Desert, Camels, and Dinner

Jaisalmer Travel Blog

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The LOOONG Ride from Pushkar to Jaisalmer.

11/25-12-1/07

 

We left Pushkar by night bus.  As with everything and anything, India is always an exhibition of confusion, disorganization, and often blind faith.  Our travel agent, the internet guy, booked us a ticket on a specific bus.  We arrived at the scheduled departure time, but it was a different tour bus company.  And the bus, we were told, was not scheduled to leave until 11:00 p.m., an hour later than our ticket was marked.  After 30 minutes of back and forth phone calls to the "boss" and our "travel agent" it was concluded that our bus ran late because of traffic.  This excuse satisfied Indian standards of customer service, but left us scratching our heads, exasperated, and just ready to get on any bus to Jaisalmer.

Roger and Dan, from our first camel safari attempt.
 

 

Having learned our lesson regarding bus travel in McLeod, we booked 2 single sleeper cells.  The bus was too bumpy to write, but did allow for some much needed sleep and quiet.  Jaisalmer was a 10 hour bus ride; we left at 11:00 p.m. and arrived at 9:00 a.m.  Upon arrival and  disembarking, we were swarmed by tourist hungry vultures, frenzied by their commission at delivering fresh white meet to ever inflated nefarious hoteliers.  "Fortunately", we were befriended by one who offered us a free ride to any hotel, told us we could stay at his place for Rs 150, and unlike ALL the other hotels, he wouldn't hassle us about a Camel Safari. He was young, tidily dressed in slacks and button up short sleeve shirt, and slick.

Danielle, looking pensive.
  We jumped into a taxi and he hopped up front.  True to his word, he took us to the Artist Hotel, which Dan checked out and assessed as "nothing special."  So we checked out the Radjani, our "friend's" place.  The room was pleasantly large with AC.  It was only Rs 150.  The 1st day was uneventful, there was, afterall a soft sell regarding the camel tours.  He offered a 1 1/2 day tour for Rs 950.  Dan and I walked into town through the narrow alleyways, delicately carved Havelis, and over the cow-shit adorned streets to Gandhi Chowk.  The golden fort overlooked the city, but we were camel safari bound, so put it off.  We inquired at several places before settling on the Thar Desert Safari at Rs 1000 per person, schedule to leave at 3:00 p.
Call me Sheik!
m.
the following day, then spend the night in the desert, and return at 1:00 p.m. the following afternoon.  We had heard form several people that ass-sore camel riding was nice, but one day was sufficient.  So we cast aside our ambition 3 day 2 night safari plans.  Happy with our decision, we returned to Radjani.  We decided to keep our room for Rs 150 rather than opt for repacking and moving our bags. 

 To our surprise, demeanor changed when our hoteliers learned we were riding another safari.  Not only where they rude and indignant, but they also employed a guilt trip, and refused to allow us to keep our bags in the room.  Apparently they said it’s was a problem in case someone came looking for us.

Sup?
But they did permit us to leave our bags in the hotel. A bit quizzical, we double padlocked our bags and left them behind.  As a lat ditch meal, I ran to the German Bakery outside the Fort Gate and grabbed a croissant and a chocolate ball.  With 15 minutes before departure, I stopped by the government authorized Bhang shop and bought 2 cookies for Rs 100.  While purchasing our safari tickets, we tried to join another safari group, but all were couples and honeymooners.  We were pleasantly surprised to meet Roger and Danielle, a Swiss-German couple who were joining us for the afternoon.  We comfortably chatted with them as we rode in the open air jeep to the Jain temples and Cenotaphs.  Finally, at 4:00 p.
m.
we arrived at the camels, approx 1.5 hours west of Jaisalmer.  As we approached, we saw the camel drivers lying in the desert brush besides the road.  With a few kicks, the diver prepared the groaning camels.  The drivers, wearing a white turban, invited us onto the camels.  It’s been 17 years since I'd been on a camel, and they were much larger than I recalled.  As it rose up, I felt a bit uneasy.  But with walking I relaxed.  My camel was lead by one of the drivers, another walked along side the 4 of us, and Dan's camel walked on its own ahead.  The sun was getting low in the sky; it was about 5:00, warm and best of all quiet.  We headed toward the sand dunes anxiously anticipating a perfect sunset.
Is it a mirage? No its BeerMan appearing from nowhere!

 My camel trailed the back as we walked single file. 

