Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Jaisalmer: The Desert

Brace yourself for a long one here...

Upon arriving to Jaisalmer and hearing from a couple of other travelers how good their camel safari was, we decided to leave the next morning. Having opted for the "nontouristic" safari, we drove 45 minutes away from the city and were dropped off on the side of the road with Ram, our guide. The jeep driver rolled our heads up in orange turbans before leaving us to venture into the desert with Ram.


Practicing the Arabian prince look

There were three camels, the biggest Julia rode and the middle one I began on. I had no idea what it was like to get on a camel, but soon learned that as it stands up it feels like riding a mechanical bull. Once standing, the camel trudges along quite tamely. It turned out that after getting a little overexcited about some female camels the day before, Julia's camel had bit my camel in the leg. Eventually the limping of my camel caused me to switch to the youngest. Standing up with that one turned out to be even more of a ride, though I was never bucked off. Camels are quite stubborn, and every time Julia's didn't go the right way (as she was usually leading), Ram would say, "Why like this, Julia? Why like this?" and, "What can do go Kathmandu."

Camel loaded and ready to head off

The obligatory camel shadow photo

The desert scenery was typically just sand and scrubby bush. Scattered around are small villages accessible by jeep tracks and camel. Recently, the government has been building windmills everywhere, creating quite a surreal look. As I watched Julia riding the camel past the windmills, I couldn't help but think that it all seemed like some twisted Don Quijote reality -- with camels replacing horses and steel behemoths the humble windmills of the Don's day, though I suspect the villages may have looked somewhat the same.

Julia gets ready to battle the windmills

Donkey-jote. Sorry, I couldn't help myself.

Each night we'd camp on the dunes, and each day we'd stop midday for several hours under the shade of scrubby desert trees. Three times a day, before each meal Ram would cook some chai, saying, "First drinking chai, power coming, then food cooking." Breakfast was boiled eggs and toast, lunch and dinner curried vegetables and chapati (Flatbread made from flour and water). All were cooked over campfires.

"Chai drinking, power coming"

Dawn on the dunes

Two animals are out of place here

Apparently this was just after I brushed the majority of the sand off my face... Morning after a sandstorm on our first night.

The trip was super relaxing and a good time for reflection. I've been thinking a lot about the way Indian people live, and how I live here and at home. It's been difficult to try to understand the privilege that I have, that I am able to come here and live so seemingly inexpensively, and that the local people learn to speak my language while I do not have to learn theirs. This is something I think I'll grapple with for the rest of the trip.

There must be some deeper meaning here

Well it was relaxing until the last night. Around three in the afternoon it got stormy, with rain, dust, lighting and thunder all swirling around. We made camp and did a mad dance of moving the stuff and the tarp around to try to keep the blankets and other things dry. Eventually we strung the tarp up between some bushes and had a decent shelter. As we were camping a few kilometers from Ram's village, several of the local goat herders stopped by to hang out for a while. One man took our pot and returned minutes later with fresh goat milk, which we used for chai. The lightning and thunder continued into the night, and we fell asleep more than eight hours after it started with the sky still flashing every few seconds.

Several goat herders joined us for chai

A goat herder relaxing just after bringing us fresh goat milk for chai.

Drinking that chai.

Desert lightning

The last day we stopped in Ram's village and were caught in a frenzy of excitement for our cameras. For over an hour, the village people, mostly children and some women, swirled around us asking for pictures and excitedly looking at the ones just taken. A few of the women coaxed me to take a picture of one woman, who laughed happily, then harassed me for 10 minutes not believing I had erased the photograph (I had erased it, sadly, as it was a great photo of her throwing her head back in a howl of laughter).

These boys insisted I take dozens of photos of them. I love this one.

Julia gives out candy

This kid has a unique look

Showing them their photos

Village kids

Our guide, Ram, and his son

More photo sharing - The kids love seeing their pictures

A village home. The sheet metal is the only thing that betrays this being the 21st century.

Women return from the well with water

Back in Jaisalmer, we spent a day checking out the fort and palace and then went to the home of a schoolteacher I met on the bus from Jodhpur. He and his family were very excited to show us their photo albums, and his children their toys and schoolwork. We enjoyed a great home cooked meal with them.

Fort courtyard

Me on the fort balcony

The only fort in India that people live inside

Julia looks out from a fort balcony

The fort palace is home to more pigeons than royalty these days

The main fort entrance

Fort walls

Wait... What kind of beer?

The next day we visited the Jain temples inside the fort before I left for Delhi. On the train I played cards with a husband and wife who spoke almost no English, though somehow I learned their game. I wanted to try to talk to them more, though when I woke up in the morning they had already gotten off. I'm spending the night here tonight. Tomorrow I take an early morning train to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, then continue on with an overnight train to Varanasi. Julia is heading to Mumbai to get a flight to Thailand.

Jain temple ceiling

Carved pillars inside the Fort's Jain temples


Anonymous said...

"First Zach blogging, joy coming, then imagination cranking." Wow boy...much stuff here to comment on, but I'm struck by your Inidan desert scenes provoking memories of Black Rock City weatherscapes, visions of unbridled excitement springing from a camera, and the parting of ways for you and Julia (never met her, but feel close from simply observing your travels together over these last few weeks. Julia--come visit us in Berkeley, CA, USA!). Your words and images continue to inspire and amaze....enjoy dude. Love, da

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