Monday, 20 February 2012

Jaisalmer Desert & Camel Safari

View of Jaisalmer fort from our guest house rooftop

We finally left the confines of Lal Ghat and continued on our merry way to the desert town of Jaisalmer. I would like to say that the journey was comfortable, but  we endured a 15hr bus journey where temperatures reached below freezing. Thankfully, the poo Gods were kind to poorly Liz and she managed to last the journey on a couple of toilet stops. However, we were cursed with an overzealous bus driver with a penchant for going over the bumps too fast which resulted in breakdown and replacement bus (not cool when you've popped a sleeping pill, having to change buses in a dark late night service station). However, we finally got there around lunchtime, the dusty desert town of Jaisalmer.
Arising from our glamorous tent

When in Udaipur we had booked a 'tent' instead of a room and had had romantic notions of arriving to a desert marquee, hung with Indian silks. Not so. We were shown to an Ikea-style two man tent that had been pitched on the roof of our hostel, Mystic Jaisalmer. But it was cosy, with plenty of mattresses and blankets and our host Ashraf was wonderful and convivial. 

Camel all dressed up for the show
The views from the roof of the town and Jaisalmer fort - a giant sinking sandcastle - were stunning. We collected ourselves after our journey and headed into town to watch the main event - the desert festival that we had travelled so far to come and see. Due to our prolonged stay in Udaipur, we had missed the previous days festivities, which involved moustache growing competitions and tug-of-wars between Jaisalmer locals and tourist. But we were very lucky to bump into Mr. Desert (who told me I was beautiful by the way), see some camel dressing and a camel tattoo. All in all, it was wonderfully naff.

Me, the Maharani & Mr. Desert. Oo er!
Dressed to the nines in the clothes we had tailor made in Madurai and the turbans we had purchased in Udaipur, we drove out to the desert the next day for our camel safari with Mr. Khan, our tour guide and an intimate group of three other travellers - a Japanese youth called Taka and a lovable, melodious Argentinean couple called 'Fa' and 'So'. We decided that we would prefer not to attend the desert festival, but instead have our own little party in the wilderness  under the stars. After riding our camels into the desert, we collected firewood and set up 'camp' (a fire and blankets). As the sun was going down, Fa, So and I stood in a triad (the sacred number) and performed asanas as the red orb sank into the sand. Getting into the headstand was tricky given the terrain, but I managed it and contemplated the sand and the sky and the nothingness from my inverted position.
Desert sun
Desert sands
Me and 'Bri'

Our group contributed to the culinary effort by pressing fresh dough into chappattis, whilst Mr. Khan cooked up a feast and Sunny (another Jaisalmer village local) went off to procure some moonshine. We ate our fill then sat swigging whiskey and singing around the campfire - traditional desert songs were replaced by mine and Fa's ipods when we realised we shared the same taste in music. It was extremely cold in the desert and we were worried about being cold, but Mr. Khan tucked us in under heavy blankets and we slept beside the dying embers of the fire. As I lay there, bathed in the white light of the full moon, despite the emptiness of our surroundings - nothing but sand and stars and sky, I have never felt closer to the cosmos. During the night, I awoke to feel footprints stamping over my body. I poked my head out, wondering what was going on, only to find that a stray desert dog and her tiny black puppy (who I had been keeping warm in my hands earlier around the campfire) had come back to me, finding my energy in the cold night. And so the three of us slept in a tangle of blankets, creatures of the desert.
Mr. Khan cooking breakfast

Our desert men were already up with the steaming chai when we sleepily poked out our heads and shored up with a hearty desert breakfast of hard boiled eggs, jam, toast and biscuits. We tacked up our camels (I nicknamed mine 'Brian' - I dunno - he just looked like one and seemed to respond when I called him 'Bri' in a cockney accent). He was certainly a strong beast, having not only me to carry on his hump, but all of our food and water supplies. We rode for several hours through the desert, mostly in coin the phrase of our Japanese friend "my ass hole is dead". Along the way we stopped off at a village and, before we knew it, were ushered in by some local women, to sit outside their mud houses (constructed from cow dung, water and sand) whilst they served us chai, played with their children, chatted with us and, rather randomly, insisted on painting my nails. 
'Desert manicure'

One of the village ladies
We gave the girls some bindis and the money I had in my purse but were conflicted. So many times in India we have been asked for money - harangued even, or practically physically accosted. I have come to the conclusion that in cases like this, when we are sharing hospitality and being allowed to voyeuristically take photographs, that we should respond in kind with gifts or money. However, I won't give money to beggars (or indeed their children) as I believe that it only keeps people on the street. A tough and often heartbreaking call, but so it must be.  
Village children 

Ashraf, our host at Mystic Jaisalmer, is a spiritual soul having journeyed through his home country on a quest for knowledge, visited various ashrams and studied several disciplines and meditation techniques. We had a few late night chats with him on the roof and on our return he cleared out a room for us to have an impromptu satsang. The three of us sat listening to some of my beautiful aarti music from the Sivananda ashram and then had an incredible meditation to the sound of Osho music. This was followed by an Osho 'dance meditation'. I felt a little silly at first as I whirled like a dervish -dizzying, kaleidoscopic sensations in my mind before collapsing on the floor. I don't know if it was the meditation or the desert air but I slept soundly again that night, snug and warm inside our little two-man. 
The colours of Rajasthan: crowds gather at the desert festival

During my stay at Mystic Jaisalmer, I had absentmindedly picked up a book and the minute I set eyes on the words inside I was mesmorised - they spoke to me and rang so true. Every chapter I picked seemed to be relevant to the trials and tribulations I had faced on my spiritual quest and answered many of the questions that I had been struggling with. Each morning in Jaisalmer I arose early and sat alone, cross legged and bathed in morning sunlight to read from the book on the roof and meditate on the sentiments within. Imagine my surprise to discover that it was in fact a collection of quotations from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the guru who founded the Art of Living ashram. This seemed to me to be more than a coincidence as one of my friends who I had met at my ashram had talked to me very enthusiastically about it and urged me to go.  Ashraf wouldn't let me leave the hostel go before he summoned one of his staff to retrieve the book (that I had reluctantly left behind) and pressed it into my hands.. 

His n hers turbans
In Jodhpur a couple of days later, Liz got an opportunity to go to Bangalore, the home of Sri Sri's ashram. It appears that the universe is trying to tell me something. And so, I have made arrangements to head up to Bangalore on my way back up north. The question is...will I find my living guru...?

1 comment:

  1. ooooooooooohhhhhhhhh waoooooooooooooooo .my slf shashi kumar vyas aaaaaaaaaa and Mr.desert of 2012


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