 Suddenly, Danielle's camel started trotting, not a lot, but enough that she bounced uncontrollably on top.  She called out "Whoa", "Someone help me!", but, by then she had bounced herself sideways on the saddle.  She started to fall from the camel, when her foot caught in the stirrup.  Instead of hitting ground, she swung beneath the camel.  The camel started jumping up and down, ferociously kicking its oversized feet at Danielle as she swung beneath like a human piñata. 

 Time froze, as did our guides, as we all watched in horror at the rag doll beating.  Finally, her front foot freed itself, she plopped to a ball beneath the camel, as it stomped at her motionless body, fortunately missing her, and then darting off to eat the bushes.

Golden sand dunes.

I was fist down from the camel and rushed to her side.  She was alert and could talk.  She was trying to move, but I told her to lay still.  After some time, way too long, Roger was let down from his camel to join her side.  15-20 minutes passed and we assessed that Danielle could move.  Her head back and shoulder hurt, but there was no numbness or tingling.  After much discussion, we secured a jeep and raced (well drove reasonably fast) to the hospital.  Danielle was on a blanket in the back, Roger and Dan were at her side, and I was trying to make sure arrangements were set at the hospital, with our two guides who spoke almost no English. 

 Arrival at the hospital an hour later confirmed every Indian hospital horror story I had heard.

  There were no wheel chairs, just a dry-bloodstained metal gurney that looked fresh from the latest autopsy.  Danielle’s head, swollen the size of a softball above her left eye, was bright blue.  A resident doctor said she needed ice.  I harshly asked for it to be produced immediately. The doctor, matter-of-factly, responded that he had already sent someone to the market to attempt to procure some...

 Meanwhile, a crowd of 20 people gathered in the government hospital room to look at the injured white girl.  The guides, the safari owner, and a myriad of others milled about, including one man wearing all white (who I presumed was a medic of some sort).  It was nearly impossible to discern medical staff form spectators, but for the stethoscope adorning two of the Indians in civilian clothes.

Late evening the first night in the desert.
  Looking around the bare room, its line of beds, lack of partitions, the overflowing garbage can of syringes and syringe wrappers and blood spatter stained cement floors was hygienically alarming.

Arrangements were made to deliver Danielle to the private doctor and short distance away.  While it was unclear why the doctor could not come to the hospital, we readily accepted any alternative.  Danielle was wheeled atop the blood stained gurney, back into the jeep, and we headed to the doctors' home.  I rode aback the gentleman wearing white's motorcycle. 

 In the dark we arrived at the home of the doctor.  Beneath his porch light, he sat before a row of patients seated on plastic chairs, each awaiting his attention.  Being white and injured, and escorted by an entourage of whites and Indians, we immediately skipped to the front of the line.

  Though I'm sure the promise of insurance payment must have crossed his mind...  With flashlight, he looked at Danielle’s eyes and her softball sized forehead lump.  He forcefully thrust his fingers into the contusion, as Danielle winced in pain. He surmised, "She is fine, she has a bump on her forehead."  We pressed him - asserting she was kicked several times.  He asked if she vomited, she confessed she was nauseous, but had not vomited.  He then concluded she was fine.  For good measure, he thought we should have her examined by the surgeon.  We agreed.

 So he yelled aloud in Hindi, and a voice responded from the house next door.  "Go next door," he said.  "He is a good surgeon."  Aghast, we scooped up Danielle, who by now must have figured out if she was not OK; she would have to walk to the oncologist down the street, and walked herself across the pebbled yard to the surgeon's home.

Showing off our Burning Man moves on Night 1 of Gypsy dancing.

 With another K-Mart style flashlight in hand, the surgeon gave Danielle a once over and diagnosed her as fine.  He prescribed painkillers and antibiotics for the minor abrasions, then said thank you and disappeared back into the front screen door.  I looked in to see his 1/2 full tea cup and hear the sounds of his unattended TV. 

 Meanwhile - from the time of the hospital, to the doctors, then the surgeons, the man in white told us that, should Danielle and Roger require additional hotel accommodations to suit her injured state, he could arrange a place within the fort.  The first time it was a generous offer, the second time it seemed inappropriate considering the medical situation at hand, but by the third time it was simply aggravating and annoying.

