My camel is really a pig...
Trip Start Jan 15, 2002
9Trip End Apr 12, 2002
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"daniel is running through the desert. he is being chased by a hundred girls, a thousand girls. but he runs and runs and runs. finally, a few girls (the fast ones) catch up to daniel. daniel stops and asks, 'what is it? what do you what?' the girls ask, 'where's asu?'"
meet asu, my camel safari guide, camel driver, and joke teller extraordinaire who would sing his favourite hindi pop songs as loud as he could, or just make songs up. he also enjoyed a mangled, severely out of tune version of 'country roads' that was awe inspiring in its audacity. and then there was the joke about being overly fond of a camel that i will leave to your imaginations.
anyway, my three day camel safari in the thar desert near jaisalmer, rajasthan, was great...although it wasn't a uniform experience. there were times where my sore ass, greatly traumatized by being forced to reacquaint itself with the saddle every time the camel took a step, combined with the extreme heat made the journey less than magical. but sleeping under the stars amidst sand dunes tended to make up for it. and asu doing all the cooking while i floundered in exhaustion didn't hurt either. i booked the camel safari through the hotel i was staying at...everyone and their dog's brother will book a safari for you in jaisalmer so it's really hard to know who to choose. my laziness payed off in the form of luck, and the safari was great (so was the hotel). i ended up being my myself (just me and asu) which i wasn't expecting...but the onslaught of tourists is starting to slacken off due to the increasing temperatures and some people stay away because jaisalmer's relatively close to the pakistan border (it's about 80 km away from town, 60 km from where most safaris start) although there's never been any kind of border skirmishes here...at least not since partition in 1947. there is a massive army/air force base here though...on the train from jodhpur most of the passengers were soldiers. another one of asu's jokes was to say 'cha lo pakistan' (off to pakistan' or 'let's go to pakistan') whenever we got back on the camels after a rest. and resting is the generally accepted way of beating the heat...get up early, travel for about three or four hours, find a tree, nap through the hottest part of the day, and then travel another couple of hours before stopping around sunset. but it was still really hot for me...the hottest it's been in india since i've been here. on the third day asu brought me to his village and to his family home. i met his mother and younger sister...he has two older sisters that are married and no longer live at home. his mother made some wonderful food for lunch (and best tea i think i've ever had) and it was wonderful just to catch a glimpse of rajasthani home life...those sorts of uncontrived things are generally hard for tourists to see. the house was very interesting...it's basically a courtyard with a few enclosed rooms off of it...both sides of the courtyard are covered and the middle is open. pretty much everything happens out in the open...there's some space for storage and for the kitchen, but everyone sleeps out in the courtyard and spends most of their time there. during the heat of midday people shift to whichever covered part of the courtyard provides the best shelter from the sun and wind.
the camel that i was riding was called raju...he was borrowed from a friend because asu only has one camel, named papu. last year he had four camels but three of them died in close succession. asu presented his rather huge loss of wealth as the inevitable course of things...sometimes you have lots of healthy camels, sometimes they die. but asu takes things rather stoically in general...when papu run away on day two while we were both napping after lunch it took asu a couple of hours to find him (in the hottest part of the day) and bring him back. asu just commented that god never gives him time to rest. and that was that. i tried to offer my help in packing the camels, cooking, cleaning up...and at first asu was grateful, but his competence in desert life far exceeds mine (obviously) and after a while it was obvious that he would rather just fly through things on his own than be slowed down by my assistance. and he's also used to the dichotomy of guide/tourist...tourists paying paying for the safari and expecting service. but somehow, for me, the fact that there was just the two of us made it difficult to accept my tourist role...although i must admit that caving in, guiltily, to letting asu do everything after a long day's worth of camel and sun wasn't all that difficult. after three days i had a basic understanding of how to get a camel to do what i wanted it to. or i guess i should say 'raju', the camel i was riding, because they have quite different personalities. raju, for example, would never run far away, and never complained the way papu did when asu started putting all the gear back on them. i imagine that i would have had a much harder time getting papu to listen to me. camels are steered by using ropes that are attached to pegs that are inserted into their noses when they're one year old. tugging hard on the ropes is painful for the camels, hence the incentive to listen to you. but most of the time a gentle tug is all that's needed to change directions. i was mildly successful in getting raju to kneel down and get back up...camels have amazing joints and padded areas in all the right places on their bodies to make kneeling the way they do functional and mostly comfortable. it's enough to make one doubt the camels could have ever evolved into what they are. but i guess it's the same with all animals that are highly specialized to live in one type of environment. one thing about rahu was that he never stopped eating...at night and in the morning when asu would give them the feed that we brought along, raju would continue to eat long after papu had stopped. and on the trail raju would, having a marked disrespect for my authority, stop all of a sudden to munch on a bush or some grass, or whatever looked tasty i guess. he's quite a pig of a camel, but i like him anyway.
as well as the camel safari, being in jaisalmer has meant that i've been able to enjoy the amazing jaisalmer fort, which is the only fort in india in which people still live...several thousand i believe. the fort is unbelievable, out of arabian nights story, or a middle-eastern fairy-tale. the hotel i was staying in is inside the fort and so the view from my room looked out over the city (the fort is on the highest point of land) and the roof-top restaurant gives you a view of the entire city and the fort itself. there's a series of about 3 or 4 gates that you have to walk through to get into the fort, beautiful stone carvings everywhere, jain and hindu temples, people's houses, and merchants and restaurants (and travel agencies, and internet places...the accoutrements of tourism, as usual...but the fort's still wonderful even with all that). and, as with everywhere in india, there's a whole herd of cattle that wander the fort and call it home.
since i last wrote i also spent a few days in udaipur...city of the lake palace hotel, made famous by the james bond movie 'octopussy', part of which was filmed in udaipur. udaipur is gorgeous, at least the old city is. the largest palace of the raj is in udaipur and was very interesting to wander through...such opulence in the midst of squalor. it's no wonder that at the time of the formation of the indian state rajasthan was one of the most illiterate and poor regions in india. but rajasthan as a whole seems to be an amazing place to come and visit...it's packed with wonderful cities, colourful and friendly people, and palaces and forts that are fantastic, in the true sense of the word. i still have jodhpur and jaipur to see...and then it's all over and i return to canada. in less than a week. weird. bye for now.