New Year's Eve with the Camels I

Trip Start Aug 21, 2006
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Trip End Feb 13, 2007


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Flag of India  ,
Wednesday, January 3, 2007

On the last day of 2006, we started our first day of camel trekking.

A large group of camel trekkers gathered in front of the travel agency in the morning, waiting to be sent into the great Thar desert by jeeps. This scene deepened our doubts: every agency (including this one) swore that their trail would be an off-beaten one, somewhere 40km from Jaisalmer. But if that is true, who are on the beaten ones then??

We met our camels around 10:30am. People were divided into groups according to the trip duration. We signed up for 3 days and 2 nights, and got into a group of ten: J&K (our Australian friends), a British couple, two French girls, one Irish, one Korean, and us. Each of us got his/her own camel. Mine was a five-year old male, Andica (not to be mistaken for Handicap!!), dark brown, slim, with handsome long eye-lashes. Gigi's was a big light-colored male. Later we learned that our two camels were half-brothers. Our group was directed by a surprisingly large number of camel-men (six of them!) walking on foot. The leader was the 26-year old Mr. Singh, owner of Andia and his brother.

Every group departed at a different direction, and ten minutes later, we were indeed the only trekkers within the visible range.  The great Thar desert was all merciful at this time of the year: not too cold at night, not too hot during the day, plenty of little salty watermelons for the cattle, plenty of dry wood for camp fire, plenty of trees with large shade for lunch break, plenty of shrubs for the camels to graze on and as well-covered toilets for us...We stopped for lunch around noon. The camel-men cooked an admirable meal including appetizer (pakora: deep-fried vegetables), salad, and thali (boiled rice, lentil soup, curry vegetables, Indian bread [chapatti]), followed by chai (Indian tea with a LOT of sugar and milk)!  But our desert restaurant didn't carry any spoon, so we all had to eat in Indian style: with our fingers. It did take some practice to be able to finish my meal gracefullyJ. After a nice siesta under a big tree on blankets spread over the prickly sand, we got back onto our camels and started our afternoon ride at about 3pm.

The Thar desert is mostly hard sandy land with shrubs. Small Sati temples dotted the lonely barren landscape. These tiny temples were built for widows who threw themselves into their husbands' funeral pyre. They use to be worshipped as saints by the locals. There are also villages, which are no more than a dozen of mud huts with basically nothing inside. The village males mostly work as camel-men, while the women stay at home, taking care of the cattle and lots, lots of kids. We were greeted by a group of children at the edge of a village and then dragged into their hut. We sat on the mud floor, surrounded by 50 or so excited kids of all ages. A (real) baby goat was used as a teddy bear and being tossed around among the younger kids. A woman made tea for us, and offered us sugar and some roasted grain. The stove was three rocks on the floor, the fuel was cow dung. The tea was bizarre. It had salt, pepper, as well as sugar inside, and made me even thirstier than before. The women and girls obviously thought that I needed some basic feminine essentials: they wrapped me in colorful shawls, combed my hair, put red nail-polish on my forehead and fingers.  It was quite fun.

We concluded our day on sand dunes. An ocean of real, golden, soft, beautiful, clean, atmospheric, fine dunes, like in the movies!! And here, was our camp site! Sitting on the dunes, we saw off the last sunset of 2006, then sat around a camp fire for our New Year's Eve dinner (thali, of course). The camel men started singing desert songs, hitting an empty water bucket and a stainless steel plate as instruments. We wrapped ourselves cozily in blankets, drank beer (yes we did carry beer), played games and chatted for hours.  The moon was up. It was so bright that everything around, the dunes, shrubs and camels grazing faraway, were coated with a cool silver color. If you concentrate enough, you could even hear the camel bells. It was just a perfect way to end a wonderful year.
At 11pm, half of the group retreated for bed, while the rest of us held on, determined to wait for the midnight. A problem was that our watches all gave a different time, and there was no way to tell when exactly the midnight was. But who cares! We picked one watch, counted down 10 and shouted "happy new year" to each other. Then we saw fireworks, real fireworks (!), blooming in the sky. We thought we must have been dreaming. But it turned out that there was indeed a little village somewhere nearby that launched the fireworks.  The camel-men headed off towards the village, for their real party with plenty of dance and maybe also girls. We went bed.

Our "bed" was some sleeping bags and blankets on the sand, behind a camel saddle used as wind shield. I quickly fell asleep, and woke up at some point to find a stunning starry night sky above. It was so beautiful!!!

We woke up just in time for sunrise.  Savai, a 13-year old camel-boy, was asking us softly whether we'd like some black tea or chai.  With a cup of hot tea in hand, we curled up in our "bed" and enjoyed the first sunrise of 2007.  When we started to feel hungry, a hearty breakfast was already waiting for us: (plenty of) toasts with jam and peanut butter, and boiled eggs.  We all sat on the dune, ate, chatted, and watched camels being brought back slowly in the rising morning sun.  What else could you ask from life?!!
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