Go White Boy, Go White Boy! :)
  Why would this physician assistant keep trying to give us a room in a hotel?  In the dark of the surgeon's driveway, Dan confronted the man asking what this man did at the hospital.  He confessed, "I don't work at the hospital, I am friends with the manager of the camel safari."  This whole time, some random individual again was moving for some angle to position himself and his friend for profit.  Such is India...

 Later we learned that Danielle would be OK, and she was feeling much better in a few days.

 

We returned that same night to the Radjani.  Perhaps glad to see us, more likely tickled by our ill fate at arranging another tour operator, we were greeted.

  We checked back in and asked for our room.  That room was "booked" reserved for another group coming in.  But we were given a small street level room instead for the same price.  While decompressing, we discovered the bathroom was missing soap and towels, hot water, and the toilet lacked water to flush.  "Tomorrow at 12:00," they responded to our demands for these necessities. 

 I had enough of India and was finally experiencing what the Lonely Planet called "Travel Sick".  Bombarded by taxis and rickshaws, drivers trying to hijack us into commission paying hotels or attempting to overcharge, train station vendors attempting to slip in opened and refilled water bottles, merchants yelling, "Hello, come look at my shop!", Indians trying to cut in line or slip in before you at the train and bus stations, being stared at like an alien during 10 hour bus rides, all topped off by the incessant grinding of traffic and automobile horns, of the dust, smog, and ever present garbage and grit that never washed way, not even by the far too often cold shower.

  "Screw Jaisalmer and its crumbling fort," I thought to myself!

 But, by this time, we had discovered Dylan's Internet Cafe, run by the music loving proprietor Om [who seemed to know about artists from every nation] and Chandra, a long haired Indian how lived in Spain and speaks English ~ with quite good slang.  Irritated and frustrated, we returned to Dylan's that night for a beer, internet, and to sit on his rooftop deck and talk to some tourists for a fresh perspective.  On the way out of Radjani, the owner TOLD us to be back in an hour because he was going to sleep.  Already pushed to our emotional end, we told him we would return when we were done.  And miraculously, he came up with another plan.  At Dylan's we retold our camel story accident.

Me in the village.
  All were shocked and sympathetic.  Chandra told us of the Camel Trek from Desert View Hotel.  At Dylan's we also met 2 wonderful Brazilian couples who just returned from a 2 night camel trek in the desert, and who loved every moment, though at the time, their asses were quite sore. 

 I laughed and talked, relaxed, and gently floated back to feeling comfortable among like-minded people who weren't trying to sell me something.  That night, Dan and I decided to give the camel trek a second go.  In the morning, we went to Desert View to see about a trek.  We booked a single overnight trek, departing at 2:00 p.m. and returning the following morning at 1:00 p.m.  Significantly, Desert View promised to hold our bags and provide a room to shower upon our return.

Gypsy dancer with child in the daylight.
  We returned at Radjani to collect our bags and receive our laundry, which we sent for cleaning 1 1/2 days before.  We checked out only to find that they wanted to charge for an extra day because were leaving at 12:00 instead of 9:00.  I refused, and after a bit of yelling, we left without paying.  Happily, we were out of there.

 

After buying a Rajasthan turban, we headed back out on the road to our camel pick up.  I watched Jaisalmer and its golden fort sink behind us swallowed by the desert. The rocky, sparse, and inhospitable desert spread out everywhere. It is dotted with small stone villages, but mostly its empty space.  Our camels waited for us some 30 minutes away.

Visit to the Gypsy Village the next day. The girl in the front left is Kolki.
  On arrival, not far form the previous camel departure zone, Madan and his 2 camels awaited us.  Madan was 23 years old, young looking, polite, and spoke relatively decent English.  He seemed to be quite gentle and welcoming for desert life.  We hopped aboard the camels and Madan headed off on foot into the desert.  I quickly settled into the camel ride as the memory of the day before faded away.  I shot photos feeling like I was a million miles away from India

 Eventually the rocky caked earth turned to gentle rolling golden sand dunes.  After a short time, and dark skin manned appeared carrying a burlap sack.  We had met "Beer Man" ~ real name Hootu.  From Beer Man, we purchased a few beers and some soda.

Kolki's father.
  Beer during sunset is never a bad plan! 

 Through the dessert we walked as the sun began to set.  The desert sand began to glow as we arrived at our camp.  Grabbing our beer, Dan and I raced along the dunes like high school kids, running up the soft mountains and jumping down the other side.  Finding the prefect perch, we toasted ourselves, and watched the earth swallow the sun. It was at this very point I realized the only sound I heard was the ringing in my ears.  The desert was silence. 

