Camel Safari, Jaisalmer

Trip Start Oct 10, 2007
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Trip End Jun 26, 2008


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Sunday, November 11, 2007

So, we're in Jaisalmer at the moment which is in the west of India near the border with Pakistan. Em's going to do an update on the shopping here and general other stuff and leave it to me to cover the Camel Safari..
 
The safari lasts for just over a day starting with a visit to some ancient cenotaphs and a Jain temple before heading into the Thar Desert.
 
After a slightly delayed start, we clambered into the jeep to begin the day at around nine in the morning.  We were six - Em and I, Georgia and Susannah (two recent graduates from London) and Sevanne and Stefan (a French couple about our age).
 
The visit to the cenotaphs was interesting.  I was a tad disappointed to find a bunch of sandstone constructions rather than the half-man, half-horse beasts I was expecting.  Hey, ho.  The tombs (that's what a cenotaph is) were impressive, though - see picture.  We'd driven about an hour out of town to a remote area where the maharajas were buried, often with their wives who generally did the honorable thing and topped themselves when their husbands died (bear in mind the wives often numbered around ten to fifteen).  The tombs themselves were quite odd buildings comprising a hefty, solid stone base on which four six-foot tall pillars stood.  Atop the pillars was a dome - the whole thing was ornately carved and each bore a stone depicting the maharajas and their favourite wife/wives with a few lines in Hindi below each one (probably "here lies Maharaja Ajit Singh and his twelve wives; he was a loving father and husband).
 
From there we headed to a Jain temple which was, well, pretty and templey.  I'm not a massive fan of temples really so we had a look round, oo'ed and aah'ed respectfully then wandered out.  Outside we met Mr Govinda, who runs a shop by the temple.  We had a really good giggle - he took a shine to my shades and offered me 100Rs for them.  Seeing my chance for revenge, I said that he should come to my shop in town and we would discuss prices over chai.  I would give him best price and ensure he received full Diwali discount (this is the patter we get from every shop we walk past).  He found this hilarious, and offered, instead, to race me for the glasses.  This had his mates in stitches, as Mr Govinda is a short, portly feller (think a chunkier Cheech Marin).  After a bit more fun with him we all crammed back  into the jeep as Mr Govinda assured Em that I was a very nice man and she was very lucky.  Very astute folk, Indians.
 
Another long journey in the jeep ensued, which had us all squashing into each other embarrassingly.  The scenery gradually declined as we drove further into the desert, as did the conversation in the jeep (due to a mix of the loud, rattly vehicle and wondering what was in store for us).  Suddenly the jeep veered off into the roadside, the back door was flung open and we were instructed to "come".  Before us slouched eight camels.  I haven't had a good track record riding any four-legged beast.  A three hour pony trek on a school trip to Wales was hell and the last time I'd been on a camel I'd been put there by an Arab who then demanded an extortionate fee from my dad to let me down.  Needless to say I was oblivious and dad said to the Arab that if he wanted me so much he could keep me.  Anyway, this all adds up to the compiled nervousness I felt on seeing our "Ships of the Desert".  After a time of loading the creatures up, I was introduced to my steed, Rathia.  I introduced myself.  Rathia chewed and loudly broke wind.  I straddled her and was immediately propelled into the air at a fair rate of knots.  If you haven't been on a camel, they're high.  They're a bit like horses with an extra segment of leg added with the worst breath believable, worse farts and bags of what I'm reliably informed sis termed "tude' on the streets.  I again tried to forget all my previous experiences of burdened beasts and decided to make Rathia my friend. A little scratch on the top of her head provoked an almost cute waggling of ears and the slightest touch or loud tongue-clicks would have her veering left, right or speeding up slightly.  Clarkson moment - "in short; she looked like a Volvo on tranquilisers but handled like a Mercedes.  On speed."
 
The thing about riding a camel through the desert is that it's peaceful; after the constant bombardment from people trying more and more ingenious ways of making you fall out with your money and push it into their loving arms the tranquility was much needed.  We traveled single file (to hide our tracks - only Stormtroopers ride side by side) so couldn't converse much so were let to enjoy the scenery or chat with our camels.  In the spirit of my new found love of dromedaries I decided to chat to Rathia.  And sing.  If anyone could have seen or heard me I would've looked, at best, a bit of a berk and at worst a bloke who really needs locking up for the good of the community.  For some reason, I gave Rathia a comprehensive history of the Manchester music scene from Joy Division to Elbow, with commentary and tracks r from each featured artist.  What Rathia's impression of the tunes was I've no idea, but hopefully I'm now only person in the world who has sung Sproston Green on a camel in the Thar Desert.  She seemed to appreciate the tunes and was prompted to slow down, chill out and munch on any passing foliage.
 
We had two stops on our trek - one for lunch and one for tea and sleep.  Both were a great opportunity for us all to sit down and get to know one another.  The food was good, cooked on a wood fire by our guides, if a little bizarre (meal one comprised super noodles, spicy veg curry and a mind-openingly hot tomato chutney).  As a group, we smoked, chatted and found out that we got along fine - we were soon also joined by a lovely German couple, too.  The evening stop was definitely the highlight - it was like the pictures of the desert.  Big, rippled sand dunes surrounded us ripe for cannoning down like kids in snow.  I became fascinated by the scarab beetles which are incredibly friendly little fellers about the size of your thumb but harmless so spent a while playing with them.  We sat around the fire and munched through more decent food and chutney before having a bit of a sing song with traditional desert songs, Frere Jacques (the French couple), Neun und Neunzig Luftballoon (the German couple) and the Tale of My Poor Meatball (the English quartet). 
 
The desert guides then said we should go to bed, which we duly did.  We were on blankets covered by blankets, so could see the stars as we drifted off to sleep.  The sight was magnificent; I've never been anywhere before where you can see the galaxy so clearly and it was beautiful; constellations, satellites and shooting stars were all spotted.  Just as we were starting to snooze we heard drums and singing.  Our desert guides quickly bustled round, rousing us from beds with the promise of "party, party".  We duly rose and climbed a nearby dune to be met by our hotel owners and lots of other people bearing boxes of beer, dodgy rum and turbans.  We were all introduced to another German couple who had got engaged the day before, on a camel safari like ours.  The hotel had insisted they have a traditional wedding desert ceremony, to which the newly betrothed had agreed.  A big fire was started, more songs were wailed and beer was drunk.  The rum was reserved for the hoteliers, however one of them had agreed to drive.  This annoyed the German engaged girl, who deftly skirted the fire and grabbed the bottle, insisting that if anyone wanted ore rum they had to get it from her!  This irked the hotel blokes no end, and the driver sulked off behind a dune.  We decided that maybe it was time for us to leave the do, so mooched off with Stefan and Sevanne for some kip.
 
After a good night's sleep, we woke and broke our fast with toast, biscuits and chai.  The camels were rounded up and mounted for the last time.  The journey back was subdued; the English girls were staying for more trekking and another night so we left them behind and everyone seemed tired.  I lifted Rathia's spirits with my final installment of Mancunian Music 101 and we finally arrived back at the spot where we had been dropped previously.
 
All in all it was a great experience; we met some great people and had a taste (the merest soupcon) of desert life.  For now, though, we're on the road again...
 
Andy
xXx
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