4:30 am, my eyes shoot open, soaked in sweat, bloated and scorching flames from the pits of hell surging through my chest. Reassuring myself that I just ate way too much spicy food after my strong bhang lassi and that it would pass, I went to the rooftop in an attempt to cool down, walk it off. Stepping onto the rooftop into the chilled desert breeze, taking deep breaths of the fresh air trying to slow the rapid throbbing of my heart. Stepping onto another planet. A dusty and dry world with who knows what lurking in its arid landscape spanning the horizon. Behind stood the mighty living fort projecting its golden hue as the sun crept up bringing it to life. Jaisalmer, a place of a different time.
At first feeling slightly relieved, my body was just giving me a moment of peace before it began. Mad dash to the washroom alleviating the tension in my stomach, I hoped that it was over, but unfortunately I knew better. I had just opened the floodgates to an eight hour onslaught, violent and viscous as a brutal war was waged inside. I was in dire need of the Magic School Bus. With futile attempts to keep hydrated, dry heaves ensued, straining the muscles throughout my body. Shortly after whatever was in me was winning and hasty decisions had to be made, choosing where the Ganga was coming from first. In between bouts I curled into the fetal position on the cold tile floor, unable and knowing there was no real point in going far. First case of ‘Delhi Belly’.
Based on my condition and with better sense, I probably should have and was recommended to cancel the camel safari I had planned that afternoon. I tend not to listen to those voices, lacking what some might call ‘better judgement’ in these situations. Plus, this is why I came, I couldn’t let it win.
2:00 pm, I made it alive, extremely dehydrated and in one hour trekking in the blazing heat of the Thar desert on camel back. Finally managing to keep water in my system and some Imodium with it, it was time to go. Forty-five minute ride into a new part of the world to where my camel awaited me. Raja. Tying up the bandana, I threw my leg over into the awkward wide stance that took a little getting used to. I would be walking funny after this. Grasping the stick used as a handle, Raja rose to his full height and the ball busting ramble through the serenely barren wasteland began. A great expanse of nothingness, yet somehow filled with life. Villages survived and maintained, flora emerged through the cracked landscape and the Indian gazelles galloped through the parched landscape.
Moving along at a slow pace, taking in the beauty and peace of the quiet isolation, seeing for miles, no one in sight. Something about it was therapeutic, listening to the wind sweeping through taking your thoughts and worries with it. The dunes resembling an oasis pond rippling out as Raja jumped in like a pebble being thrown. In the distance on the skyline a gypsy village rose from the sea of bronze stretched out before me. As soon as we were sighted, the children dashed towards us as if protecting against invaders. Stopping only a dozen feet from the august creatures of the old world, as they lowered us to the ground. Smiles spread across their faces, waving vigorously, yelling ‘Hello’ trying to be louder than the other. Jovial and energetic, wanting nothing but pictures and chocolate, as they fought each other for the first shot, posing for the camera. Using me as a jungle gym, climbing onto my back, hanging off my arms rendering me immobile as I dragged half a dozen around attempting to make it back to my camel. A struggle, but I made it and handed out the mere three candies I had which started a lightning storm between them taking the attention off me so I could escape into the vacant expanse.
As the sun set making the sky look ablaze, stepping to the summit of a dune, a shack appeared. Camp for the night, lowered to the ground, my knees almost buckling for the first few strides. Enjoying the surprisingly cool desert breeze as the sun crept down, dinner was prepared and I was starving. Over hot coals rice, aloo gobi, mixed veg curry and chapatti cooked on searing rocks. This proves fancy tools aren’t required to make phenomenal meals. Dragging my cot to the center of the dunes underneath the sheet of glass. I thought I saw clear skies in Muskoka, but nothing like this. Cloudless, stars lighting up the ocean of black as I slowly drifted off.
Awoken by the sun ascending behind me and the chilling wind sweeping across the ever-changing terrain. Gathering the courage to step into the frozen sand, the sun rose from beneath the horizon, everything shimmering gold. Taken back, it was mesmerizing, lost in a gaze. A yell for breakfast snapped me out of it. Hard-boiled eggs, toast, jam and chai, it was time to ship out. Raja stood up and began a trot back to the jeep off this planet.
Life in the desert was hard but beautiful, isolated placidity. Sitting back in utter relaxation moving with the momentum of the camel, taking in the minutes as they were my last. I couldn’t forget this quiet peace, surrounded by nothing but what I looked for.