Sweet Desert Intoxication in Jaisalmer

I Dream of Rain: In the Heart of Thar Desert

Let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dream

Kashmir, Led Zeppelin

After going around Amar Sagar and Gadsisar Lake in the morning, walking around the living fort admiring Jain temples and getting to know the local life until afternoon and then going around the golden town on a clear day, everything seemed like an awe-inspiring assault to the senses. It was mid-afternoon when Mr. Anil asked me if I was ready to go to the desert for the camel safari.

I had been in India for exactly 7 days and I wanted to rest for a day. Sitting in the car on long journeys don’t count as rest. I figured I’d be perfectly content collecting my thoughts and switching my introvert mode on. There is something psychologically exhausting about being alone in a different culture and having to meet new people everyday, smiling and being extra pleasant yet cautious everyday, reading into people’s body language and expressions everyday, eating different food every meal and so on. But I had asked for this. I like the solitude and the detachment it brings from the rest of the world I’m familiar with.

So I composed myself and off we went to the sand dunes.

Upon arrival, the scene of camels lazing under the powerful sun greeted me. Here and there, some camels blissfully chewed on the leaves of a certain tree. The sight of women dressed in traditional colorful clothes walking gracefully with water-filled jugs on their heads somehow reassured me. They looked like desert roses. It was a peaceful, dry afternoon and all thoughts of exhaustion went away. Thoughts about what could be happening in that office in that corner of that little concrete jungle somewhere in Far Southeast Asia seemed insignificant.

I dream of rain. I lift my gaze to empty skies above

Desert Rose, Sting

And so the camels did what they did best, which was something they’ve been doing since the dawn of civilization here: transporting humans and goods. On the other side, women in bright, colorful, flowing dresses collected more water from an open well.

Meanwhile I met the little entrepreneurial boy who owned a camel, who studies in the morning and works in the afternoon. He guided his camel while I rode it with Mr. Anil. The expanse of the subtropical desert reaches tens of thousands of square miles covering parts of Pakistan and most of Northwestern India. The rest of its arid landscape in this side unfolded as I grazed a tiny portion of it.

We stopped at a high point among the dunes to watch the sun set. We spent a calm late afternoon while I casually disturbed it by asking naïve questions such as wildlife when we spotted a deer, what the townsfolk do for a living and what they typically eat, vegetation and agriculture, and where small schoolboys go and all sorts of things like that. Mr. Anil answered my questions to the best he can and added that we were 50 km away from India-Pakistan border. 

When I wasn’t asking questions, I couldn’t stop playing with the sand and basking in the afternoon golden hue everywhere. I couldn’t help but watch people, especially the older folks with their carefully set moustache, while remaining curious about what they say and what kinds of things they have seen in the vastness of the arid region.

To sit with elders of the gentle race, this world has seldom seen

Kashmir, Led Zeppelin

The sun waned. It was lovely. The evening was cool and the desert was still.

Mr. Anil and I came back to the camp grounds. We were served snacks and tea as we waited for the cultural show. We didn’t have to wait for long. The show opened with live traditional music and men in bright hued turbans, some of them sported a moustache. With all the percussions, claps and clips, the songs had a rustic beat. I didn’t understand a single word and I asked Mr. Anil what the lyrics meant. 

Here and there I was told that it was a folk song originally from Pakistan or a ballad about romance. The music seemed generations old and sacred. Sometimes the songs were longing, other times sounding tragic, but more often than not, the music was haunting just like the quiet ancient desert landscape.

This memory of Eden haunts us all

Desert Rose, Sting

Soon women with bright, heavy costumes and accessories began their folk dance. They gracefully moved about with the raw beat of the drums, swayed their hips and moved their heads sideways expertly. Exhibitions were performed to wow the audience with a row of pottery sitting on top of one’s head while reaching for the ground inserting a bill with one’s mouth. It was a rare kind of live performance, strange and striking. The glow and slow crackling of fire in the still desert night added a mystical charm to it all.

The grand finale was one fiery art: fire-breathing dance performed by a talented Rajasthani folk while the drums beat and the chanting continued. In the dark, unlit, tranquil night in a quant village among the sand dunes, he catapulted the show when he blew fire and captivated his audience.

I Dream of Fire: Final Act of An Explosive Performance

This fire burns. I realize that nothing’s as it seems

Desert Rose, Sting

At the end of the performance, the very polite owner of the camp greeted me and walked Mr. Anil and myself back to the car and then even farther to see us through the road. I clearly remembered the comfortable, beautiful tents and mud houses he offered in his desert resort just before the camel safari and how I wished I had booked a night there. The way back to the town proper was a silent, watchful drive. I have dreams about it: the desert, the fire and the rustic haunting music.

I was metaphorically intoxicated, enchanted by the whole experience. I realize one of the dangers, or opportunities however you want to see it, of traveling by yourself is how everything gets magnified and how vulnerable and open you become to the experience that it’s a hundred times easier to get swept away. If I were younger and had nary a care about people and responsibilities back home, I could have easily chosen to stay a little bit longer, and a little bit more, and yet a little more, in the desert to purposely get lost in the heady exoticism of it.

My shangri-la beneath the summer moon, I will return again

Kashmir, Led Zeppelin

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