Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sleeping Under the Stars


Ashok promised that it would be the highlight of our Rajasthan road-trip.  A camel safari through the ancient deserts of Jaisalmer with sunset over the dunes, a traditional dinner with local Rajasthani song & dance, and the piece de resistance, spending the night under the stars.  Jesse immediately rejected the idea.  "Thanks but no thanks, we got all our camel riding, desert trekking, and canned local culture we need.  Take it out."

This might be a good time to review the JSR.  The JSR is the "Jesse Supremacy Rule."  It is the basic proposition that if there is ever difference of opinion between me and J, Jesse's position will result in a better outcome, and should be followed in all but a few very narrowly tailored decision-making subjects.

Dave's Domain
  • Food selection (but generally not amount of food),
  • Electronics (though as with food, she maintains a veto over the number of electronics we purchase), and
  • Directions (I am the Director of Maps; Jesse fluctuates between the Assistant Director of Maps, or more often, the Assistant to the Director of Maps whose duties are mostly limited to handing me the map
 Jesse's Domain   
  • Everything else     

The ad was even prettier
than this sunset.
But, flying in the face of the JSR, as I am apt to do, I suggested that a sunset camel safari sounded fun, and even romantic.  And when Ashok produced a glossy ad with the sun setting over the dunes I was sold.  Despite Jesse's lucid, intelligent, and well thought out reasoning I gave Ashok a knowing man-to-man looked and overruled the JSR.  And just a few short days later, there I was, muttering "JSR, stupid JSR.  Ugh, how could I have ignored the JSR again" as I walked my camel through the dessert, had one of our worst dinners in India, and then slept in all my clothes on a filthy blanket in the Jaisalmer dessert.

The Camel Ride
I like riding animals.  That's because if I am riding, I am not walking.  Camels, however, must be the most uncomfortable animals to ride in the whole world.  I now fully understand why the Jordanians use a robo-whip instead of a jockey when they race camels.  Notable times of discomfort include the alarmingly angled moment when the camel stands up, the dizzying drop it makes when it sits down, the unnaturally wide seat one must assume and, of course, the painful impact in one's nether region with each slow step.  So, as we plodded out of camp towards the desert you can be sure I was replaying the scene in Ashok's office and cursing my (all too often) failure to adhere to the JSR. [JLM: And, of course, blaming me for not being more insistent.]   Going at a human's walking pace (I know this because our camels were being led by a young man on foot) we soon fell into line with all the other tourists heading to the desert sunset.

If we were only going to reach a human's pace, I might as well walk too.
For brief moments I was distracted from my camel-riding induced misery.  Times when we saw the local women drawing water from the well, perfectly sculpted mango trees, and the general coolness of riding a camel through the desert.  In each instance, however, I was quickly brought back to reality as I slid in and around my camel's two humps.

Ladies returning to their homes with water for drinking, cooking, and bathing.

J's on the front camel.  I'm on the second one.
The tree's perfectly hemmed bottom is from camels snacking on the "low-hanging fruit."

The Sunset

The sunset from the top of the dunes was nice.  Like all of our sunsetters we quickly found the bar; in this case, a young boy selling Lay's potato chips (American Cut, i.e. ruffled, thank you very much) and warm Kingfisher beer.  This is about as good as it gets in rural India.

Reading emails?  At this sunset?  C'mon Dave.

As the sun dropped below the horizon we loaded back up onto our camels for the 40 minute ride back.  Within 10 minutes I stopped the procession and hopped off.  It was glorious.  The remaining 30 minute walk gave me time to stretch out my cramped and sore knees.  The Indian fellows, who were also walking the camels, really got a hoot that I was on foot, when I had a perfectly good camel to ride.  Had I not been in such pain I would have been thinking the same thing.

The Dinner
Back at the camp we had a mediocre dinner (but the young cook was so proud we had to tell him it was delicious.  In fact, we mostly ate the fried rice chips (think prawn chips) he served as an app) and reviewed our sleeping options.  Option one was the concrete room with a filthy bathroom or, as promised, sleeping under the stars.  And like we said, what Ashok promised, he delivered.  Sleeping under the stars meant just that.  It would be me, Jesse, and a few dirty blankets back in the desert.  No bungalow.  No tent.  No nothing.  We opted for the stars.  It was, after all, the reason we were out in Jaisalmer in the first place.

Looks OK from the outside
Does not look OK from the inside.
We can do a squat toilet, and we can do a western toilet
but a western toilet with no seat?  This is experts only.
The Second Camel Ride
What I had not considered was how we would get back to the desert to pitch our tent lay out our blankets.  You can imagine my dismay when our Indian hosts enthusiastically motioned for us to get back on our camels!  Drawing a line in the sand (well, not literally, we hadn't reached the desert yet) I insisted they attach the large cart to the camel and allow me and J to ride back to the desert in it.  My request was denied when they pointed out that the cart only had one wheel.  Thankfully, and as always, Pappu came to the rescue.  We unloaded the camels, loaded up the car and drove to our camp site.  Now knowing that our desert "campsite"  (blanket-site?) was just off the road, the entire enterprise lost some of its mystique and excitement.  I mean it is fun and exciting to trek through the desert with only the gear on our camel's back and spend the night isolated from civilization.

The Accommodations
Making camp was a quick affair.  Me, J, and our albino Indian "guide" laid out three blankets and that was that.  Camp was set.  Next we were told to comb the desert for firewood.  Hmmm, not much in the desert, and it was dark (but not that dark because it was an awesome full moon), and since we did come in a car and all, couldn't the wood have been collected at some earlier time, like in the day, or when there were not paying guests?  Sitting around the fire was nice.  We listened to the other tourists who seemed to be enjoying traditional song and dance and debated whether we were better off with or without such attractions.  We decided that we were, but mad because we surely paid for the song and dance routine.  It was just as well, since when we mentioned heading over to their campsite to say hi, we were told "not allowed!"

Jesse, our meager fire (due to the lackadaisical wood collectors), and our albino Indian guide.
That's it folks.  The entirety of our campsite.

Once we retired to our blanket, me in the great white onesy, hiking socks, hooded sweatshirt, hat and gloves, and J bundled so professionally that all parts of her body were separated from our "bedding" by at least two layers of clothes, it was actually pretty cool to be sleeping alone in the desert.  The other tourists had returned to their camp, our guide was sleeping on his blanket beyond another dune, and it really felt like we were all by ourselves.  Laying there it could have been 10, 100, or 1000 years ago (except for all the high-performance gear we were sporting).  As expected, I fell asleep immediately, leaving J to ponder the night sky, the surprising hardness of the sand, and the real or imagined noise and movement of any bug or snake within 50 yards of us.

Sunrise and Hightailing it back to Civilization
We awoke at sunrise and lazed in our blanket, pleased with our decision to sleep under the stars.  We caught the tail end of the sunrise and went to meet our guides for the camel ride (Jesse) and walk (me) home.  Back at the camp we had the Indian version of the continental breakfast:cold toast & chapati, gray butter, and remarkably bright and sweet "jam" (it actually may have been jello) and told Pappu to ready the car.  We were getting the heck out of there.

Sunrise in the desert.
(Our "room" was in the gully on the left side of this dune)

The hearty breakfast one expects after a night in the dessert.
You can't tell, but I promise that the butter was gray and the jam phosphorescent.

Pappu.  Looking a little worse for the wear, but as always, ready to roll.

1 comment:

  1. That's called traditional trekking. A night in desert will be amazing and especially the breakfast.


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