Thar Desert Journal

12.11.12

We are back in Jaisalmer after riding camels in the Thar Desert for four days. We came back a day early because Leon got heat stroke. I have to say that, as enjoyable as it was, I was happy to come back early: eight hours a day on a camel was brutal and my entire body aches.

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One of our beloved camels. It could be Michael Jackson, but I’m not sure anymore. Notice the flies buzzing around its head – I don’t have a single photo where they aren’t there. Copyright Simon Bonneau.

Camels are incredible beasts. They can carry over four hundred kilos. Their enormous padded feet splay out and allow them to tread lightly relative to their size. At night, they are shackled so that they can’t walk too far. Even then, there were one or two mornings where we woke up and found that they were nowhere to be seen. Daniel, our guide, never seemed to worry about it. He would simply find their trail and disappear into the distance, only to return an hour or so later, leading them along beyond him with their heads low, like failed runaways.

We slept outside on the dunes under thick blankets. I woke up one night and the sky above me was the brightest that I have ever seen. So incredibly luminous that I forgot where I was for a moment. I was brought back to reality by the sound of Daniel shivering. I lay there for a long time thinking about whether he had enough blankets.

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Children from a small town in the Thar Desert. Copyright Simon Bonneau.

On our last night we camped near a small town and the locals came over to great us. They offered to cook us a chicken for 1000r. They killed it in front of us, softly whispering prayers in Arabic. They cut it up in almost total darkness with a Stanley knife and the feeble light of a small torch.

Our thoroughly western minds end up worrying about food poisoning. They cook the chicken in a pot over a small fire, and perhaps for too long as it ends up tasting rubbery. Still, the fact it was so well cooked meant that we worried less about the food poisoning.

Life in the desert villages is very hard. Daniel told us that sometimes they only eat once a day. Very few of the children go to school. The heat of the desert, the caste system – everything works against them out there.

Even Daniel, who has been doing camel tours for ten years, has only managed to save 5000 rupees, a $100 AUD. A paltry sum. He only gets paid 1200r a month and sends most of it home.

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The convoy. Leon (left) and Daniel, our guide (right). Copyright Simon Bonneau.

What must he make of us westerners coming here? These people that he spends so much time with? Does he realise that we spent more on a night out than he makes in a month? Our lives are so utterly different that they are irreconcilable in a way. Like spending a week living intimately with a couple of aliens.

Over the time that we were there, a battle of wills developed between Daniel and ourselves. He was happy, it seemed, to do everything for us: setup camp, find firewood, cook the food, clean and put everything away. We offered to help but he told us to relax and enjoy ourselves. The problem was that we didn’t want a servant and were uncomfortable with our hegemony.

He called us things like ‘boss’ and ‘chief’ despite us telling him not to do it. Out there, it felt like he should be our boss, our leader. It was his world, not ours. We would have died there without him. In the end, I told him, rather sternly, that we were not his bosses; we were all equals, but I could see it in his eyes that he was thinking, “Yes, boss”.

 

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