Of Camels And Deserts In Rajasthan

8:14 pm

The canvas roofed, military jeep is speeding on a 45 km long stretch of road. We are driving to the Sam Sand Dunes, the only reason that I flatly refused a trip to Mount Abu instead of Jaisalmer. For the first few moments, I try my hardest to keep my hair flattened down, try my hardest not to squint my eyes due to the glaring, omnipresent sunlight. Dahiya uncle, as the Sergeant who is acting as our guide, likes to be called is sitting in the front seat beside the driver and pointing excitedly towards the remotest signs of life on either side of the road. I give up on my hair and look outside, at increasing nothingness. Acres of dry land all around, as though it had accepted its fate, merely given up on the very thought of rain, an occasional cactus, an occasional camel, sand blown over on the road by the wind. Our jeep is the only vehicle on the entire road. I lose all sense of time, all sense of thought and feel like I’m flying every time the jeep goes over a bump. One part of my mind tells me that this is it. This is what I have always imagined Rajasthan to be like. Not a bunch of ancient forts and palaces, not a group of banjaras on every other street and definitely not the sight of my first camel.

The jeep comes to a stop before a group of locals who look like Pathans with sun burnt faces, in kurtas with those crazy long sleeves. The sand dunes are stretched out before us, as though compelling us to make some comment about their magnificence. The first immediate feeling I feel is disappointment. It looks a lot smaller than I had imagined. The air is absolutely still, the sands dunes aren’t shifting and I don’t see a mirage. I come out of my reverie when I hear Dahiya uncle arguing about the cost of the camel rides. It seems terribly pointless; he is making it out as though we should be given rides for free but knows exactly how much money the rides are going to cost us. It’s an entertaining game of bargain that will end in a draw and everyone is playing along with complete enthusiasm.

Two kids point my cousin and me towards two dull looking camels that look so bored and indifferent about their existences that I don’t have the slightest desire to disturb them. The kids quietly nudge their respective camels and urge us to climb on them. A bump, a squeal and a two later, we find ourselves on top of a camel each, quietly trotting away in seemingly periodic motions, on the sand dunes. The initial feeling that the sand dunes were small in magnitude immediately dissolves away, giving place to a general, prevailing sense of awe.

The kid in charge of my camel is called Salim. He is a little shy and it takes some tact to get him to talk. He eventually tells me that my camel is called Micahel Jackson. Salim tells me it is tradition to name camels after heroes. I quickly hide an oncoming smirk at this ridiculously innocent statement to find that Shalu is turning towards me, shouting that her camel is called Raja Hindustani and that the kid in charge of Raja H is Ali. At this instant, I forgive the weather for being so unbearably sticky and hot, I forgive the discomfort of the bus journey from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer and I forgive my camera’s batteries for dying out on me at crucial moments. In short, I forgive every unnerving technicality that crossed my mind from the moment I entered Rajasthan.

Salim and Ali seem to have come to an unspoken agreement about stopping our camels. They tell us that we should look around and try and get a feel of the place. The sand dunes strewn about all around us in apparent symmetrical heaps, finally give us what they were supposed to, the same thing that the ocean and the sky give anyone if they make up their minds about it- a brief glimpse of infinity.

I get a slight feeling of regret at not having come here during the evening to watch the sunset or during the night to watch a clear sky lit up with a million stars. The feeling passes. Rajasthan was always the desert. My mind is silenced, a little too overcome by beauty to argue. This is it. This and the light, melodious and slightly melancholic strains of an ektara played by a man wearing a turban, sitting on a charpai in a fort in Jodhpur.

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