The Lester File

Sunday, July 16, 2006

We Survived!

Three Days.... THREE DAYS in the desert! Wow. I'd now like to render an account:
First, we set off at around 7:30am. The hotel provided us with a quick cheese omelete and toast before heading out into the desert in a Jeep about 30 km west of Jaisalmer. Jen and I plus a new friend Richard left together except Richard only signed on for 2 days and we did 3. We arrive at the camal station to our friendly guides Isaac and a boy named Hussein. Isaac had salt and pepper hair (although he claimed to be only 26 and was a bit upset about the early grey), simple reddish pants and long shirt, and a ready smile. Hussein was much younger, but his smile was just as big. Both smiles were quite brown from tobacco use. We told them it was a bad habit, which only made them smile bigger. They were quick to get us onto our camels. I had a large one named Rocket and Jen and a little one named Johnny. Richard rode a camel who's name I really cannot recall... not much of a personality, but GYPSY was the guide's camel. Gypsy was a horrendous camel who bleated unceasingly with her mouth agape to reveal the remnents of whatever she'd been eating which forced us to inhale her incredbly bad breath. One night, the smell became so awful that we had to put her downwind so that we could sleep!
As we set off, Isaac began to sing in his Rajasthan/Hindi accent and it happened to be the ONE hindi song I've actually heard, enjoyed, and semi know the words to.
I sang one line and for the rest of the trip he urged me to sing it. I obliged most of the time because Jen and I enjoy singing on road trips. We got along with Isaac immediatly as he walked along side our camels and talked and sang.
We stopped midday at a shady spot so that we could skip out on the most excrutiatingly hot hours of the day. This was also the time for Isaac and Hussein to let the camels out to pasture and begin cooking lunch. At every meal, first comes chai tea to ready ourselves, then some fried pasta seasoned with a little salt. Finally, he stews up some India veggie delight and makes some stove-top bread called Chapati. Although the cooking was amazing, the heat constantly stole our appetites and we could only eat a fraction of the amount we wanted to eat. Our bodies were wondering why we were eating hot food and not cold water.
As we plodded along on top of our enormous beasts of burden, I took pictures of nearly everything I saw. We passed vast flatlands dotted by magnificent dunes that change constantly wth the wind. The monsoon had not yet come, so everything was thirsty. The shrubs and grasses seemed to be begging the sky for rain, which made us all the more thirsty. Good thing we opted for the unlimited water supply package tour! Sometimes we'd pass villages were desert people and gypsy children would come running out asking for chocolate or Rupees. All villages are centered around some kind of well or pipeline that has fresh, clean drinking water. In distince contrast, or maybe in defiance of, the desolate, scortched earth surrounding them, women dressed in brightly colored saris that somehow made the desert seem more friendly and charming. They came in groups balancing perfectly metal pots of water or bushels of firewood on their heads as they traveled from distant villages to watering hole. Some women bring laundry and chatted with each other about the strange, red-faced foreigners standing stupidly in the sun while ther camels get a drink from the water trough.
At one point, we encountered a well that you had to lower a bowl into in order to draw the water out. We sat and waited while Isaac and Hussein gathered the cooking water when all of a sudden the erupted into Hindi exclamations. The water jug had fallen into the well. "This is a big problem," said Isaac, "must have water." He made a high pitched crow-like call to a passing human in the distance that failed to render aid. Isaac soon decided that tiny Hussein must be lowered into the well through the equally tiny opening. He began preparing a rope rigging for the endeavor and asked for our assistance. Then, we hear bells ringing as a herd of goats come trotting up to the well followed by their bright orange-turbined shepard. He's an old man, but he doesn't hesitate to aid in our mission to get the water bowl back. Honestly, Jen and I played with the goats and I got video of the last parts... it was awesome!
That night around 60 miles from India's border to Pakistan, we met up with some other camal tours for a night of food, music, and dancing of local faire. Wonderful! Jen and I even danced a bit. Some Indian male tourists then began drinking heavily, so Isaac suggested we find a more secluded place to sleep away from the crazy men. We slept under the stars against a sand dune on a raised concrete slab to escape the insects and animals of the desert. Soon the stars began to fade and a brilliant full moon lit up the night sky... making it somewhat hard to fall asleep. Soon though, Jen, Isaac, and I drifted off...
Day 2

