We returned to Pushkar from the surrounding wilds a few hours ago, and after a much-needed shower and some falafel, we are now doing our best to relax and soak up some air conditioning! Our three days of camel riding were pretty amazing, for a variety of reasons. First off, camels (or at least Krishna & Ramajees, those that we rode) are far from the cantankerous, spitting beasts that they are often made out to be. For sure, they took their time occasionally getting down to let us riders off, and sometimes stopped our procession to much on some overhanging leaves, but then, we wouldn't be happy carrying two riders through the desert, either! Our guide, Dharmu, and cook, Bagraj, were both wonderful people, answering all of our inane tourist questions, making us some fabulous food (the ball chapati, round bread cooked in camel-dung coals, were amazing), and all of the villagers that we met (and whose houses we camped at for lunch) treated us with such kindness. The only downside is that we are definitely a bit sore - and Anderson has a severely chapped behind from bouncing on the camels!
Our first day, Saturday, we left at around 10:30 am, the two of us, our two guides, and the two camels, one of which was pulling a cart with all of the necessary equipment (cooking supplies, blankets, etc.). For the first bit Anderson rode on the camel pulling the cart, while Liz rode the second camel, and our guides, as they did for the entire journey, lounged in the cart. It became readily apparent, however, that riding double worked out much better, as we could chat while bouncing along, share water, and yell "hello" and such in unison to the seemingly endless stream of approaching village children. Some (of course) wanted chocolate, rupees, or school pens, but most just wanted to say hi (or "tata" in Rajasthani), ask us our names, or chase our slow-moving procession.
Anyways, after riding for a few hours, we stopped for lunch, which served double duty since we were also escaping the hottest part of the day. Our simple mixed veg and rice lunch hit the spot (which is called starvation), and it was very nice to relax on a blanket, in the shade, in a rural Indian rose garden. Because Pushkar is a holy city (it is home to a sacred lake, as well as one of the world's few Brahma temples, and has banned meat, alcohol, and public displays of affection in order to maintain its sanctimoniousness), a lot of flowers are needed for the devotions to the gods - at the bathing ghats on the lake flowers are placed by pilgrims and worshipers for spiritual renewal. What this means is that the whole town is surrounded by countless rural farms, each growing small amounts of beautiful pink roses, that look fantastic from a camel's back, and the small dirt paths, complete with cart tracks, are often noticeably aromatic. Each farm typically has an assortment of animals as well, usually some combination of goats, water buffaloes, cows, camels, and dogs. For example, this first family farm had 3 goats (one still a baby), an enormous water buffalo, and a dog, though just how much of a "pet" it may have been is certainly up for debate!
After lunch it was back onto the camels, though we from now on both rode one camel behind the cart. We mostly rode Krishna, who is 6 years old, and has (in addition to the standard nose-plug piercing through which the reins are tied) a pierced nose and ears, as well as a nice collection of necklaces, and anklet-bells. So every step he takes is accompanied by bells chiming, which sounds nice in the mostly silent desert (until some children spy us!). Ramajees, by comparison, was practically unadorned, with only a solitary bell around his neck, which he was quite skilled at keeping quiet. Camels walk with a unique swagger, very different from horses, that is more side-to-side as their weight shifts. Once you are comfortably aboard, the shifting quickly becomes soothing and natural, and despite our stiffness now, the rides themselves were comfortable. For our first night we camped in a small clearing near three 200-year-old banyan trees, which were very large, as well as very monkey-filled. We caught the spectacular sunset from a nearby field, and then returned for our delicious dinner, with the aforementioned chapatti balls. Chapatti is usually flat, an Indian tortilla if you will, but the slow-cooking in the camel-dung would burn such a thin piece of dough, so the balls are made instead, and they had a very nice smokey flavor, as close to charbroiled as anything you're going to find in India!
One of Bagraj's friends, and his son, joined us for dinner, and then soon afterwards beds were made, blankets right under the stars... and there were a lot of stars, so far from civilization. The few constellations we know (as in Orion and the Dippers) were easily locatable, and the entire sky, free from light pollution, was filled with the ancient, distant light of the stars. After a day spent riding on a camel, sleep comes much earlier than usual, since we were undoubtedly asleep before 9 pm.
The next morning our guides awoke with the sunrise, and Liz almost did, though Anderson fought valiantly to eke out another hour or so of sleep until it was time for our fruit and chai breakfast. After eating, camp was quickly returned to the camel cart, and our second day of camel-riding began. Numerous groups of excited school-bound children crossed our path, and we quickly learned that empty water bottles are quiet the hot commodity in truly rural India, as numerous times (in addition to chants of "photo") we heard them repeating "bottle." At least that means our used plastic gets some more use, which is one thing that India has mastered, the reusing of items until the fall apart!
After riding through the morning, we stopped for lunch at another friend's house, which this time was filled with children and even a baby camel, so in addition to eating a remarkably similar lunch, we also entertained an enthusiastic audience. Liz brushed hair, Anderson wrestled, and we were treated to some traditional Rajasthani dance by one young hostess. After the heat had (mostly) passed, we rode briefly beyond the village, before stopping at an under-construction temple, that is also home to a very aged (110-120, depending on whom you asked) sadhu, or Hindu holy man, named Muni Baba, though since he doesn't speak English, and we don't speak either Hindi or Rajasthani, the conversation with him personally was a bit limited. Still, though, it was a powerful experience to meet someone so old (in the Hindu tradition it is called "darshan," the physical viewing of a very holy person), and clearly so wise, and the other men sitting around were happy to chat with us, and to explain a bit about the sadhu, the temple, etc. We then rode for a while longer, before settling for the night at another temple, this one dedicated to the god Krishna. While relaxing before dinner, we played with an elderly woman and her grandchild, checked out the temple, and watched a wild male peacock chase a peafowl through the surrounding trees, unsuccessfully by our estimations!
Dinner, though tasty, was overshadowed by the dramatic lightning that we started seeing over the nearby hilltops, and as we settled down to sleep, the wind picked up, and we started to feel the occasional drop of rain. Twice now, then, we have camped in a desert (previously in Egypt), and had it rain during the night! The drops were infrequent, so it was the dust and leaves being blown in our faces that was more problematic, but nonetheless it was pretty crazy to see rain in Rajasthan in April, since the monsoon season is still months away. It did take us a while to fall asleep, as our blankets kept blowing around, and leaves kept appearing beneath us, but by the time we awoke hours later, the storm has subsided, though the "camel men" had, in true manly fashion, retreated to the temple for shelter!
Our final day was a little shorter on actual riding, but since Anderson's butt was more than rubbed raw (as in practically bloody), he in particular did not mind too much at all! We had lunch at Dharmu's family's house, which is also home to his cousin, Kalu, who owns the camels and runs the safari company, so we chatted with him a bit, but mostly chilled out in the shade, watching their farm animals and petting their friendly dog, before enjoying Dharmu's aunt's cooking for lunch, which was simple (chapatti balls and dal - lentils) but delicious and filling. We then embarked for Pushkar, after listening to some Neil Young, and around an hour later were dropped off at our hotel by camel. Our safari definitely exceeded our expectations, as we enjoyed the slow pace through the beautiful countryside, and the honest kindness of India's villages is very refreshing to the hustle of the tourist areas we are all too often in. The difference from Pushkar itself, and life a mere one km away, is very great indeed, and thus this Gandhi quote seems quite appropriate: "India is not to be found in its few cities but in the 700,000 villages."
Now we are uploading the many photos taken during our safari, though soon enough we will be delighting in the simple pleasure of a comfortable bed!