Into The Desert

Everyone knows that banana was put on this earth to complement chocolate. As we sat outside Sahara Travels waiting for our trek to start I inserted the banana chocolate pie I’d bought from a German bakery the evening before into my facehole and relished every single bite. Breakfast of champions, washed down with a chai. Yeah nah, I’m not sure my teeth are going to survive this trip.

Some manner of abandoned village, although why it was abandoned remains a mystery to me.

Anyway, there was me, Chris, Jill and another bloke from our dorm room, Ed, plus a German couple and three other people we never got to know. We were going to be taken by 4WD into the desert where we’d meet our camels and their drivers for two days of sitting in direct sunlight on a massive animal with bigger nose spikes than me.
But first stop was an abandoned village, the ruins of which sprawl across the desert. I asked the driver what it was called and he told me, “Since 200 years, it is empty.” Ok, so his English wasn’t great but to be fair it’s infinitely better than my two Hindi words I’m still too scared to use. So I asked him if he knew why it was abandoned to which he replied, “There was a man who came here and he sees beautiful women and he likes him. He asks to marry him but he says no, because he is a different caste, you know? And then 84 villages, here and around, are empty.” Sooooo make of that what you will.

A random body of water in the desert.

We swung by an oasis on the way too which was quite pretty. Whilst we were shopping round for treks we were told by one guy that his family are from the area and they say that it doesn’t matter if it never rains, this lake will always be full. Apparently for 25 years it’s been full or something and in a nice change from every other body of water in India, it looks pretty clean.
Then it was onwards to meet the camels. Exciting times. In my head I was going to lock eyes with a dromedary and know in my heart he was my steed before walking over and gracefully vaulting onto his back and getting him to rise with a simple, “Hup!” In reality I was lead over to a camel called Simon where I repeatedly failed to get my leg high enough to straddle to saddle resulting in the camel driver, Abdullah, getting me to use his knee as a step. I shuffled into a semi-comfortable position. Simon farted.

Camel allocation.

Simon, seemed to like being at the back, probably so he could use the camel in front’s arse as a scratching post for his face. He liked to scratch himself a lot to be honest. He’d stop dead, slowly swing his massive head around, rub his nose on his side then spend a moment deciding if he could be bothered carrying on again. Camels don’t walk either, they lumber which I guess is understandable when you move your two right legs together then your two left legs. This is why you can’t plough a field with a camel. No one likes planting their spuds in wonky lines, regardless of what level of OCD you claim to have. But it’s not the motion of the camel that hurts, it’s how fucking wide you have to have your legs to sit astride them. Not even a two dollar whore has to keep her legs apart for this long. You’re fine as long as you let them hang down by the camel’s side like two bits of hairy meat (yeah, I’ve given up shaving my legs. Way too much like effort and the regrowth plus the heat makes them itch so badly I end up skinning them), they just kinda go numb, but as soon as you try to move them, that’s when the pain starts.

And we’re off.

We were meant to stop at a village on the way and Abdullah asked us if we wanted to or not. If we did that was fine, we could head on over there and have a look around. But, he warned us, there would be a lot of children asking us for rupees, chocolate and pens. Yeah nah, that settled it for me. I hate kids and I’m unnaturally possessive over my stationery so I was happy to avoid it. Everyone else was pretty indifferent too so on we lumbered until we came to a huge, shady tree which would be our lunch stop. God I love lunch. The guys unsaddled the camels, tied their front legs together with about a foot of rope to hobble them and collected firewood to cook chai and food on whilst we relaxed in the shade of the tree for around three hours, keeping out of the hottest part of the day and munching on spicy vegetables, rice and chapati. There was a minor influx of goats at one point too which were clearly used to humans. Ed and Chris mauled a couple of them and fed them leaves before they wandered off to munch on the various shrubs, then the little kid of the four camel drivers got hold of one and started milking it.

Our guides whipping up some lunch on a fire.

Well the milk for the chai has gotta come from somewhere.

Now, I’m a city girl. I know things with udders get milked but I’ve never actually seen it done. When the kid first grabbed the goat, the goat tried to get away but once it realised what was going on it was all like, “yeah, I’ll just lick this pot of leftover curry whilst you get on with that. Cheers, kid.” It really couldn’t give two fucks. Three goats later and the kid had a good amount of milk which part of me really wanted to try but the more sensible part of me figured that drinking unpasturised milk when you have to spend a couple more hours on the back of a camel with no access to a nice, Western toilet and unlimited bog roll probably wasn’t a good plan.
Also, in an unrelated note, when I was a kid I discovered that the easiest way to dry something, like a plastic ball for example, was to put it in sand then brush the sand off. I found it fascinating and used to wet stuff with smooth surfaces just so I could put sand on it to dry it. I totally forgot about this until Jill pointed out that that was how they were drying the metal plates and cups. They were using water to wash the food off then covering them in sand to dry them. Massively practical, saves on carrying towels which you then have to dry, and who doesn’t like a bit of desert grit with their curry? Actually, to be fair, they got the dust and sand off properly before they used it for food.

