Monday, January 5, 2009

11-13 December – Great Thar Desert, India

We liked western Rajasthan very much. The hills give way to a semi-desert with small villages where time stands still. People live in rondavel huts. Women are carrying water and firewood on their heads. Goats are standing on their hind legs to reach the acacia leaves. The colors of the landscape are sun bleached, but the people dress in bright colors. It reminds us very much of Africa.
Our first interaction with the deep sand of the Great Thar Desert was when we got stuck in soft sand while trying to find a good bush camping spot. The whole family took turns digging us out. After half an hour we were on firm sand again and could camp under the stars. The Milky Way was very bright. The temperature fell quickly that night, from 25 degrees at sunset to only 4 degrees at night. Those extra blankets we bought in Pakistan came in handy.
We continued to Jaisalmer and walked through the narrow alleys of the old town which is surrounded by a fortified sandstone wall with 99 bastions. There are many Jain temples in Jaisalmer, and of course many cows. This holy cow thing is really very strange in India. The cows can do what the want. Most of all they seem to enjoy standing in the middle of the street, and while Indian drivers will blow their horns furiously at anything that moves, they wait patiently for the cows to finish their business. Perhaps we have discovered the real purpose of having many cows. The cows of India are the equivalent of city dumps in other countries. The cows are eating the garbage which is randomly collected in dust bins, or just thrown at the roadside. They start with the plastic bags (the average cow in India has 20 kg of plastic in their stomachs – slowly dying from this) , and then devour and regurgitate the rest of the trash. If you think the milk in India tastes a bit odd, you know why…
About 40 km west of Jaisalmer, the real sand dunes start. The most popular spot to experience the real sand dunes is at the village of Sam. We found that place to be a mess, with irresponsible tour operators sending in hundreds of tourists every day, but leaving all the empty water bottles and garbage among the sand dunes. The garbage situation in all of India is really a major problem. We left Sam and the main road, driving straight out into the desert in really tough terrain. We wanted to try to find untouched sand dunes, far away from the tourists. After a few very challenging and fun kilometers we had to stop as the sun was setting. The noise from our engine disturbed some gazelles that ran away at full speed. A full moon rose and we did not need any lights as we were having dinner in our lovely bush camp. Suddenly a voice was greeting us. A man came riding on a camel. He had heard voices and thought that some ghosts had ventured into the desert. Bravely he decided to investigate the nature of the ghosts (four blond kids with parents and a red car with a rooftop tent). We talked a little, and the man offered to return the next morning to take us by camel to some untouched sand dunes. We happily accepted.

The next morning we woke up to the sound of farting camels.

After breakfast we boarded the ‘ships of the desert’. Nina, Temba and Atlas rode on Patang. Ola, Tinna and Disa rode on Raket. After half an hour we came to some beautiful dunes. No garbage. No human footprints. We struggled to stay on the camels when ascending the steep dunes, and then again when the camels folded their legs like a Swiss army knife and lay down on the sand.
Then we played among the pristine sand dunes until we were completely exhausted. The kids led the camels down from the dunes, and then we rode back at a leisurely pace to the car. It had been a great morning and we felt very lucky to have met Romer and his camels in the middle of the desert.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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