Friday, December 23, 2011

A short stop in Jaisalmer, off on a camel

We arrived at a lot sometime between morning and too tired to know what was going on...

Apparently the bus wasn't bringing us to Jaisalmer after all, but the convoy of mysteriously waited jeeps would. We joined a couple of French brothers, and rode the rest of the way to the city. They were also on their way camel trekking, and since Jaisalmer is right in the Thar Desert, it's the most popular place to arrange a trek.

I'd read that the Jaisalmer fort, one of the largest forts in the world, is on the UNESCO endangered list, and is unable to support the amount of people in its walls, so it would be more conscientious to stay somewhere outside the walls and visit the inside during the day. Carlos didn't seem concerned, though, and was set on staying in the fort.

We were dropped off outside the monolithic yellow-sandstone gate, are followed the winding path up into the fort. Around one corner, a man sat begging who had a hand and part of one leg missing. I couldn't tell if it was greased or not, but it was shinning, looking as though the skin was slowly melting away. And the stench was terrible. He reached out to grab me with his half a palm and I nearly jumped to avoid him touching me. I didn't mean to react that way, but it actually scared me!

We made our way to a guesthouse that was know for being the most reliable for organizing camel treks. They let us use two of the rooms at a discount to take a nap and shower, then Carlos wanted to do some internet stuff and a few other errands. While he was at the internet cafe, I chatted with the young guy managing the place. He asked if there was anything we wanted for the trip, so I thought I'd mention the conversation I'd had with the security guard in Jodhpur. He said the camel driver would be the one to talk to about that, but asked if we wanted any ganja. I waited until Carlos got back and mentioned it to him, and he was interested, so we added 450 rupees to the price of the three day camel tour we'd booked, and one of the guesthouse works headed out on a scooter, returning a few minutes later with a decent sized bag full. After not seeing the stuff in nearly three years, I was a bit excited...

We walked back outside the fort to get a few other things, then stopped by a barber and had a shave with a straight razor. He said it would be a good idea to get a turban to protect my head from the hot sun, and pointed to the taylor next door. They picked out a long bright blue cloth for me, saying they thought that color would suit me well, and I thanked them.

Our ride picked us up outside the gate and we headed out into the desert to meet or guide and camels.

We drove for a little while, before down a thin strip of pavement, sand dunes on either side, until pulling off at a small lot just as our camels arrived.

I'd never seen a real camel before. They were as cute as I thought they'd be, they weren't cute at all, actually! The guide had come with his young nephew to help him out and learn a bit about guiding. He was really friendly and made up for all of what the camels were lacking in cuteness. The guide was a short, thin man, with narrow cheeks and a thick mustache. He spoke like if he had a goat in his lungs but seemed kind and I didn't get any strange sensation from him.

Getting up on the camel for the first time was something. They camel kneels down for you to climb on its saddle, then stretches out its hind legs first, tossing you forward,  my chest hitting the base of the camels neck, just above its shoulders, and nearly flipped head over heals, before getting its front legs straightened up, sending me back to your seat.  The camel driver probably wondered if this was going to be a long trek with this guy, but after that I was fine. We rode for a couple hours through the desert before stopping. It was beautiful going through the desert, but the over cast sky was getting chilly. I hadn't seen a drop of rain since the thunder storm in Goa on day four in India. here I was, day fifty-four, about to sleep under the stars, and it was going to rain for the first time in fifty days, in a desert no less!

Getting off the camel after more than two hours was a relief. You inner thigh muscles are burning and when you first get down you can't walk well. You kind of hobble around, bull-legged until your muscles start working again.

I mentioned the conversation with security guard to our guide to see what his reaction would be, and he was excited! "Ah, good idea! That will keep us warm when it rains." And off he trotted on a camel towards the village, leaving the boy with us to prepare a fire.

He came back with what looked like a sugar cube that had been dipped in molasses and said we should eat first. He prepared our meal, including chapati, then we ate, and prepared our bed on the side of the dune. By the fire, he took out his knife and broke up the hard cube into small pieces then handed them out. As a light rain began to fall, we put the pieces into our mouths and chewed. It tasted like grass, as in the kind you see on a lawn. Even though it was made out of sugar, it was about as sweet as sucking on a handful of freshly cut grass.

I waited for something to hit me, but it was more the opposite. I just slipped into a peaceful sleep. I had a vivid dream about being at a mountain temple in Korea. a monk's robes and everything. Suddenly aware of my dream, I awoke but the dream somehow continue across the boundary of sleep and I followed it a while longer. I pulled the wool blanket from my face to reveal a few soft, white cloud, lit by the moon, passing quickly over head, and what bits of the Milky Way were able to shine through the moonlight. It was beautiful, and the most peaceful I'd been in a long time.

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