Wednesday, September 15
A lone tree on the dunes near the village of Khuri in Western Rajasthan.
I get started late Wednesday morning after renting a small 135cc Bajaj Discover and taking care of some things in the city. I clear out of the ‘storage closet’, asking the man with the red paan stained teeth and immature 14 year old’s bowl haircut, “Where can I keep my pack till I return?”
He snidely replies, “Take it with you on your bike.”
“Yea, it won’t fit and I don’t need it. You have storage for people’s luggage. Where is it?”
Background: This man manages the Jaisal View Hotel, the place I am staying, NOT the Rajdhani Hotel, which is a completely separate hotel with no connection. They had deceived me to get me to go to their hotel. The man with the bad teeth lied about the Brit’s camel safari and about getting me an actual room. I have a very hard time trusting anyone with bad teeth, especially tobacco stained. I had purposefully avoided a handshake with this man and he had rightfully taken offense to this and cursed me.
The man with the red stained teeth and bowl haircut says, “I do not like you. You Americans are very mean.”
I calmly respond, “Well, that’s alright. I do not like you.”
“Actually I hate you,” he added. “You are a bad man (Take note: He said this because I wouldn’t shake his hand). I hear you talking bad about me with the other guests.”
“You lied to me. Everything about this place has been completely dishonest. If you do not respect me enough to deal truthfully then I will not respect you.”
I think only a dishonest man will get upset at the truth being stated.
I grab my bags and head across the street to the Prithvi Palace Hotel, where they agree to hold my bags and rent me a nice room for a good price when I return. Lesson: When in Jaisalmer do not stay at the Jaisal View Hotel or trust men with bowl haircuts and red stained teeth.
I take off on the bike in the direction of Khuri Village, asking directions along the way. One man I ask says he needs to that way. I say, “Get on. You don’t mind holding my backpack?” I drop him off at a huge resort under construction made to look like a large fortress. Not five minutes later a young man, named Sitah, hiding from the sun in the shade of a tree flags me down. He needs to go to Khuri. “Get on.”
More Stories & Photos After the Break! Don’t Stop Here! —->
Sitah is coming from a party and going back to his uncle’s in the small village of Barna. He is training with his uncle as a camel driver for safaris. I accept his invitation for chai in the village, which is only about five kilometers from Khuri. His uncle Gamra’s complex is three mud huts inside a smooth mud barrier. Inside the dark hut provides much needed shelter from the intense sun. “You want chapatti?” Gamra asks. He brings me into another hut where his wife cooks over an open fire. She pulls off the fire a Rajasthani vegetable that looks like green beans with lots of spices and several very hot chapatti.
Sitah, Gamra’s nephew
Gamra asks, “Do you want to take a camel safari? I am nervous to ask because I don’t want to be like the pushy men in Jaisalmer. Go into Khuri and talk to them then come back. I will take you out. No agent, no hotel. Just me and you as my guest.” I trust Gamra. My instinct tells me he is a good man.
I had made a reservation at a hotel in Khuri, but once in the village, which consists only of miniature fort hotels, I decide that the safari is the best option. On the far side of the Khuri is a large set of Dunes that I take the bike to explore. I scare a few small deer, but mostly only goats and cattle join me. The dune are fading in and out of the light; the threatening rain clouds taking their turns obscuring the sun.
Just as I reach the village again the rain starts. I duck into a small shop with some locals to wait it out.
The rain settles to a mere drizzle and I start off again toward Barna, but before I’ve made it out of the village the skies open again. A guard in small hut calls me to join him.
I turn the bike off of the tarmac onto a dirt road that leads to Barna. The ground is completely dry; the rainsquall had skipped this area only by a few hundred meters.
The Camel Trek
Gamra brings the camels to the gate, and Sitah helps him put the wood saddles on the animals. They cover the wood with several thick blankets but the padding is not enough to make it comfortable. Laying down the camels look smaller than I imagined, but when they stand the top of my chest comes to the bottom of their torso. Their heads and humps tower above me.
