The soft wind of the desert envelops you as you lay face up on a mattress laid directly on the sand dunes of the Thar Desert, North India. It’s a moonless night, and the stars sparkle enthusiastically to make up for their missing lunar friend.
It was just hours earlier that you embarked on your journey into the desert atop a lumbering camel, but at that moment it felt like a million miles from anywhere.
If you’ve never ridden a camel, allow me to paint you a picture.
Your guide leads you to your ‘ship of the desert’ who is happily laying down, chewing lazily on nothing in particular. When the animal realises you’re about the jump on board, he lets out a huge, laboured groan and shifts his weight around in protest.
At this point, you’re feeling a little nervous, but you swing your leg over anyways, and try to (as gracefully as possible) position yourself in the saddle. Your clothes are bunched up beneath you, you feel as if you’re straddling a water butt and your camel is huffing and puffing in protest.
Your guide asks you to hold on and with a skilled tap of the camel’s neck, and a sudden shout of ‘LEAN BACK!’ you are thrust upwards from behind, as the camel movies its back legs to the standing position.
Next comes the front of the beast, forcing itself upwards underneath you and threatening to unbalance and throw you from your seat. All the while, the animal is groaning as if you’re the heaviest weight it has ever encountered (admittedly, I’m no waif, but still, Mr Camel, there’s no need to hurt my feelings).
Then, it’s time to depart. With the first few steps your body starts to adjust to this new rhythm, which feels like a horse working at 50% speed. You’re so high up from the ground that you have to push thoughts of falling far from your head and try to enjoy this new change of pace. This isn’t something you’ll get to do every day.
Riding high and free, you move through scrubland, dunes and clusters of cacti 10 feet high, all the way feeling the sure-footed camel plunge its wide feet into the sand below. You’re part of a herd of 15 intrepid travellers, all sharing this adventure together.
The only sound is the tinkling of a bell, hung around your camel’s neck.
You journey deeper into the desert, until all you see for miles around is rippling sand dunes and desert deer scattering from spiky-eared foxes. Your guide excitedly calls out hindi names for the animals as you go.
The sun begins to sink low into the sky, and you feel the temperature drop just fractionally. It’s time to make camp. Dinner is vegetable curry cooked on an open fire, served with steaming hot rice. You devour the food in seconds, famished from your journey.
After the sun has retreated from the sky you gather with your group and talk about what you saw today, talk about the stars, talk about anything but modern life.
The excited chatter slowly subsides as everyone slides into their soft bed to fall asleep under the watchful stars. It’s been a good day, and one which you will remember for the rest of forever.
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