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Wondering Wanderer!, South Korea


The Express Camel through Rajhastan
by Steven Moore.

Beauty and the beasts

My camel, my camel, my Kingdom for a camel.”
Okay, I don't have a kingdom, and I really don't need a camel, but such was the fun on my three day camel safari in India's Thar desert, that I long to repeat my epic voyage upon my personal 'ship of the desert.'
I'd always wanted to ride camels, so I headed to Rajhastan in India's far western reaches, to fulfil a dream. After an early start, my Jeep transfer reached the rendezvous, thirty miles outside the impressive Jaisalmer fort, a vast, magnificent structure rising majestically from ancient golden sands, it's crenelated walls cutting beautifully across cerulean water-coloured skies, the blanket blue punctuated only occasionally by the graceful circling of hungry vultures.

With anticipation I met my group; my guide, chef, a 'boy', two fellow travellers, and my ride for the trip, the camel itself. Mounting these great beasts, with faces and an aroma only a mother could love, is difficult. I approached the docile colossus with trepidation, but encouraged by my guide I attempted to board. Once on the saddle blanket and sporting white knuckles, my guide emits a plethora of weird noises from his amused bearded face, and the first shudders of the slumbering behemoth sent jolts of adrenalin down my spine, and I am launched ferociously forward. Convinced I would be deposited disdainfully to the sand far below, I emphatically changed direction, and as my life flashed before my wild eyes, I was suddenly sitting nine feet high, nerves shot, pulse racing, and...amazingly, all is well. From this perilous height the distant fort shimmers magically, and as I catch a glimpse of my guides haggard yet disarmingly friendly face, I know his wise knowing eyes have seen this show many times before.

The Thar desert, a silent and bewitching wilderness, lies beneath impossibly big skies, with a horizon so distant and wide I felt at once insignificant and yet drawn by an adventure, a challenge...this is what I live for! But as the distant fort became indistinguishable from the desert terrain, I realised this would be no gentle picnic, but a test of endurance. And it was hot. I knew it would be, with temperatures of fifty plus common, and though my camel was laden with twenty four litres of iced water, within an hour it was tepid. Dealing with furnace like heat would be my major challenge throughout long days aboard my camel. However, I either accepted the challenge or went home beaten, and as our snaking, colourful convoy of camels and humanity had really entered a mild, magical landscape, I willingly accepted.

For many people, the concept of travel is to witness things or places, and we're too often disappointed when we find nothing of interest, guilty of an expectancy to see something as opposed to hoping to discover. Here, amid great swathes of open and apparently empty spaces, an expectant traveller may well be disappointed.
In a desert however, it's the emptiness and silence, the insignificance of ourselves, and the stark contrast to our everyday lives back home, that is so enchanting. We all need to revert to nature occasionally, and experience the great outdoors in all it's glory, replacing high rises with humps, neon signs for starry nights, golden arches for golden dunes...and refreshingly, no Starbucks...at least not yet. This is nature in it's truest form, and it's inspiring.
At ease aboard my swaying but serene ride I had incredible views, and amongst gently undulated golden dunes, civilization became a fading memory. As the hours and miles drifted behind, I slowly attuned to the initially uncomfortable arrhythmic movements and lackadaisical rhythm of the beast's gait, and my pulse, even my metabolism, seemed to slow, matching the pace of life, or lack of it, in the Thar desert.

With the camels in convoy, conversation is difficult. However, this affords precious time for reflection, and boundless opportunity to think clearly of things often neglected in our hectic, everyday lives. I wonder how many important and productive life or business decisions have been reached on nature's time, when both the air and mind is clear?

As the wonderful first day drew to a close, and the heat's intensity dropped, our procession made camp atop a large dune. The view was mesmerising, and I felt I could see into infinity. The sun, so huge and close over the horizon, appeared unreal. The evening's colours were amazing, the sands at once golden, red and blue, and as I relaxed in awe of a truly breathtaking desert sunset, I felt deliriously happy.

Desert darkness descends quickly, and exhausted but exhilarated, I settled down to sleep beneath the most beautiful night sky I'd ever seen. The silence was intoxicating and my imagination ran wild. With billions of stars out there, it seemed impossible we're alone in the universe. It was a humbling experience, and an evening never to be forgotten.
Two bizarre events happened that night. First, I was awoken by a series of rifle shots, and disorientated, I didn't understand what was happening. However, the young boy appeared, and by way of hand gestures and a reassuring smile, insinuated I go back to sleep. Secondly, and more frightening, the entire camp erupted in a flurry of vociferous shouts and crazily animated torch lit action, right where I was sleeping. Again, after reassurance, peaceful sleep soon returned. When I finally awoke to a spectacular but chilly desert sunrise, I soon understood the night's crazy events. My guide explained that the gun shots were deer poachers from across the nearby Pakistani border, and with a cheeky wink suggested that Indian deer are far tastier than their Pakistani cousins. I quickly understood the second drama. Laid out just metres away were the lifeless bodies of six skinny but sinister looking snakes. Evidently, the young boy's chief duty was deadly snake watchman; judging by the evidence he'd done an excellent job. Relieved and a little shocked, but nonetheless excited by the realisation that I was truly out of my comfort zone, I drank chai by the camp fire and marvelled at the desert's rapidly changing spectrum of colours, from purple to red, then orange to gold.

The first twenty four hours of my desert safari were over, but with great excitement my trusty camel and I loped again into the wilderness, curious what adventure lie ahead in nature's wonderland. India is tremendously diverse, and the Thar desert in regal Rajhastan is quite simply a land of magic and mystery, silence and space, and of course, of 'beauty and the beasts.' I can't wait to return. 

Published on www.enjoybedandbreakfast.com