Desert Serenity

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January 29th 2016
Published: February 3rd 2016
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My first train ride in India had gone pretty well. I had taken AC3 train class, which had about six reserved beds per row. There were a few other tourists in my berth as well as many Indian families. The train had been delayed by about an hour and then departed in the early evening. I chatted with different people who were getting on and off. The train stopped often at various cities along the way. I woke up in the early morning and sat with one of the train doors open looking at the Rajasthani scenery going by. The environment looked dry and arid for the most part. About 18 hours after the train had left, I arrived in the town of Jaisalmer, which was at the heart of the Thar desert.

I got transport into town and saw the large fort located at the center. Jaisalmer was more of a village when compared to a city like Delhi. It was built in the 12th century by a rajput warrior looking to fortify his position. It is sometimes called the Golden City because of the yellow sandstones that are used for most of the structures. The Pakistani border lies beyond to the wesst and south-west. I walked around the fort initially, thinking that my hostel was located inside. Turns out that the mystic Dervish was on the outside but only about a two minute walk from the outside of the fort gate. The dorm room was located on the third floor and seemed pretty chill. There were numerous balconies that gave a great view of the fort. Straight away I began talking to Curtis who was traveling with his friend Bo, and had both spent several weeks in Delhi prior to making their way here. They were both Australians. I made my way to the nearby lake as the sunset approached and spent some talking photos with the special lighting. I then sat along the lake as the sun dipped into the horizon. I returned to the hostel, got something to eat and then hung out with Curtis a bit more. Most people tend to come to Jaisalmer so that they can see the desert. In fact, the population relies on tourists as there isn't much else in terms of economy. We decided that maybe we would look into an outfitter to explore the desert with. We walked into the old fort and met up with a guy called Sebastien who was charismatic and enthusistically explained his camel trek. It sounded good and we promised we'd consider him but then carried on through the fort and found a guesthouse called desert boys. The owner seemed pretty cool and explained that he could take us off the beaten path to an area that fewer tourists tread. This sounded decent, if only because I wanted a serene place to explore that wasn't full of people or honking horns. Plus getting off the beaten path is always a bonus. We headed back to the hostel, asked Bo if he was in, and then walked back to desert boys to let them know that we were in for the following day. On the way back, we stumbled upon Sebastien, who was happy to see us and asked if we had decided to go with him. "Ughh yeah we haven't decided yet". Sebastien gave us a peculiar look and we just got the hell out of there.

I went to sleep early and then the following day we got up before dawn. Some Hindi music was blasting just outside of our hostel so it wasn't too difficult to do. We walked over to desert boys and had some early morning ginger chai. Two more backpackers who were staying at the guest house, Patrice and Gabrielle, came downstairs to meet us. And you might have guessed that they were from Montreal. I wouldn't be forgetting my French just yet! They had been traveling India for the past several months. Within the hour we were on our way towards an isolated area of the Thar desert, edging close to the Pakistani border. We pulled into what looked like a desolate village, and there waited several camels. We went inside a brick building and had more chai, along with fruit, cookies and toast.

All of us seemed to be getting along pretty well and soon the joking became more and more frequent. Our two young guides, one who's name was Daniel, loaded up the camels with our supplies and then we all got on. I had never been on a camel and I realized just how truly tall they are. Within minutes we were moving away from the tiny village, in single line caravan formation. We camel trekked for about 2 hours before reaching another village. There some of the kids were asking for chocolate so I attempted to give them some cookies and one excitedly grabbed them all and started eating it. We carried on through the desert and walked through areas with fairly thick vegetation and then through some sand dunes. Everyone was fairly silent as the camels lumbered on, with only the occasional camel grunts and moans. Large beasts they were. At times it felt as though I was in the Star Wars universe, traveling on the planet Tatooine. Two more hours had passed and we disembarked and stretched out sat under a tree while the guides prepared some food. We were trying to avoid the hotest part of the day. Within an hour they had prepared Thali dishes for everyone and insisted that we take seconds and thirds even. I was beyond gorged. In fact I think we all were. For desert we had some bhang cookies. We noticed our guide Daniel felt a little down as he was helping us back on our camels. I calculted that we were short by one camel and he told us that one of them had indeed run off and his partner was off looking for it. I figured that it couldn't have gotten too far. We trekked across the Thar desert, only about 60 km from the Pakistani border, and the sun was harshly beating down on us. Most of us were wearing layers to cover up exposed areas of skin, even under such covering I felt the sun's extreme power.

