Spend any time on the highways of Western Rajasthan and you could be forgiven for thinking that when the first Pakistani tanks roll across the border at the outbreak of world war three, the Indian military will likely set into plan "Operation Blitz Tuk."
Their fleet of, Jaisalmer based, camouflage painted tuk tuks will fire up lawnmower-esque engines, splutter out of some sheds, circumnavigate the smouldering bomb craters, buzz past growling tanks and make a noisy counter-attacking dash for Lahore, overcharging each soldier 20 rupees on arrival.
Those squaddies looking for a more traditional approach to local/military transport could always opt for the camel and cart, a popular alternative in India's deserts. They would however have to factor in an extra 20 minutes, in comparison to a tuk tuk, for the arrival time in Islamabad. One other negative factor is that the camels would have to be requisitioned from the hordes of tourists clumping around in the dunes of the Thar desert.
For one night, we were those camel happy tourists....
After a bumpy four hour drive from Jodhpur and a quick chai refreshment we boarded our beasts and set off through the scrub. The initial scenery was more African savanna than Indian desert as this years generous monsoon had left a sea of green in it's trail. Half an hour into the plodding I developed what scientists may call "camel crotch."
No matter how I positioned myself upon the hump, numb bum found it's way to defeat my comfort and my nether area was constantly in a kind of boxer-short strangehold. Thus, with my fatherhood chances firmly diminishing, I was inwardly ecstatic when we finally reached the dunes and hoofed our way to the top.
We spent the best part of an hour on the sandy mass, enjoying the sunset, listening to the camels fart and trying to ignore the ant-like swarm of tourists across the dune tops. When the sun finally took his hat off for the day, we were given the pleasure of another 40 minutes of camel crotch before arriving at a desert resort in the savanna for some dinner.
One drawback of a good monsoon is that it's not only the plant life that explodes after the rains but also the insect population. As the last into the outside dining area, we were left with a table next to the bathroom, the outside of which was bathing in spotlight. As you can imagine, lights in the desert are few and far between meaning every creepy crawly within a 10km radius was drawn to this solitary lightbulb. It was like being under fire.
Something actually ran into my toe under the table with such a thud that I almost jumped out of my chair. Grasshoppers were down my shirt and in Lana's hair. Large black things imitated spitfires with an engine like buzz and occasional divebombs. Long legs would brush past your ears and occasionally crawling little monsters would attempt nasal entry. It was a nightmare.
However, after a simple veggie dinner and some desert disco moves from a local woman in need of a dentist, we hopped into the back of a roofless jeep and were whisked back out to the dunes where two insect free beds awaited under one of the most stunning night skies I've seen. Lying back on the camp bed, with the gentle hum of a camels digestive system in the background, I counted three shooting stars before drifting off into a shallow coma for the night.
I was woken upon the next morning by a combination of a camel fart, a fly in my nose, Lucky snoring like an angry pitbull and a rising desert sun. What a perfect way to start the day...
|From An Ache For The Distance|