Saturday, February 21, 2009

Desert Dreams

Ahh Jaisalmer....
I'm really overtired- just came back from a night in the desert dancing with gypsies all night long...more on that later so excuse me if I'm not making much sense!
Penny and I went on a 2 day 1 night desert adventure on camel back that was organised through our hotel. Our hotel was a complete disaster (did I mention this already)? so we were extremely skeptical about our "Non-tourist" camel tour, considering we paid really good money and didn't want to be sorely disappointed. Well the camel trip was really good- our guides Jamin and Hamir kept us thoroughly entertained (well Jamin did, his English was perfect and he did a really good version of the Bob Marley song "Jammin'"...even though he had never heard it before (Penny played it for him in the end and he loved it!!). We literally saw NO other tourists along the way as we well avoided the beaten track, and ended up being 45 km from the Pakistan border. The heat was really intense though, topping almost 40 degrees so we had a really nice lunch and a rest in a shaded area for about 3 hours to escape the heat. My camel was called Ji and was quite naughty. He kept walking into shrubs and trying to knock me off! Jamin told us that the camels we get are reflections of who we are inside, so for the rest of the trip I was referred to as the "Crazy Girl". Jamin was really informative and gave us so much history about the tribal villages and gypsy camps that we passed along the way. Jamin was only 30 yrs old with 3 kids, and hamir was 22..but they both seemed much, much older. Jaminlooked at least 40, and Hamir seemed in his late 30s. The life in the desert is so very hard, and the average life span is only 60 years old. We made it to the sand dunes in Thar desert were we set up camp and Penny and I went wild on the dunes, rolling down them like children and jumping around. We were camped at a spot only 15 km from the Pakistan border, and was told that at night we would see gunfire flashes (luckily I didn't see any!!). Penny and I sat atop a dune and talked at great length about life. I personally feel that I have grown so much on this trip, and my eyes have been opened to many things along the way. One of the things I have been struggling with here has been the chance of our birthright...why am I so lucky to be born into a wonderful family in a part of the world that allows so much freedom and personal exploration where my day to day worries are 'What I am going to do today?" and "How can I become a better person?". Compare this with the harsh reality of living nomad-style in a cow dung hut with 15 other people, living off dahl and walking 2 km everyday in scorching heat to fetch water. I am struggling with the indulgence of my existence, especially coming to these lands and being able to see what is happening but unable to help in any way other than giving a few rupees and a school pen to the children. And in doing this only perpetuates the notion that tourists are only good for giving. This was an issue that I struggled with when I was staying in the Berber villages in Morocco, but because I am more connected to this land and these people I am questioning so much more.
Penny and I had a wonderful dinner with the men who cook a mean spicy curry and we sat back to watch the galaxy unfold, slowly with Venus coming out and then the rest of the stars slowly emerging. The stars were the brightest that I have ever seen, and we felt quite insignificant compared lying on the heated desert sand. Wow.
I feel asleep with my turban on my face to keep off the mossies (and joked that I felt like I was off to the Mahikarnika Ghat!) and awoke a few hours later to find a perfect crescent moon rising above me. Beautiful.
We got up fairly early and had a yummy breakfast with gingery chai before mounting our camels. The men felt that we were comfortable enough to ride, so they started us off galloping through the sands. It was such an exhilarating experience, and we felt so free! Penny had a major laughing fit, and the boys got worried that she was going to fall off! We rode heavy over sand dunes, and scraggy plains till we reached Jamin's village. He doesn't take people there very often, but since we showed such an interest in his family and life, he thought we would enjoy it. We were swarmed by his beautiful little children first, then by the rest of the village. Adorned women with sparkling nose jewels and smiles came out to greet us and give us a thorough look over. Jamin's wife scrutinized us the most (oh how similar we women are!) but once she was satisified by our scraggly appearance she warmed up to us quickly. We went into Jamin's tiny hut and everyone surrounded us, staring at our strange faces and eyes. Little hands grabbed at my rings and at my watch, curious eyes met mine and shy smiles were exchanged. The children loved Penny's phone, which she played random rings tones ( the boys loved the techno ones the best!!). Jamin's wife brought out some embroidery that she was doing for a dress which I promptly bought (the handiwork is incredibly patient...took her 3 months). Penny also bought a dress from Jamin's mother (which neither one of us fit..these women are sooo tiny) and a piece of embroidery. We had a lovely glass of chai and then headed out. We were starting to get a bit stressed as all the village women were pulling out their crafts and the kids were pushing through our bags. Again my moral issue came out, and we sullenly left the village feeling a bit pillaged but understanding the desperation that was the intention. These people have nothing really, except for the love of family and the other members in the village, and they see us as walking money bags...which to a degree we are...we possess more than they will ever see in their lives. Penny was a bit upset and Jamin was really concerned. But once we got back on the camel, and I made a promise to myself that I will post Jamin some pens and paper when I get home, the feelings soon passed. Wes stopped for lunch and enjoyed a delicious cabbage curry and then was visited by a gypsy women and her 4 kids. She was absolutley gorgeous, wild and free with dark skin and radiant eyes. She wore an orange veil that covered long dreadlocks. Her children were very dirty and half naked, with huge empty eyes and impish grins. we gave them some sweets and a packof cards which they got really excited about. I gavethe woman some paper soap and a hair clip. They stood looking at us for a long time, and Ifelt so sad. Jamin told us that the gypsies have temporary work here in the desert chipping the rock and boulders that are lying about as there is a government plan to build a road here that will be taxed. Imagine chipping rock by hand with mallets in the middle of the day with 35+ degree weather? Life is just so hard for these people out there. They soon wandered away, and we all took a rest. When the heat died off a bit, we got back on our camels and galloped away. We rode throughthe gypsy camp and watched the beautiful women in their tribal gear chip rock and carry children on their hips...watching us as we were watching them. Silver flashing in the late afternoon sun, white smiles, dirty hands waving hello, long veils catching the wind as the women stood us to watch us sail by. Contrast against the burned sierra (thanks Crayola!!) desert.
We made it back to Jaisalmer sunburned, tired, and happy. Full of vision and memories. We walkedinto town and finally found the Jaisalmerthat everyone was raving about...beautiful Rajasthani stores selling mirror work, roadside cafes, wandering cows, and wedding processions. I fell in love right away and changed my view of Jaisalmer being a nuclear war zone! We ate at a restaurant overlooking the illuminated fort, and decided to order green salad as we are waaay too full of chappatis! The "green" salad was served by an adorable man with cokebottle glasses and no english. The salad comprised of a whole cut red onion, a little sprinkle of sliced cabbage, a few shreds of julienned carrots, and some cucumber. Apparently the kitchen ran out of tomatoes, so of course onions werethe next best substitute! Ohhhh India.
We were meant to leave to Pushkar on Saturday but we got persuaded to saty by the etheral internet shop owner and our hotel clerk. So we ended up on another amazing adventure...stay posted!!