Hello camel, good-bye car: India Day 12 (Camel trek Day 1)

street oxen A big day, not just because we were about to embark on a fabulous two-day camel trek. But the day we gave Ramesh the FUCKING heave.

street cricket The night before, we told him we were letting him go, and asked to meet him early the next morning to give him his tip. We arranged to meet him in one of the main town squares ,just before we were to meet the camel guides. This way, he couldn’t pull any shit because we wear in public.

We wanted to give him a tip before sending him on his way. He did meet us, coming off with a strange combination of nervous, preoccupied, and angry. He asked us to write a note to his boss saying that we were relieving him of his duties. We did so. He also offered to stay in Jaisalmer while we were on our trek, in case anything went wrong on the trek. We said NO, thank you. He then walked to the edge of the square and made a cel phone call and sulked.

Soon, the camel trek guides showed up in a jeep. Soon another of the trekkers showed up, Richard, a tall young British guy who had been traveling for the past two years. He came by to tell us his two companions were on their way. So we waited, and waited.

Ramesh came back, holding out his cel phone. He said his boss, who wanted to know why we were letting him go, was on the line. Natacha took the phone and said that Ramesh was a very good driver, but that we didn’t want to take a car for the balance of our trip. We figured there was no reason to complain about his attitude or his scams. The guy has to make a living…we just didn’t want it to be at our expense. He refused to take a tip, which was fine with me, and then we were DONE with him.

Finally, about 45 min late, the two British girls, Kate and Emma (of COURSE those were their names) showed up. They had just spent long holidays in Goa and were on the tail end of their trip. Kate looked like the blonde from the British “Coupling” and Emma looked like a taller, meatier version of Jenny Agutter. I’m pretty sure part of the reason they were late is that they had to do their makeup.

We all piled into the jeep, Natacha and I hi-fiving each other for finally leaving Ramesh behind.

After a group breakfast with the Brits and two Spanish girls—our full group—we piled into a van and headed out to the desert

The camels, along with a half-dozen guides, were waiting for us, each loaded up with blankets and reins.

One of them had a nasty gash on its head, but they had him out there nonetheless.

damaged camel 1natacha on the camel, loving itgunga ken 1

Each one kneeled down so we could climb up on him.

We rode these big, lopey animals in a line several hours into the dessert, over hills, dunes, and past trees and scrub. I named my camel Perry, after a kid I went to junior high with. He was way too tall for his age and in PE he had a loping gait that reminded me of my camel. my camel About two hours in, at the hottest part of the day, we camped out under a massive shade tree and had lunch. The guides lit a fire and fried up pakora and chips of some sort.

Kate and Emma talked about their weddings---or rather, the weddings they expected to have. They went on and on, egged on by me. It was fascinating in a real-life-Bridget-Jones sort of way. The subject got to the “first dance” song. Kate wanted hers to be “You Do Something To Me” by Paul Weller. I asked if it was a cover of the Cole Porter song and she didn’t know who I was talking about. Emma wanted some horrible Billy Joel song for her wedding; I can’t remember which. I really hope it wasn’t “I love you just the way you are.” That would have been too horrible for comprehension.

After lunch and a short nap, we continued trekking until we hit the dunes—lush, smooth hillsides and soft, gradual ripples of sand. It’s here where we set up camp. Natacha & I took photos of each other on the dunes and climbed around for a while.

hello, natacha!

That evening, we ate paranthas—there’s really only so much “real” food you can pack onto camels and eat. Not so much in the way of veggies in the desert. Or dessert, for that matter.

Stray dogs followed us but mostly kept their distance.

wild dog sleeps

At sundown, one of the guides, who wore a NY Liberty shirt and called himself “Tennessee,” asked who wanted to climb up to the highest dune at sunset. We were all a bit tired out, but Emma went—just her, Tennessee, and I think a few other guides. I think Tennessee was trying to get with Emma.

Natacha & I watched the sunset on our own:

ken at sunset 1

sunset over the dunes 2

They all came back after sunset, and the guides lit a fire and Tennessee took out an empty water bottle—one of these big plastic sparkletts-type things that had been drained of drinking water—and began to sing what we believe are the songs of the camel herders. He had a strong, clear voice and the songs were evocative of lonely dessert nights tending to your flock. singing around the fire 2

He used the bottle for percussion—big resonant hits with low tones. I recorded some of the songs. There was even some dancing going on.

emma dances with a camel herder

After a few tunes, he offered the bottle to us to sing songs of our own. Everyone was timid and passed on it. I said what the hell, and with the bottle in my lap, did the song I knew with the most basic drum hook I could think of: “Love Stinks” by the J. Geils band. None of them had ever heard the song before but It went over very well.

The brits eventually tried their hand at some Oasis songs, which was fun—I think Oasis are destined to become the new classic rock sing-alongs; our next “Sweet home Alabama,” “Satisfaction,” “Yellow Submarine,” etc. Some industrious desert nomad came along earlier in the evening and had pot and cold beer to sell—putting the now-warm bottles Emma and I bought before leaving Jaisalmer to shame. So there was some getting wasted going on, though not by N & I.

We decided to turn in, just as the guides decided to really get singing. So not so much sleeping for a while. “turning in,” incidentally, consisted of lying down on one of the many camel blankets and covering ourselves with our spanking new sarongs.

In the middle of the night a sandstorm kicked up, so we found more blankets to cover ourselves with. It got cold, and we were full of sand in the morning, but damn, what a fantastic night.

Have I mentioned how amazing this trip is?


India at 80 KPH

A few thoughts while natacha’s off using skype

India Day 4: Musical Guesthouses

India Day 6: Huckster Ghats and Hippie Ghettos

India Day 7: Guilt and Papayas

India Day 8: City Palace, yes. Lake Palace…?