Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Jaisalmer: the camel safari, sleeping (and puking) under the stars

It was to be one of the highlights of the trip. We all got up Christmas day morning to find the bus decorated with Christmas decorations and a chocolate Santa on each seat. We had a short drive to the Rat temple, where we had the thrill of walking bare foot through a building full of rats. Apparently very lucky if they run over or pee on your feet. And then on to Jaisalmer where we would have a camel safari into the desert. We had a party planned for the evening in the desert. Secret Santa presents would be opened, and a grand time would be had by all.

All was well at the Rat Temple (If anything can be called well, when you are walking on rat pee). But the tides began to turn as we neared Jaisalmer.

As I mentioned last post, we were all a mess. Everyone was coughing, sneezing, or at some stage of getting over one of the above. Two of the younger girls in the group had been up drinking the night before and were in some stage of recovery from their hangovers. We arrived in Jaisalmer around 4:30 and had been given a few minutes to repack a small bag with everything we needed for a cold night in the desert. By the time we were ready to hop into the jeeps, three or four people were feeling quite ill.

Was it the local lunch on the way? Was it the chicken from last night’s dinner? Everyone had a theory. After the bumpy jeep ride that took us to the camels, two people were puking and several others were on their way. The four already sick returned to Jaisalmer and checked into a hotel. The rest of us mounted camels to ride off into the sunset. Marc decided to skip the camel ride and took a jeep ride instead.

Still hopeful for a great night in the desert, I mounted my camel (named Lucky) with my young guide at the reigns. He sang a beautiful melody all the way that was in beat with Lucky’s slowly, slowly pace. Camel rides are not particularly comfortable, but the scenery at sunset was worth the bumps and chafing. We arrived at the desert camp as the sun set. The desert people that would be hosting us, looked to us like the Bedouin of the Sinai. We confirmed they do live in a village and are not a wandering people, but they must have been at some time. Their attire and way of cooking was too similar to Bedouin culture to be a simple coincidence.

There was a group of local Indian tourists already seated around the fire when we arrived, and two beautiful women in festive attire were dancing to the music being performed by the full band with local instruments.

Behind us dinner was being prepared and large silver plates with sections for rice, dal and other condiments were being dished up and delivered to each of us with chapattis coming around fresh from the fire. In true Indian style, we were to eat with our hands.

It was all very romantic but I was not realty feeling it. Although I was still feeling well, I couldn’t quite get through dinner. All I could think about was how the food had been prepared, and everyone eating with their hands. I am pretty open minded, but this was a bit over the top for me.

The local Indian tourists left us after dinner, and we were on our own for the rest of the night. We opened our Secret Santa presents, and the bar was open for business. Everyone was in the spirit more or less. It was cold but manageable.

Then the puking began. One by one, the stomach virus took hold of several other members of the group.

Marc and I decided to figure out where we would be sleeping and hope we could get through the night virus free. I was feeling nauseous but was determined to beat this thing. We got our sleeping bags out and set up camp and I practiced the Rake therapy that I had learned from Dhana, our Nepalese trekking guide. I focused on my stomach and told it to stay put. Through some miracle both of us made it through the very cold night with only one foray into the desert to pee.

In the morning, the desert people returned to prepare breakfast. Hot rice pudding with bananas cooked in milk, toast and jam, hard boiled eggs and plenty of chai. As I watched them cleaning our plates from last night with sand and wiping them clean with the same dirty rag they seemed to be using for everything else, I suggested to Al and Anja that perhaps we should use the plastic cups we had brought with us for the rice pudding at least. My suggestion received a positive response luckily!

The rice pudding was delicious. We ate it with tea biscuits as spoons. Those that were brave enough, ate the toast and jam and even the hard boiled eggs. I had seen the water the eggs were boiled in and watched the toast being handled by the boy looking after that end of things and passed on both counts. I had made it through the night and wasn’t taking any chances.

After breakfast, those that had puked all night were piled into a jeep, and the rest of us got back on our camels for the ride back. The scenery was as grand during the day as it was at sunset.

Safely back at the hotel with two days in Jaisalmer, I let my guard down and let nature take its path. I knew there was enough time now to get past this in the comfort of a nice cozy hotel room. By that evening I was puking every hour. By morning, I was through and had a whole day to lay in bed and recover.

The attraction in Jaisalmer is a beautiful fort that looks like it is has been carved out of sand. Inside is a living city where about 2000 people reside. I sent Marc off to investigate as I recovered in the hotel room. We have only a few photos of these few days of the trip. For me, unfortunately Jaisalmer will be remembered as the town I spent in bed, or sitting on or standing over the toilet! Luckily, by the time we boarded the bus this morning, I was 100%. I can’t say that for everyone though. Should be an interesting travel day!!

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