Friday, November 03, 2006

Camel Man & Me


I’m a camel man, in the bloody sand!

That’s how my dessert adventure began. After meeting some people at the cricket in Jaipor I decided to change my plans and head to Jaiselmere from Jodpour.

Jaiselmere is a dusty town centered around an ancient golden coloured fort that sits on top of a hill surrounded by a town and a dessert. It is located about 100 kilometers from Pakistan and a base town for camel safaris.

What is remarkable about the city is that it is relatively car and rickshaw free, which provides respite form the billion horns that are India.

Cows roam the streets and the alleys in the fort are scattered with poo that looks like mud.

We decided to spend our first day sightseeing and arranging our dessert adventure. We decided to book with a guy called Sebastian who runs a company called Ganesh tours.

Sebastian is very un-indian, he is incredibly well dressed, impeccably spoken with kashmiri eyes and increadibly warm and affable, a true sales man.

The next day we begun our trip an hour later than arranged to account for the end of Ramadan festivities. We met Dessert King near our old army jeep, a green eyed, olive skinned legend whose face wore the secrets of the dessert and looked like a rippled sand dune.

Dessert King is famous in these parts. A muslim man with 10 wives (so I was told twice) and many more children. As one of his followers said 'you don't become king for nothing', he drove us in our jeep till we reached the camel parking station, a dusty paddock where 7 camels were lined up dutifully. Here we met Mr Sargent our camel leader.

After allocating Camels, I was given Moria (which means peacock in Hindi), an eight year old stallion whose favourite pastimes include, eating marijuana cookies, ramming me into bushes and growling ferousily every time I got on as if I weighed double.

Soon we were off and Sarg started singing his Dessert song walking behind us with a large stick in case any of the Camels got out of line.

Sarg's first song was a classic and titled 'Dessert Man', a rip off of Aqua's Barbie Girl, an immediate hit with lines like

Come on camel, let go dessert ah ah ah'

After 2 hours in the heat we headed to our lunch time oasis (not to be confused with any oasis in the movies), comprising some prickly ground and a the shade of a thorn tree, iI sat and enjoyed the peace of the dessert.

Relieved to be off the camel, my bum already starting to hurt four gypsy women appeared out of nowhere. They were dressed in luminous saris that contrasted perfectly with the cobalt sky. The ladies tsung us Rajasthani songs and did a little dance for us, that involved more shimmy shakes than any dessert dance ought to.... The Japanese in our group where on their feet and smiles formed all around.

After lunch we visited a village where a gang of giggling children ran to greet us requesting the usual, chocolate, school pen, rupees and forgetting to pack any of the above, I decided to play with some of the small ones.

I had running races with the boys and was shown how they use the toy of dessert choice- the wire wheel and stick to keep it upright. The kids laughed at me and I was laughing too, it really is an art form. I loved those kids and their appreciation of the simple things.

One boy walked around with his pet donkey as proud as punch and another with a chest disfigurement stared at me as though she had never seen a white girl before.

By nightfall, my bum felt like it was damaged. Moria had rammed me into many trees and bolted through the sand dunes so often that I thought that I would never be able to walk again. We slept under the stars and a delightful Scot taught me about some constellations. I searched for the Southern Cross but had to settle at watching a Ryans Belt rise.

The following day was difficult, I will spare you the details except to say, camel riding is fun for the first few hours, enjoyable for the next and down right painful for the rest of the time. Whoever said it is not the destination that counts but moreover the journey that is important obviously has not spent three days in the Indian dessert on a camel.

By night we sang songs and Sarg told some of the funniest ghost stories imaginable. He spoke of his life, his longing to see the ocean and of the fact he has never been to a city except Jaiselmer. I wondered if I was on a different planet, how caught up I am.

The dessert got inside me out there and if it wasn't for the heat, the dung beetles, the lack of toilets, the Camels and my fear that stray animals might murder me in my sleep I could of stayed out there forever.

The trip ended as it began and Sarg finished his first song Dessert Man

With legs like plastic and bottom like a tomatoe colour.

and I understood!

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