We woke up to blue sky and a mouth full of sand. As I wiped my eyes, I noticed that we were not alone. About 4 boys from the nearby village were staring at us curiously from a safe distance and apparently had been for quite some time. They stood close together and had unsure, pensive expressions. A momen later, Hussein arrived to tell us we'd slept late, which is strange for him or anyone to say since NO ONE had a watch. We soon realized that the boys were waiting to have our permission to take our empty water bottles back to their village and to make an attempt at inquiring about the possibility of chocolate or rupees. We stumbled over to the breakfast slab for chai and toast, but again we weren't hungry. Suddenly, one of the village boys takes of like a rocket towards his home in the distance. Another boy runs after him and a tourist claims he is missing some sunglasses. Isaac won't tolerate this, so he sends Hussein bare-backed on a camel after the fugitive. If he'd had a lasso, I'd have thought I was at a rodeo in some parallel universe. The boy came back having stolen nothing, claiming he got spooked by the amount of people. Whatever. We went behind a tree, changed clothes, and then set off again into the desert.
We came to a lake and quietly had lunch. Herds of goats came and went. The gentle ringing of beels and bleating of goats was like a desert lullaby and we fell asleep in the shade. Richard, left at around 3 while Isaac, Jen, and I set off for a day in the dunes. Isaac seemed a little uneasy today as he did not sing a single note or make a single joke for nearly 3 hours. We asked him what was up, but he never really explained himself. We arrived to the edge of some impressive dunes and unpacked for dinner. Isaac started cooking up a storm as Jen and I cursed the heat and amused ourselves with the dung beetles fighting over f
resh camel poo. We were really waitiing for the Jeep to come with the promise of cold drinks that would help us gain an appetite. The Jeep took
FOREVER and by the time we were finished eating, Isaac asked us if we REALLY wanted to sleep in the dunes. "Whatever you want of course, but now is coming rain maybe and wind. If no coming, then come animals and insects like scorpion and snake. Is no good I think, but up to you. You happy, I double happy." We decided that scorpion bites, though curable, were not pleasant and snake bites would necesitate hospital time, which we did NOT want to experience. Isaac quickly packed the camels and we starte off at dusk for a small empty house on top of a rocky slope. He promised cool wind and no insects. Awesome.
By the time we arrived, it was nearly pitch black and the stars were amazing. We sat up a long while singing, talking, and laughing until the wind really began to blow. The wind was hot and it brought sand. We covered ourselves with blankets and faced away. Somehow, I slept, but in the morning we were covered in sand and in desperate need of a shower. Thankfully, it was our last day.
Day 3
We started off at some unknown time and came to a village for water. I took pictures of some boys and colorful desert saris before walking a little further in to find cold drinks. One wealthy woman with a refridgerator sold us 3 cold-ish Pepsis that we greedily sucked down. Meanwhile, the little house has filled with small children hoping to get a glimpse. Big and small, young and old, all sported elaborate gold studes in either ears, noses or both and bright white teeth. Beautiful people.
Eventually, we sat down again for our last lunch and nap with Isaac. At around 3 o'clock we arrived at a crossroads where a jeep with cold drinks came to pick us up and take us back to the hotel. We waved goodbye to Isaac, Gypsy, Johnny, and Rocket and willed the truck to take us quickly back to cold showers and water.
If you're ever in India come and do this. There's nothing like solitude in the desert on a camel to give you some perspective about life!

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like an awesome trip with sweet writing to boot!

Hope all is well.

Brad

12:18 AM  
Blogger Lindsey said...

Jess,
That sounds like an amazing adventure. I really enjoyed reading your account but was puzzled by the areas of small font that always seemed to come at a point when I was truly intrigued.
Stay safe.
Lindsey

11:37 AM  

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