 As the stars poked through the purple veil above, I returned for dinner.  Chapatti, veggies, rice, and more beer.  Earlier that day, we were offered the possibility of a Gypsy dance.  Unsure, we procrastinated, but now with the night here, and silence, it seemed like treat.

She wore my turban.
  With some negotiating, were back aboard the camels riding beneath the Milky Way to a smaller sand dunes we previously passed.  We arrived and a fire was waiting for us, compliments of Beer Man, who was waiting for us with more beer.  I settled around the fire as the Gypsies approached.  There we met Kolki~ a 16 year-old Gypsy, beautiful, who craftily teased and won more than our hearts.  Gypsy music sounds like a bagpipe concert accompanied with a tambourine.  There were 4 Gypsies and they sang and danced for us.  As the moon rose, they departed and the silence enveloped us.  The thought of returning to India was abominable.  "Can we stay one more night?" we asked somewhat in jest.  "Why not?" Madan replied.
Kolki posing.
  It was settled.

 The morning found me cold and damp.  I pulled my blanket over my shoulders, hiked up the dunes, and meditated for an hour as the sun immediately heated the desert.  We secured another night, and ate breakfast of black tea, boiled eggs, toast, and jam.  I wrapped the turban atop my head, and off we went by camel.  2 villages were our agenda.  On the way, Madan asked if we liked chicken, and then sang the praises of Desert Chicken ~ chicken raised in the desert.  My only meat experience in India was the wedding in Jaipur.  I was completely turned off to meat in the cities, having seen how the animals live and eat in heaps of trash.

Leaving the Gypsy Village with Dinner Jr.
This was a unique opportunity.

 

The first village was a Gypsy village.  Only after we arrived and a young, very plain looking girl took my hand and lead me inside saying, "You remember me from last night, I danced for you," did I realize this was Kolki and her family's home.  Dan and I were surrounded and separated.  We took photos and showed them on the camera.  I was offered a bidi (Indian cigarette) and accepted.  Of course, they all asked for money and things.  They lived in small semi-enclosed circles of branches.  Their homes were mere shelters with simple places to sit and sleep.  Bare dirt floors, some blankets, some clothes, and the beautiful dancing clothes hung over the branches wall.  Revealed by the sunlight, the colors, mystery, and shimmer vanished as I saw the simple clothes for what they were- faded black cloth, plastic, shoddily decorated and also torn and patched.

Still posing!
  Like much of India, it appears and shines best at night under false light.

 But the people were fun and charming and we laughed as they fought for photo time.  Prepared by stories of Gypsies, I previously emptied my pockets.  While standing there, Kolki went searching through each pocket - seeking coin.  A reminder...

Madan pulled us away, but not before I dolloped 1/2 my sunscreen out to the Gypsies.  I was impressed most by Kolki as it seemed she clearly asserted dominance over her older male siblings. As we boarded camels, Madan fastened a live chicken in a burlap sack to the back of my camel.  With some guilt and remorse, I said aloud, "And I shall name you Dinner.

Gypsy and Me.

We spend the rest of the day walking the desert, letting the sun and subtle breeze carry away the travel and fatigue.  We made camp at the same place as the night before.  Beer Man found us.  In paparazzi fashion, I took photos of Dinner as Beer Man skillfully killed, cleaned, and skinned the chicken.  I said a prayer as he slit its neck and observed the fragility of life as it passed indescribably away.

 Dan and I sat atop dunes, watching the sunset.  The newness of the desert somewhat faded, and the serenity so much stronger.  Dinner was bony and gamey.  But we enjoyed the company of Madan, Beer Man, and a few other camel drivers.  We joked about spending another night in the desert as we drifted off to sleep in the silence and chill of the night, blanketed by stars.

From the Muslim Village.
 

 I awoke in the morning and climbed to the powdery dunes and meditated.  It was cold and windy.  I cocooned myself into the blanket and sat in lotus for 40 minutes.  Slowly I made my way back to camp.  Dan and I agreed to one more desert night.  Having tasted desert vegetables and desert chicken, we asked what else the dessert offered.  "Mutton," Madan replied with a sly smile across his face.  "Why not?" we eagerly agreed.  

 After a day of camel riding, Madan and I returned to see the goat tied to our campsite.  Always, the taking go life disturbs me, yet somehow participating in the whole process reminds me where my food comes from.  I appreciate that something must give life to sustain life, and to tread lightly in this exchange.

