the reins so he can fall back and chat with his mate, which I'm positive is against the rules, but no matter - together Lucky and I sway off towards the horizon at a gentle pace.

Some people think camels are hideous things - they froth at the mouth, and spit at you, and grunt, they smell pretty awful, and when their bladder lets go you better not be standing anywhere within the blast range; but I think they're fabulous.

There's something very romantic about a camel ride. I love the patterned saddles the camels wear. I love their long and luscious eyelashes. I adore the feeling of rolling slowly from side to side, two metres up in the air, as the wind brushes sand against my face. (Nature will have well exfoliated me by the time tomorrow morning rolls around.) Riding a camel feels like tapping into a piece of history, and even the weakest imagination can amplify that feeling - though the chaps with their mobile phones can bring you back down to earth pretty quickly, it's true.

So I sit back, grip the beast firmly between my knees, and together we rollick along slowly to the desert camp. Rocking gently about in the saddle is a special kind of pleasure and after an hour and a half of hip-sashaying goodness through the sand, I feel relaxed and unctuous and like I could just slide off the saddle into a puddle on the ground.

At the desert camp I dismount, along with the many other tourists taking one of a hundred other treks, and brush off the small children and women begging for money in exchange for photos. As I turn around I catch sight of two urchins dashing up the sand-dunes, and I catch a glimpse of their faces before they pull their veils over their heads.

We settle in for the night as dusk falls over the dunes, me and ten other people and a guide. The group isn't as talkative as I'd hoped, but as the night deepens, over dinner we share stories, and I tell the tale of the Barramundi Dreaming that I learnt in the East Kimberley. We drift off to sleep on hard cots, with the wind blasting sand against our bodies.

Some time later, I don't know how long, I'm jerked awake - literally - and as I sit upright in the inky darkness I can just make out a shape at the end of the cot - and it's got my blankets and it's pulling them off the bed. I cry out, grabbing hold, and just then the moon beams a bright shaft of light down onto the dune, and I can see it's a dog. A dog's got my blankets!

A tug-of-war ensues, and it's obvious that this is a cheeky mutt working in cahoots with another one; and they're giving me a run for my money. They must belong to the gypsies who live in the area, but before I can think too hard about it I'm engaged in battle. They pull away, I pull back, they make little grunts of happiness and playful growls, I try not to wake anyone else up, they yelp and paw at the blanket. Cheeky buggers! This is obviously a well-known game for them -and I consider myself lucky to have been chosen for the sport.

Other people begin to swim up into consciousness and before too long the entire group is awake as the younger dog makes a final powerful bid for victory and tears a long white strip off my sheets about half a foot wide and three feet long. Rips it right off! And dances away into the dunes, extremely proud, trailing the sheet  behind it. My god, how am I going to explain this to the camp operator in the morning? A dog ate my bedsheets??

Quiet befalls the camp again.

In the morning, I sneak up on one of the culprits as she's dozing on the sand dune above us, keeping watch. I snap off this picture before she wakes up, but when she does she crawls towards me on her belly, teeth bared, in a posture of absolute supplication. She knows she's been a naughty girl.

We enjoy the small moment as she lifts her head so that I can scratch under her chin and around behind her ears. I don't think this mutt gets much love in her daily life, and before too long she's dug a hole in the sand and is lying on her side in it, completely relaxed as she allows me to shower her with affection. Seeing as how I haven't patted a cat or touched another person in eight full days, it's something we're both enjoying equally.

The call of a crow pierces the distance and she's up on her feet, sniffing the air alertly with her ears cocked on either side of her head. She takes a few steps off towards the sound, then, pausing, she quickly turns back to me. She comes right up close to where I'm squatting on the sand, her whole body one giant wag.

As I hold completely still she gently touches her cold wet nose to mine, and she looks straight into my eyes, deeply holding my gaze, and a shiver runs through me.

I feel as though I've been kissed by something from another world.

And then she's off, and she's gone.


Jeannette said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeannette said...

What a beautiful post I am so enjoying following your travels

rabbit and the duck said...

Jeannette took my comment out of my mouth : ) A lovely story, looking forward to hearing and seeing more of your adventures.

Heather said...

If your ever choose not to go back to your "real" career then you can always think about being a travel writer. I'd buy your books! Thanks for sharing your travel tales.