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Friday 3rd December - Osian
By Claire
Monday, 6th December 2004 12:29

I woke up freezing but quite refreshed. Mikey had long since abandoned me for the shelter of the hut so I fought off all the blankets and tried to wake up. The peacocks had been quite active at dawn and some goats were making noises, but that was nothing compared to the growling rumbles coming from the wrong end of Mr Raja, Chain's huge cart camel. It sounded like early morning on an Indian train.

We had reakfast of toasted sandwiches, which I didn't understand. Why would anyone go to the trouble of making a sandwich toasting machine that doesn't require electricity? Why would anyone without electricity need a sandwich toaster? It was strange, but breakfast was good. Then it was time to sign Chain's guestbook, of which he was especially proud, and pose for a photo, and then back onto the camels. I had a different one today, gentle and docile, and I ended up leading her myself because she wasn't likely to go anywhere. I felt even more professional than yesterday! There were four camels, one for each of us, and the cart, full of provisions and our luggage. We set out on a ride that started slightly painfully for me and ended with my legs giving up and screaming at me, but it was still a lot of fun. The camels looked like Salvador Dali paintings because their legs are far too long for their bodies. All the men leading the camels this morning wore turbans and gold and red flower-like earrings, which is the local uniform for men in this area. We plodded past a few houses, some other camel carts, women in gorgeous bright pink and red saris and heavy gold jewellery carrying water on their heads and lots of children. Just when it was becoming unbearable to be on the camel, we stopped. There was a tiny school in front of us, miles from anywhere, and twenty-five young children, both boys and girls, came out to say hello. They were all very shy and polite, not like the pushy beggar children in the cities, and sat quietly while we said hello. Two of them ran to get a big blanket for us to sit on, and the others sat and stared at us. Chain chatted a bit and then it was time to go. None of them asked for a pen or a sweet or ten rupees, and I would happily have given them to these children, if I'd had any. It was quite sad to think that most of them would grow up without ever having a hot shower, receiving a letter or phone call, sitting on a chair or reading a book. But I suppose most of them would ever know that these things existed and would probably be reasonable happy with whatever life they had chosen for them.

It was another two-hour treck to our lunch stop and it was rather uncomfortable although I was still enjoying it. I told Mikey I'd never make him ride a camel again, but that horses are much more comfortable and now he had no excuse... We stopped in the desert again, right by the sand dunes. All the men cooked lunch while the four of us foreigners staggered around for a bit. J-F, a chef, was very interested in the recipes and helped out. Mikey was totally fascinated by chapati-making and I was impressed that the flour had been ground by hand this morning, and that the whole meal took about half an hour to prepare. It was excellent, if a bit sandy, but all food has been recently. One man brewed his opium and swayed to himself. I dressed Chain's foot again although it seemed a bit futile. Axel asked me if I was in a medical profession and I laughed. He was a doctor and I was really, really embarassed to be doing the first aid and so amateurishly. Oh well.

After the washing up had been done with handfuls of sand and cold water, we had tea. Strangely enough we all managed to make excuses not to get back on the camels, and we walked beside the cart to try to get feeling in our legs. It was another six miles to the village where we'd catch our buses. Half way there Chain asked if I wanted to sit in the cart, which was an excellent idea, as the desert was sandy and full of very prickly burrs that dug into my skin. I lay on the cart in the sunshine and looked up to see two camel heads looming over me, which isn't a normal view. They didn't dribble, though.

We passed more villagers, this time women of the Bishnoi, a caste or sect or group of a very strict religious order. Bishnoi means twenty-nine and they have twenty-nine rules to live by, some mundane like always washing in the morning, and some slightly more unusual, but I can't remember any now. The women all had huge gold nose-rings and Chain said that the jewellery was probably about two hundred pounds' worth of gold, a massive amount. They all waved to us even with arms holding barrels of water onto their heads.

All too soon we had arrived at Samrau, which was a proper raod with a few houses on it. Mikey and I were going to Jaisalmer, three buses and about three hours away, J-F and Axel were going back to Jodhpur, ninety minutes in the opposite direction. We had instructions to change buses at Ploadi and Porkran and when our bus arrived, Chain told everyone on it what we needed so that they would all help us, which was nice. We had drawn quite a crowd of young ear-ringed men and struggled a bit to get on the bus before it left. We waved to everyone and Mikey and I found ourselves actually considering coming back one day.

The bus was ancient and rickety and everyone wanted to talk to Mikey about cricket or his life. I, fortunately, was ignored in a corner, and concentrated on how much my legs hurt. When we arrived in Ploadi, everyone directed us to the right bus, which seemed to be waiting for us. This one was even older than the one before, and dirtier. It stalled once and all the men rushed off the bus to bump start it, which worked. Everyone wanted to talk to Mikey. We stopped for a long time while some water tanks were loaded onto the bus, and it got dark. The bus was very wide, with three seats in a row behind the driver and two on the left. The driver himself sat in a cabin with a large windowless hole separating him from us. The passenger side was full of matresses for passengers to squeeze into. This bit of the journey took quite a long time and wasn't very comfortable. But at 8pm we reached Porkran and we were led off the bus and taken straight to the bus to Jaisalmer. We tried to sit in seats but people kept saying that they were taken. We resigned oursleves to two hours of standing but we were dragged into the cabin of the bus and, along with seven other people, we squeezed in and spent the entire trip there. Everyone wanted to talk to Mikey but I was in the middle so I did all the talking this time. Then the driver put on some Hindi music and everyone was quiet. It was a cosy ride, not too uncomfortable, and only took an hour and a half, so we arrived in Jaisalmer five hours after set out.

One of the men in the bus had arranged an auto to take us to our hotel, and while he was supposed to take us all the way there, he left us at the entrance to the fort. Jaisalmer's fort is its main attraction and about two thousand people still live in it. Our hotel was there, so we walked up some lovely cobbled streets, worn smooth and shiny, and found the place we were looking for. It was another haveli, with levels and roofs and cool-shaped rooms and we flopped down on the bed immediately. I was slightly hungry, though, so after I spent a while washing my hands (the first time with running water in 36 hours!) we set out to find a restaurant open at 10pm. The first, an Australian place, had a man with crossed arms at the door who just said, 'Ten o'clock close" and wouldn't let us in. The one next door, up a steep, sideless flgiht of steps, was run by Tibetans and unsurprisingly much friendlier and it was nice to eat with a knife and fork again.

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