Trompe le Monde: A Round the World Tour Diary

An online travel diary so people can keep up to date with what I'm doing and where I'm going.

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Location: Home, United Kingdom

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Friday, October 22, 2004

The Great Thar Desert

Having escaped from Jaipur without any further gem-related mishaps and without getting any bulletholes in a double bass or meeting Marilyn Monroe on the train (credit for joke: my Dad. It's not often I get to say that!), we arrived at Jaisalmer after a mammoth 13-hour commute.

Jaisalmer is in the midst of the Great Thar Desert, not that far from the Pakistani border. Not sure how far because on every map you see "the external boundaries of India have not been verified and may not be correct". In other words, whatever you do don't mention the war. Apart from being a major Indian army base, Jaisalmer is also home to the majestic Golden fort, which is basically an enormous sandcastle that people still live in to this day. It looks spectacular, and inside it is very evocative, with narrow streets (that are impossible to find your way around in) , ornate Havelis (olde merchant's houses, to you) and some Jain temples (no shoes, no photos, no menstruating women).

The main attraction of Jaisalmer, though, is that it affords one the interesting opportunity of going on a camel safari. This is where you pay a man to get you some guides, some food, some water and some camels (duh), and head off into the desert itself for anywhere up to four days of nomadic journeying. We opted for three days and two nights, on a tour arranged by the none-more-ruggedly-beautiful winner of Jaisalmer's "Mr Desert" award and model for Jaisalmer brand cigarettes, Sahara Travels' Mr Bissa, of whom I am now the proud owner of a signed photograph, given to me at the end of the safari. "Don't make a booking until you see the Face", it suggests, and I would say this was good advice.

Having paid the man, the next morning we arrived at his office at 9 o'clock and waited with some trepidation to see if there would be any other tourists on our safari. Thankfully there weren't (we were fully expecting a pair of middle-aged american feminist lesbians), so it was just myself, Trev, our two guides, and three camels.

The camels obviously had to be named. Trev called his Joe, after Cartoon Spokesperson Joe Camel, while I opted for Abraham for mine, after a vague memory I have of a cartoon camel with a red fez called Abraham (if anyone knows where I've got this from please tell me), Abe for short. The guides' camel was named Isaac to fit in with the biblical theme, Ike for short.

Camels are stubborn cantankerous bastards (bastard is really the only appropriate word to describe a camel's personality). Deciding where to go is a complex compromise process, but rest assured the ultimate decision lies with the camel. And if that means (in Abe's case) walking through bushes, or (in Joe's case) going right no matter how hard the left rein is pulled, then so be it. Fortunately, our friendly and helpful guides were on hand to curb the worst excesses of the truculent beasts, as well as to cook our food (of which there was more than enough) and, er, to guide us. Having everything done for you by a complete stranger in this manner is somewhat strange - the only decision we had to make was whether to have two helpings or three at lunch and dinner time. Needless to say it seemed pretty colonial at times (am I allowed to say that?).

The desert itself is mainly low scrub and tightly packed sand, reminiscent of a Western. There are occasional sand dunes though, and they are majestic. Since we had good guides we actually spent the second night on the top of a dune completely unspoilt by footprints (before we got there). The other thing about the desert is the heat. We're talking all day burn weather, 40 degrees in the shade during the hottest times of the day, during which we were thankfully in said shade, sheltering and trying to recover from mild sunstroke thanks to the morning's riding.

The most amazing part of the safari? Unquestionably the desert night, when (as on the second night) there are no clouds. The stars and moon are so clear, and sleeping out underneath such a sky is quite an experience.

So what have I gained from my three day trek into nowhere on a dumb dromedary's (is that the one with one hump or the one with two? To my discredit I can't remember. The camels in question had one hump) back? A pulled left hamstring, a right groin strain (steady!), a minor case of sunstroke, a sore arsebone, a bunch of great memories and a film container full of sand. A grand old time was had by all...

3 Comments:

Blogger Shall said...

ooooooooooo that sounds really good! I've only ridden a camel with two humps before, bareback, natuurlich. and yes, cantanjerous old-bastards is the only description. It's quite giddying getting on and off them also. Desert sounds beautiful, isn't it great the stars appearing ridiculously close? Have fun on your journey ! Doesn't say where you're going next but look forward to finding out. Shall x

October 22, 2004 at 12:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you used to have a toy camel when you were younger sam?! i think that says it all really!
Camel xxx

November 10, 2004 at 3:20 AM  
Anonymous Aul'Hand said...

It's nearly 20 years since I did the same trip. Every day a shimmering haze of chrome plated sand, silver plated nights, and camels who could fart for over a 100 meters on the trot. We made a serious dent in a dollop of temple ball and were joined by arabian princes in the jewelled night. I guess. You didn't find a pair of Ray Bann wayfarers did you?

April 16, 2005 at 3:41 PM  

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