Sunday, April 17, 2005

The back of Bourke on the back of a camel.

My camel, Victoria, had issues. And I had a fairly upset stomach as we met Tiger, our guide over the next couple of days. Without so much as an Introductory Certificate in Dromedary Husbandry, we were astride our beasts and heading out to no-where in particular. It looked barren and dusty, and I couldn't see a 711 in sight.

I felt a treat in my new outfit. Inspired by my cousin's shopping adventures in Pushkar, I had worn out the plastic on a new pair of orange pyjama draw-string trousers, wooden bracelet and long-sleeve blue hippy shirt. Completing the ensemble was a matching blue and orange headscarf to keep out the sand and flies, and which made me look unassumingly handsome and vaguely menacing at the same time.

I felt the image suffered a little when, an hour after setting off, I vomited. That kind of behaviour is best reserved for when you have a recipient into which you can spew, and secondly, it's preferable to engage in this activity at ground level. Although Tiger appeared non-plussed and my other travel companions actually giggled, I find that vomiting over oneself from atop an ambulating eight-foot camel is overrated. With a few flecks in hair and headscarf, the majority of the torrent had flowed down my trousers and the camel's rump. Yeah, laugh it up ...

But it all got better after that. It also got hotter too, until a few hours later we nestled under the shade of a tree, unharnessed the camels and allowed them to roam free and play chasy while Tiger cooked us our first gourmet meal of the safari, aloo gobi and chapati. Needless to say, I ate little, though I was very, very hungry.

On the afternoon of the second day we came to a thatched mud hut, and took much needed respite from the searing rays of the sun. A small sinewy and slightly mental man appeared, a true Rajasthani. With deep wrinkles and a half toothless grin, he was dressed in the white dhoti and koortah with a pretty glam orange turban (which would have looked quite cool with my trousers: I thought quietly about fixing a deal).

As always in India, every thing is possible - except for kindness to animals and adhering to best parctice of OH&S principles - and from the filthiest hessian sack in the history of the world, he withdrew bottles of Pepsi. With tears in my eyes I handed over whatever rupees I could grab, and gulped the manna from heaven. His name is Mr Chapati; I am going to build a shrine to him. And perhaps introduce him to both soap and toothpaste.

The next couple of days involved a lot of riding and eating, and sleeping under the stars. Tiger was quite the desert tenor, and kept us upbeat and semi-conscious with a continuous melody of Rajasthan's latest hits. We passed a handful of Marwari villages, and I profess a deep respect for those who live here under the harshest of conditions. There ain't no way I'll be getting the first homeowner's grant in this neighbourhood.

Tiger also pointed out a number of abandoned villages, their Muslim inhabitants having fled to Pakistan at the time of Partition. The buildings are beginning to crumble, and will not be lived in again since they were abandoned under ominous circumstances. The sand has begun to swallow the dwelling and the temples ... only a few peacocks and goats walk among the ruins.

It was a wonderful trip, great to get off the beaten track, to sleep on the sand dunes and see the entire universe of stars, to have someone else do all the cooking and cleaning.

I $#^@% love India!

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