alone on a desert in jaisalmer





TRAVEL HI-POINT, HEALTH HI-POINT MAGAZINE, July 2005



Inspired to camp out under an inverted bowl of stars, I took off on a desert safari from Jaisalmer fort, situated in the city of Jaisalmer, in the Indian state of Rajasthan. It is believed to be one of the very few 'living forts' in the world, as nearly one fourth of the old city's population still resides within the fort. An hour’s bumpy ride on the camel’s back was really slow, but a critical initiation to the life of the desert.


With no other particularly grabbing view in sight, my gaze naturally fell on what was in front––the dry burnt brown patches of the camel I was riding on, contrasting with the bright pink turban of the man leading us. Disinterestedly grabbing tall grass on the wayside, this tall dusty creature was obviously in no hurry whatsoever to reach anywhere! Lazy perhaps to chart its own course (or just wise), it mindlessly followed its pal in front. What came first, the desert or the camel, I marveled. Was the sand made the color of the camel, does the camel imitate desert’s hue, or could this creature actually be a mass of hardened sand that has acquired mobility?


Too drowsy to take this thought to its logical conclusion, I let my resistance slide in to the slow pace of the surroundings, and drifted off to a sweet reverie, a dreamless sleep. Opening my eyes time and again only to find the same landscape rolling forth endlessly, I was aware that my head by now was dangling in perfect sync with this tall one’s gait. Time sped, and soon I was at this no-man’s land of Jaisalmer in the Thar desert. As I jumped off this lazy back, I witnessed the most amazing phenomenon––a huge waterfall in the middle of the desert! Spellbound, awe struck, I watched the camel pee endlessly, drilling a hole in the sand. A great spectacle of unmatched precision indeed.


Trusting my rucksack to the silent custody of mute sand dunes, and feeling as defenseless and vulnerable as the desert itself, I ventured in a futile city-folks' quest to find an ideal spot for camping. Finding one area an exact replica of another (one running length of sand forming near identical crescents), I returned from where I started realizing my mistake. Doesn’t the desert level it all! I squat on one crescent from where I could best watch the sunset, and witnessed the reddish hues of the dying sun fighting valiantly with the growing dark, till the intrigue of the dark grew overpowering and swallowed the light. Today was no-moon night. That meant just stars! And so many at that! A blanket of twinkling teasing lights, shooting down playfully. It was after all, their night. Feeling at once at home and strangely secure, I followed an instinctive urge to walk. Losing track of months, minutes and seconds, most of all directions (all paths led only one place––nowhere), I allowed my body to trip forth endlessly. There was no fear. The sand was soft, there weren’t any thorns, and all I could lose to was the same unarmed sand on which I stood.


I ambled along aimlessly digging and lifting my claws into golden floors, till I could dig and lift no more. Sensing a peculiar power in this powerlessness, I shut my eyes not caring where I go, and slipped on deeper into the darkness. The spot on which I finally landed became my bed for the night. With the sheet of twinkling light above and a spread of dark below, I experienced what it would mean to be totally alone on the planet. It felt as though I was freshly suspended from the skies onto a land where the only life that breathed was mine. Nothing stirred in my immediate vicinity except the hissing sound of my slow breathing, my awkward limbs trying to make sense of the terrain, and a vague sense of dwindling time. Of a sudden, my mind dropped its associations and hung in thoughtlessness, till age-old quest stirred up my being—Who am I?


Remaining frozen in my reverie late into the night, finally a thought woke up in me. I was convinced that on this sandy terrain, where no concrete or deafening sounds numb the senses, finding the beloved is easy! Just then, as a palpable confirmation, another’s presence was sensed in the vicinity. Dreamily I smiled, till this presence became a bit overwhelming and I could almost hear a heavy coarse breathing. I shot up startled, only to find the dog that had followed us through the safari from the Jaisalmer Fort! I noticed I was shivering as I followed him back to the warmth of my sleeping bag. The first glistening rays of the morning sun fell on lusty golden sand and woke me up softly. I spotted the more-than-welcome tea and boiled eggs emerging from the horizon. It was after all day. The mystery of the night and the frivolous play of young stars was over. Sand was sand, and I was my same self again, ready to rise and explore my destiny.





Jaisalmer is a former medieval trading center and a princely state in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, in the heart of the Thar Desert, also known as the "Golden City" for its distinguished yellow sandstone architecture.