About an hour after trekking, I heard Patrice yell from the rear to stop the camels and let him down. Nearby was Gabrielle who had seemingly fallen off her camel and lay in the sand. She seemed very confused. I got off my camel and went to see her. We thought she had accidentaly fallen off her camel but Patrice stated that it looked as though she had lost consciousness. This was a nerve racking moment, and some nursing training kicked in and I began to assess and examine her symptoms. Neurologically she seemed fine, but she had pucked soon after, so was she concussed? She reported she didn't have any pain to her head and neck. Back home, we would have automatically placed her on a neck collar, and she would have had some blood work and a CT scan of her head and neck. But here we were in the middle of a desert! She reported that she had been feeling a bit light headed before she fell. It didn't seem like it would be low blood sugar as we all ate quite a bit right before. I concluded that she might have had some sun stroke based on the symptoms she was having, so instead of starting an IV and giving here a fluid bolus, we just encouraged her to begin drinking water and then suggested that it might not be the best to ride on the camel for the time being in case the dizziness or faint feeling returned. For the time being she seemed okay but it could have become a lot worse. Patrice and Gab now walked beyond our camel caravan with Daniel at the front pulling the camels along. Daniel seemed shaken up but what had happened and was worried he might lose his job. We assured him that it was not his fault. As we approached the dunes, Bo ended up throwing him his shoes, as Daniel had none and was walking into patches of prickly bush. They were causing quite a bit of pain for his feet. We arrived at some large sand dunes and then saw what was left of the sunset. Gab seemed to be doing a little better but mentioned that her stomach was feeling upset. Through the corner of my eye, I saw Daniel had begun to cry. We asked him what was wrong and he mentioned that he found out one of his close relatives had recently died. That, compounded with the stressors of the last hour, must have gotten to him. So many emotions in just the last two hours! We tried convincing him that he could go back home if he needed to, but he told us he'd be alright and that he lived in a village further away and would not have been able to return anyway. Daniel and his companion, who for the life of me can't remember his name, set up a small fire and began to cook for the evening. Everyone seemed to be back to being serene. I again wanted to help the guides with some cooking but they flat out refused. We walked through some of the dunes and collected bits of wood. We started a fire and sat around it while drinking chai, and eventually were served incredible Thali dish for supper. I gorged myself yet again. The stars became brighter and brighter and the moon rose high into the night sky. We slept on the sand and under the stars on this night.

I woke up before seven in the AM and took a solitary stroll through the dunes. I also evacuated my bowels into a makeshift sand pit because all that food the day before had filled me up. The sun had yet to rise and I caught up with some of the camels who had strayed quite far. A few moments later, and the sunrise began. I don't usually see sunrises, so I took this one in. I returned back to our camp and everyone else had woken up by now. Daniel had prepared some very sweet chai for us all. He seemed to be in much better spirits in this day. Gab mentioned she was feeling a lot better this morning. We ate some toast and fruit and then were back on the camels and trekked towards the village where our journey began. As we had done a sort of loop, within two hours we made it back. From there we got into a jeep and drove back towards Jaisalmer. Daniel hitched a ride with us as he was going to get back to his village to mourn with his family. We all gave him some rupees as a tip and urged him to buy some proper closed shoes.

Back in Jaisalmer, we convened at the fort and then all decided that it was time to take it easy. I had been looking for a peaceful and serene area and this desert experience was perfect for that - for the most part! In my short time in India, this was the quietest period I had ever experienced. I went back with Curtis to the Mystic Dervish and spent the early afternoon to wash the desert sand from my body and relax some of the sore muscles that I used while stabilizing on a camel. By the evening I went back to the fort and walked through some narrow streets while taking some pictures. I then met up with Patrice and Gab on the rooftop of their guesthouse and watched the sunset. We hung and chatted for a while (often about shitty Quebec policies!) and then I went with Patrice and we found a cheap place to eat. I had a pretty decent butter masala dish with roties. I was back at the hostel by about 2100h, and sat on the balcony with Curtis and Bo for a bit. They were waiting to go to the train station so that they could grab an overnighter train back to Delhi. I ate a quarter of a bhang cookie in this time.

I was loudly awoken by a plethora of noisy backpackers and later on staff members who were eager to replace the bedding of the checked out dorm guests. So I was up at about 0900h. I walked towards the fort for one last time and tried to walk the entire circumference of it to see some nice views of the outer city of Jaisalmer. I hurried back to the hostel and then had some breakfast. From there I jumped onto a motorbike and was given a lift to the nearby bus station. In about five hours, I was slated to arrive in the city of Jodhpur.

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