Just outside the village Gamra tells the darker of the two camels to sit so I can climb into the saddle. To my disappointment this one seems to be the less well behaved, more ornery of the two camels, vocally complaining at every opportunity.
This area has been receiving its best monsoon rains after three years of drought, so there is a lot of green underbrush everywhere except on the dunes themselves. Gamra and Sitah walk through the brush, leading the camels by ropes attached to the animal’s nostrils. After only a short time I realize I would rather be walking; the saddle is extremely painful and the camel’s gate is uneven and harsh, and the absence of stirrups does not allow the rider the luxury of bracing through the bumps by supporting their own weight. I am healthy and have good legs. As long as the camel carries my backpack I am happy.
The sun is dropping low in the sky, casting long shadows across the dunes showing each rounded sandy feature. Not wanting to change lenses while riding on the camel I wait to take a shot of one particular dune till I get close enough to use my wide angle lens, only to find I am now too close to really show the interesting shapes I saw from further away. But I take the opportunity to walk, glad to be off the back of the beast. Coming over the top of a ridge we reach our intended destination; a beautiful set of rounded dune overlooking a green valley; the sun sets over the next ridge as a heard of deer leap through the brush.
Gamra settles the camels and prepares our campsite, starting a fire as the sun disappears. Sitah, who had walked back to the village to get more water, scares the camels on his approach. Gamra calms them and they sit back down. I sit and watch the moon overpower the stars’ light in the night sky as I enjoy my khali chai (black tea). Sitah makes less-than-perfectly round chapattis as Gamra prepares the vegetables for dinner.
The desert is mostly silent except for the dung beetles’ noisy, awkward flight and a few small birds singing in the night. I lay on the rain-hardened sand, covered by a thick camel’s blanket, looking up into the black sky. I know that this experience would not have happened if I had not been traveling alone, but it would be great to share this with someone – the great catch-22 of travel.
Gamra has always been a camel driver; his father was a camel driver; and his son will be a camel driver. For the last three years Sitah, Gamra’s nephew, has been learning the trade as well as learning English. This is remarkable for two reasons: Gamra never went to school, never learned to read or write Hindi, Rajasthani or English. Incredibly he tells me how he learned, “I would stand in the market in Jaisalmer and just listen to the foreigners talking.” (I want to know how long it took to pick up just by listening.) The second thing: Sitah, who also never went to school and can neither read nor write, is learning English from Gamra! Both are highly intelligent and speak much better than many in Mumbai who have gone to school and literate.
I wake to the deep hazy orange of a sky anxiously awaiting the arrive of its sun. All around me tiny piles of sand mar the relative smooth surface, the excavation of the many dung beetles active through the night. Several times during the night I awoke, startled by the creatures crawling next to my head.
Gamra restarts the fire, heating up chai, while Sitah saddles the camels. Instead of taking me directly back to where we started, Gamra makes a large loop showing me another village and set of dunes. Again, I am glad to be off the awkward beast, using my own legs.</p><p><img src=” www.scottclarkphotography.net=”” />
I ask Gamra if I can photograph the people. “Just ask. Some yes, some no. You know, they are desert people,” he tells me. The first woman I encounter seems angry that I am taking photos, pointing at the village and saying, “No! No!” But then a woman carrying her son asks me to take their photo, but after asks, “Rupiah?” My friend, Himanshu, warned me that this area was too accustomed to tourists, this being the common result.
“I’m on a Camel!” I found there really wasn’t a good way to take a photo of myself proving I was actually on the camel.
Gamra serves me lunch in his village before sending me off with his nephew. Gamra’s sister lives near the Sam Sand Dunes, and Sitah will take me to meet his sister’s husband, along with the extended family. I had already booked a hotel room in Jaisalmer for that night; I decide to keep it so I can have a place to shower and rest up before my train out on Friday. I would spend the night under the stars again.