India: Cold Sands

sBackground-Website-FinalI woke up in the desert, breathing in fresh morning air. I sat up in bed and looked around. The others were all a-slumber, expect for Papu, who was quietly making breakfast. He waved at me from across the dune, grinning.

I swung my feet off the bed and wiggled my toes in the cool sand. The dung beetles were mostly gone, but the area around our camp beds was littered with a million tiny footprints. I found one little fellow nuzzling up to my shoe, and greeted him by scooping him up and flinging him to the horizon.

I walked up the dune, enjoying the delicious cold sand against my feet. I sat alone at the brow of the hill and watched the sun come up. It was total silence, save for a light wind and the faraway sounds of Papu’s pots and pans as he cooked.

Life is so simple in the desert. The previous evening I’d asked Babu how they keep track of the camels; when they’re not being ridden they roam free. I had no idea how the desert men could follow their roving livestock. I was imagining some sort of electronic tagging and tracking system. When I asked Babu the secret he laughed and said ‘follow the footprints’. Ugh, my stupid millennial brain.

As I sat alone and thought and felt melancholy, as I always do if I think too long, a small black and white dog trotted over from the next dune. She nudged me to stroke her, then rolled on her back for me to scratch her belly. She sat in my shadow to stay cool, and when the sun moved around she dug a hole in the sand and flopped down into it. Sweet thing. I quietly wondered whether this dog was the winner or the loser of the midnight brawl; I suspect the latter. It was too nice. And so I sat watching the sunrise with the dog, thinking about what a shame it is to live in a world where it’s possible to be too nice.

Half an hour later everybody else awoke. We ate fruit and sweet porridge for breakfast and mounted our stink-breathed camels once more, and took a merciful short cut out of the desert which meant we were subjected to just the one hour of humpback arsehole smashing.

Aside: the phrase humpback just jogged my memory of a dream I had last night. We were at sea on a boat, and some friends were playing in the ocean. Suddenly a wave rose up, towering as high as the clouds, blocking out the sun. As it began to break, I saw that hundreds of feet above, the wave was carrying enormous pods of whales; killer, blue, sperm, humpback. They were swimming through the wave even as it roared across the sky. The whales smashed down over us, the weight of their bodies forcing me far below the surface of the water, and as I sank all I could think was ‘wow’. No idea what it means.


We left the Hardcore Desert and reentered the Normal Desert, dismounted our flatulent steeds at Papu’s tiny village, and were set loose to wander the dusty streets for half an hour. Papu has a nice yellow house where he lives with all his family. He was wed two weeks ago in an arranged marriage ceremony. He told us that he has only spoken to her once and only seen her face once, and both were on their wedding night. It was hard to perceive how he felt about it, but he said he trusts his parents’ judgement. His wife will move in with him in a week, forever.

I explored the village and watched the desert people relaxing, herding goats, milking cows, and chatting in the shade. The pace of life was – well, there was no pace. The air hung thick and flies buzzed, sheep baa’d and huddled in tight groups. I could hear every disturbed pebble as I walked. Villagers sat, pensive and stoic, always keeping one eye on the animals. What a strange feeling it must be to get up in the morning and go to bed at night in the same emotional state. No elation, no despair, just life. The further I get from Berlin, the more I see how much that city fucked me up.

We got the jeep back to Jaisalmer, hugged Napu and Papu and Babu goodbye, and went on to do absolutely nothing for the rest of the day, which I reckon is fair enough after the desert. At this point I’m going to skip a couple of days, because while every day in India has been wondrous, the following couple of days in Jaisalmer and the ensuing bus ride to Jodhpur would not make for particularly thrilling reading. Suffice to say, we got got a local bus to Jodhpur and were crammed three to one bed, for some reason, and had to sit with our knees up for 5 hours. It was unpleasant. But hey, India does what it wants.

In fact, that reminds me: when we checked into Madpackers hostel in Jodhpur (which I wasn’t so fond of; too clean and commercial, didn’t feel like proper backpacking), we did nothing all evening except smoke and eat and watch the sunset, and met a Colombian dude called Sammy. We sat up talking until the early hours, and he told me something he’d heard from an Indian guy he’d met at the ghats in Varanasi: that India is a special place, and it calls to people when the time is right. When people travel here they endure hardships, and it’s their karma being cleansed, previous bad deeds being scrubbed out through misfortune across the subcontinent. I thought that was pretty wonderful.

And so a couple of lazy evenings passed without much furore, but don’t worry: things got wild in Jodhpur.

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