I wasn’t too happy to do the camel safari on a recent trip to Jaisalmer. It seemed pretty in-human to be mounted on an animal and being dragged around in one of the most difficult terrains- the desert. Before I began my journey to Jaisalmer- the Golden City of India, I was gently advised by a dear friend of mine, who probably knew my eccentricities, that if you are going to the Thar Desert, there is no way you are to miss the camel safari.
The Sam sand dunes, an odd 60 kms inland from the Indo-Pak border, are a major tourist attraction, especially in the winter months where thousands throng to ride and “navigate” across the dunes of the desert. Sam has a vast expanse of dunes and you could practically get lost here if you don’t have a local to guide you around. And I soon realized that, despite me not wanting to burden an already, burdened animal called the ship of the desert, the best way to get around the desert was only on a camel back. The presence of sparse vegetation, extremities in weather and lack of proper civil habitation around meant, you are dependent on that one man and the camel he pulls along with him.
So here they were – Khan and his camel Sultan- my knight in not so shining armor and his dear animal friend. When I first saw Khan standing outside my tent with his partner in crime Sultan, the first thing that caught my eyes where there teeth. I didn’t know camel teeth could be so white, and I didn’t know chewing pan could stain your teeth so much, because Khan’s teeth were a dark red.
Despite Khan being overly-friendly(well everyone in Rajasthan is), I managed to convince him that I won’t mount on to the camel, and would prefer to walk by its side, with Khan serving as my guide. And Khan agreed, just making a casual remark that I should later on blame him for anything. But here I was all proud of myself. Proud that I would not be troubling an animal.
My first few steps were comfortable. But soon I realized something wasn’t. What was it? Hmmm my shoes. You don’t walk in the desert with shoes. I noticed Khan and Sultan were bare foot. And anyways it was December and the sand felt cool. So I slipped out of my shoes and walked barefoot. Up and down the dunes took me. I ran gleefully like a little girl. As we navigated through the desert, the dunes just got bigger. And it just got tougher. I huffed and puffed and within twenty minutes, I was exhausted. I suddenly felt parched and dehydrated. I gulped down those precious drops of water, when Khan said, “Madam please listen to me and sit on the camel. Sultan won’t mind it. You aren’t used to the desert sand and it’s getting dark. We have a long way to go”. Panting, I saw no option. I just let my principle of not troubling an animal fly away in the cold December breeze.
From upon the hump of the camel as I stared into the vastness of the desert, I realized the truth. No one can navigate through this terrain better than the camel. I casually asked Khan at that moment what he made for a living. He replied back, “Around 8,000-10,000 during the season months between November to March. Other months I farm Jowar. The harvest I get is meager and I just manage to make ends meet.”
“What does Sultan do in these months?” I asked. Khan smiled and said, “He just sleeps all day and in the evenings he comes along with me to the market. It is only when you big people grace the desert does Sultan and me get to eat well.
I heard Khan out that day and realized the coarse lives lived by people in such harsh terrains. I didn’t feel like protesting anymore. I just watched the sun set across the desert sand from the humps of the camel and hoped Khan and Sultan would someday see a better life.
*All photographs have been clicked with my personal camera 🙂.. Aint I done a good job?