Having a break from all that sitting on a camel which is actually remarkably hard work.

Once lunch was over, the camel men rounded up the beasts, resaddled them and I mounted Simon by picking my foot up with my hands and pushing it over the saddle. Smooth. We’d been trying to get our camels to go faster and different camels have different commands but apparently shouting, “Go Simon, go!” should have been enough to get him trotting. I tried this technique, I tried leaning over and slapping his shoulder, I tried pleading with him but all to no avail and Ed’s camel, Nangalar, was gaining on us. I wasn’t having this. I shouted some more as Nangalar edged forward. It was the shittest race ever. I’ve seen faster snails. A snail on ketamine would have been faster than these two camels that shuffled across the sand, totally disregarding the two tourists atop them shouting, “Come on! Go! Go faster! Come on!” Then Abdullah pulled his camel up next to me and said, “Siiiimooooonnnn…” Simon broke into a slow, half arsed excuse for a trot. Ha. How does my dust taste, Ed? HOW DOES IT TASTE?!

Nothing like a bit of camel trekking in the direct desert sunlight.

Mercifully, we weren’t even trekking for two hours by the time we got to the sand dunes where we’d be spending the night. I dismounted… Ok ok, I put my left foot on the floor and labouriously dragged my right leg over the saddle with a combination of hopping and the actual, physical lifting of my foot, then waited for the feeling to return to my inner thighs. But despite his utter disobedience and penchant for walking really really close to spiky, leg-scratching bushes, I think me and Simon have an understanding now. We’re bros. We even have the same nose jewellery. We’ve bonded, like in Avatar but without the rapey tentacley things. I mean, clearly he holds me in complete contempt but I don’t take it personally because I think all camels seem to hold all humans in contempt.

Nearly sunset then.

We crawled all over the dunes for the fiery sky ball sinkage and we just hung out for a while until it got dark and the stars started to dot the sky. This is my favourite kind of sky. The kind of night sky you only get when you’re miles from any kind of light pollution and the moon hasn’t risen yet and there’s an unimaginable amount of stars. So many stars that you can’t pick out familiar constellations and the Milky Way is visible to the naked eye. If you just lie down and stare, eventually you’ll see a shooting star, or a few shooting stars, or a satellite steadily making its way across the globe in a perfectly straight line. It’s fucking magical. I remember the very first time I saw a sky like this, I was 18 years old and in Cornwall, staying in a caravan park in a village which, back then, didn’t have street lighting. I happened to glance up and nearly fell over. I never imagined the sky could look so beautiful. I’ve seen it several times since but I will never, ever get bored of it.

Eventually, Abdullah came to find us to bring us back for chai and a campfire. Who doesn’t love a good fire? The food was excellent again and there was enough for seconds. You can pretty much eat until your stomach refuses to accommodate any more and Tubby McFatfuck here does enjoy a good feed. The way to my heart is most definitely through my stomach. Feed me properly and I’m yours forever, or at least until someone rocks up with dessert.

Me and Simon rocking matching nose jewellry.

The fire died and the guys made our beds up but dammit, I’m 33 years old and I won’t go to bed at 9pm if I don’t want to. It was left to us to get down with our desert selves and go foraging for wood to burn. Turns out Ed keeps a pretty good fire going but to be honest, the only wood we could find was more like kindling and it was so dry you could probably incinerate it by staring at it and willing it to combust. And and and, I learned a new word; Faggot. No, not the really quite offensive word that Americans use to insult gentlemen who dance to Kylie, apparently a faggot is a bundle of sticks. A faggot of sticks. I love this word. When I get back to the UK I shall place piles of sticks all around the flat next to things that people might want to use just so I can work it into everyday conversation.
“Where’s the TV remote?”
“Over there by that faggot of sticks.”
“Have you seen my jacket?”
“Yep, by the faggot of sticks in the corner.”

You just don’t get bored of desert sunsets. It’s not a thing.

Also, I learned that there is nothing quite like the panic one feels when you see the light of a torch bobbing towards you whilst you’re curling one out in a hole in the desert. There are some situations where aborting mission isn’t quite an option and mid-shit is one of these situations. It’s even worse when your colon senses the fear in your brain and gets stage fright and you’re left, crouching in the sand, wondering how close you let the bobbing light get before you try the “clearing your throat” trick.
Thankfully, on this occasion, I was allowed to finish my business with my dignity intact. Or what was left of my dignity after practically stumbling off Simon earlier in the evening much to the amusement of one of the camel men. And because every day is a school day, my lovelies, I learned always to walk that little bit further when nature calls in the desert.

Chilling by the campfire.

Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India
Stayed at: Not as far into the desert as it seemed, but in the desert nonetheless
Activity: Camel trekking with Sahara Travels

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