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Battling with the camel Tiger
By Mikey
Tuesday, 7th December 2004 10:25

We didn't need to get up too early to head off to the desert and we had plenty of time to have a little bit of breakfast before we went. Some new guests turned up at the exact moment that Bantu was going to take us to our waiting jeep and so there was a little confusion. Bantu bundled us into an auto and sent it to another guesthouse. There we were directed to a waiting jeep. Inside we met two other people doing the safari with us. Jean-Francois, or J-F, was from Montreal and we had seen him very briefly the previous day at the fort as he knew Volker. Axel was from Frankfurt and leaving his family behind for a day to take a trip out into the desert. The jeep left just as Bantu turned up and I felt bad that I hadn't had the time to pay him for our stay so far but we were returning soon enough to collect the luggage that we'd left with him.

The drive out to Osian took an hour or so and when we got there we had a quick look around a Hindu temple and then a Jain temple too. Our guide then stopped at a roadside café and treated us to an Indian delicacy called Pakora. While we ate it we talked a little and got to know each other. J-F was a chef exploring India for a few months to discover all he could about its cuisine. Axel and his wife were visiting their son who was doing an internship in Delhi. They were having a trip around India for a few weeks.

After finishing the Pakora we took on board another passenger, our guide's uncle, Chian. He was to be our host for the next day or so. We all headed out into the desert once more a soon reached Chian's home. He settled us in his guest hut and we admired the peace and quiet of being in the middle of nowhere. The quiet didn't last too long, Chian's youngest daughter Suman (6) found us and got us playing an interesting game that was like a cross between draughts and pool. Suman was an outrageous cheat though, or perhaps I should say, she changed the rules frequently. After a short while we had a late lunch with Chian's family and then a camel arrived. It wasn't on its own and it was pulling a cart. Another camel arrived shortly afterwards. Chian's nephew and his son took three of us in the cart and Claire rode the other camel as we took a two hour tour of the area and watched the sunset.

Just before it got really dark we arrived back at Chian's house and set up some mattresses in the guest hut to sit on. There we drank some bad beer called Bullet and chatted to Chian. Suman came in for a while but swiftly dropped asleep. Chian's friend, who had brought Claire's camel, drank some opium tea and got a bit weird and then the singing started. Chian and his friend went first and Chian explained after each song what it was about. We felt a bit awkward being entertained so well without giving anything back so J-F sang a French-Canadian folk song. It was well received, as was our quick verse from Good King Wenceslas. It was the only thing we could think of at the time that was English and that we both knew the words to.

We had dinner then with Chian's family and after a bit more singing, Chian's wife treated us to a song too, we headed for bed. Chian helped us set up the beds and was a bit concerned that Axel and J-F shouldn't sleep in the same room as a married couple. Claire and I decided to sleep outside under the stars but it got a bit cold and the bed frame that I was sleeping on was not very big or comfortable so I went inside after a while. The stars were rather beautiful though. Before the moon was fully up we could see so many of them. We could see the milky way too and the occasional shooting star.

In the morning some more camels arrived. After breakfast, toasted sandwiches and fruit, we packed our bags and loaded them into the cart which Chian drove and Mr. Raja pulled. The four of us had a camel each. My camel, Tiger, was pretty well behaved except when it came to sitting down. He didn't seem to like doing that. I think he was called Tiger because he growled like a tiger (from both ends) but based on his smell Mr. Stinky might have been more appropriate. We set out from Chian's home and headed into the desert again as a big convoy. The camels plodded steadily on and their guides talked between themselves. We mostly just sat and enjoyed the scenery.

After an hour I was beginning to feel my bottom going numb. Camels aren't that comfortable it turns out, or at least I think they're not. We arrived by a school in the middle of nowhere and dismounted for a few minutes' break. The school children were naturally interested to see us but I think Chian brings foreigners out to the school on a semi-regular basis. The school was very basic. It was a building with holes for windows and the door but that was about it. The teaching seemed to be done mostly outside. We tried saying hello to the children but they were quite shy. Eventually we got back on our camels and rode off. Only then did they get noisy. They waved and said goodbye... a lot.

We rode for another hour and a half before we stopped for lunch. Chian and the guides cooked an excellent lunch for us while we relaxed in the shade. They made Gohbi Aloo and chappatis for us and it tasted great. We carried on after a cup of chai but I elected to walk for a while instead of riding the camel again. I was aching quite a lot and I wanted to stretch my bruised and sore leg muscles for a while. A while turned out to be the remaining 6 km of our safari but I think two and a half hours on a camel was enough for me anyway.

We had reached a road by this point and it was here that we all parted company. Chian and the guides would head back to their homes as soon as we were on buses to where we wanted to go. J-F and Axel were going back to Jodhpur and we were going on to Jaisalmer. Four foreigners waiting by the side of the road inevitably attracted quite a crowd of interested onlookers but fortunately our bus arrived before we got into any conversations. We thanked Chian and bade farewell to Axel and J-F, I enjoyed their company a lot.

On the bus we felt a little awkward. We were, of course, the only foreigners on the bus and possibly the first foreigners that some of the other people would have seen for quite a while. We just sat quietly though and waited until we got to Phalodi to change buses. One young man tried to get my attention for ages and when he succeeded we had a brief conversation about cricket. He mentioned Michael Vaughn, I mention Sachin Tendulkar, he grinned, I asked who won the test, he told me India had (not unexpected) and that was about it. His knowledge of English was only just better than my Hindi and I can only say "hello" and "thank you" so it wasn't a big conversation.

We changed buses just as it got dark and were soon on out way to Porkoran(?) to get yet another bus. This third bus was much more comfortable than the previous two and had come from Jodhpur. Unfortunately though, as we were joining it part way through the trip, we could not sit in any of the comfy looking seats as they were all full. Instead we were ushered into the cab at the front of the bus along with the driver and six other passengers. It was quite a squeeze but it was fun. Plus, we got to listen to music, although it was occasionally a bit wobbly because the tape player acted up and we couldn't understand the words anyway. It was a weird end to a weird day

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