Gypsy flute player.
  I watched as Beer Man killed, skinned, and cleaned the goat.  The Gypsies came to sing and dance, as did camel safari guides to share in the feast.  Well after sunset we ate.  The meat was so gamy and rich, I was quickly full.  Everything is eaten without forks or knives.  Chapatti, Rice, and mutton curry with bones.  Bones we threw to the desert dogs, who ferociously defended there territories.  

 Gnawing meat off the bones was a bit barbaric as is sucking out the marrow, but Madan explained that the flavor is in the bones.  So I did as best I could.  Kolki danced and the others played and sang.  During the twilight we photographed Kolki, and she swallowed the attention with a coy smile.

Madan and Beerman with Dinner Jr.
  Gradually, with a sexiness, control, and wit far beyond her 16 years of age, she charmed and flirted half the night away before they all left.  Finishing a beer and half a bhang cookie, I watched the stars.

That night Madan, Beer Man, Dan, and I told stories.  Beer Man started by reciting stories of the Koran.  Madan retold Hindu stores.  Both were historically competing by retelling mythological battles, tales of overcoming impossible odds, superhuman feats.  In the Koran, Beer Man said, Muslims came from Sara and Ishmael, who gave birth to Abraham, the first Muslim.  Before that, all were Hindu.  He told how the Mogul invaders conquered India.  Madan retold superhuman victories of Hindus over Mogul invaders.

Dinner Sr. I'll leave it at that.
  I thought of my Jewish teachings, of Abraham the first Jew, and his wife Sara, how God gave Sara a child that became the line of the Jews.  How we all write history and use our past to inform our future; and our fables empower its bearer with righteousness.  How many die because of belief in unknowable pasts and uncertain futures.  Maybe one day we will have the strength and wisdom to work with life as it really is and not how we would like it to be, or how we would like to recall life.  The Bhang cookie, beer, mutton, and damp desert air carried my thoughts and spirit to the star filled sky along with the mythic histories.

My final meditation in the morning, the wind and cold was perfect.  A short while later, after breakfast, we were on camel back.

Our last morning together, Dan, Madan, BeerMan, and Me.
  We hugged and bid Madan goodbye, and were back in a car to Jaisalmer.  After a quick walk around the Fort, we caught the evening bus to Jodhpur

 

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The LOOONG Ride from Pushkar to Ja…
The LOOONG Ride from Pushkar to J…
Roger and Dan, from our first came…
Roger and Dan, from our first cam…
Danielle, looking pensive.
Danielle, looking pensive.
Call me Sheik!
Call me Sheik!
Sup?
Sup?
Is it a mirage?  No its BeerMan ap…
Is it a mirage? No its BeerMan a…
Golden sand dunes.
Golden sand dunes.
Late evening the first night in th…
Late evening the first night in t…
Showing off our Burning Man moves …
Showing off our Burning Man moves…
Go White Boy, Go White Boy! :)
Go White Boy, Go White Boy! :)
Me in the village.
Me in the village.
Gypsy dancer with child in the day…
Gypsy dancer with child in the da…
Visit to the Gypsy Village the nex…
Visit to the Gypsy Village the ne…
Kolkis father.
Kolki's father.
She wore my turban.
She wore my turban.
Kolki posing.
Kolki posing.
Leaving the Gypsy Village with Din…
Leaving the Gypsy Village with Di…
Still posing!
Still posing!
Gypsy and Me.
Gypsy and Me.
From the Muslim Village.
From the Muslim Village.
Gypsy flute player.
Gypsy flute player.
Madan and Beerman with Dinner Jr.
Madan and Beerman with Dinner Jr.
Dinner Sr.  Ill leave it at that.
Dinner Sr. I'll leave it at that.
Our last morning together, Dan, Ma…
Our last morning together, Dan, M…
Beautiful smiles!
Beautiful smiles!
Madan preparing lunch.
Madan preparing lunch.
Dan chilling with Dinner.
Dan chilling with Dinner.
Kolki...
Kolki...
Showing her colorful costume.
Showing her colorful costume.
Our first sunset
Our first sunset
Dinner Sr. also found out what was…
Dinner Sr. also found out what wa…
Dinner found out what was for dinn…
Dinner found out what was for din…
Jaisalmer
photo by: lrecht