Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wedding Crasher

My adventures in Rajasthan took me and Sius on a long journey to Jaisalmer, perched at the edge of the Great Thar desert, some 50-100 km from the Pakistan border. The morning we arrived, we joined a camel safari into the desert; the salesmen used two marketing points: (1)non-standard, non-touristy camel safari and (2) Swedish Women. The Swedish women were quite amused that this was how he marketed the tour to us...obviously he didn't use the latter strategy with them. The jeep drove us toward Pakistan and the desert quickly became quite desolate. It wasn't the most interesting desert I've ever seen, but there was a stark beauty to it. The camels and camel crew were parked in the middle of the desert and we hopped on our beasts...and a beast I had! I was given the young, recalcitrant camel which tried to toss me off and bolt within minutes of my mounting it. Thus, they lead my camel by it's leash. After a few bumpy hours, we stopped in the shade of a rare tree and waited for the sun to go down a bit and cool off the temperatures (nearly 4 hours!). In the afternoon, we explored a small village. Nearly everybody was asking for money, pens, or cigarettes and I have a feeling that tourism has not had a good impact, but a traditional lifestyle still appears to be led. I'm really not sure how they survive because I only saw sheep grazing and there didn't appear to be any agriculture at this time of year. An hour before sunset, we arrived at our campsite for the night, situated at the edge of a field of dunes which remain a mystery to me. They trend linearly, but the source of the sand is unclear as most of the desert is rock or pebble. I excecuted a few tele on the dunes as my legs have been ski deprived for so long (well, 3 months!). That night, the stars were unbelievably bright, but my contact lenses didn't want to stay in my eyes as sand was everywhere!

The next day, we returned to Jaisalmer and the skies darkened in the evening. A sandstorm swept through town, reducing visibility. It actually rained a brief, heavy downpour. Jaisalmer was a gem of a town and I enjoyed wandering the streets and seeing the fort, complete with commerce and residences inside. The rapid increase in availability of water combined with poor drainage in the fort has created problems with the slumping of the fort, built on a sandy base.

Sius and I split at this point as he was heading to Cashmere, before Nepal. I had a nice tour of Jodhpur before heading off to Pushkar, a famous Hindu pilgrimage site. Unfortunately, the Brahmin priests here are rather unethical and I wasn't able to just watch people at the ghats in peace. My first afternoon, I met a few young women who were stacking old, dead cactus for firewood. They carried huge bundles on their heads, back to the village and they took me back to their home. I had an enjoyable few hours with them and took photos. That evening, I developped the photos and brought 4 pictures back to them. They were thrilled!

In the meantime, I also had an adventure on a bicycle. I set out toward a group of Siva temples in the desert. I encountered a local photographer heading in the same direction. Deciding that he was probably heading to an interesting place, I accompanied him, not sure what we were going to see or where we were going. After some bouts of walking the bike on the sandy road, we arrived in a small Muslim Village, where I soon realized I'd stumbled upon a wedding. After experiencing the uncomfortable stares of a group of young boys around me, I joined the wedding procession. The covered his face in dangling beads and the bride also had her face covered. The rest of us just danced to the music of the procession. At the end, I was treated to a wonderful lunch which included dahl baat, a local specialty, and some sweets! People in the desert snack on dried fruit and peanuts as a general rule. I made my way back to town, stopping at any watering hole (mostly ashrams) to rehydrate. More wedding crashing stories to come in the next post!


lia said...

your description of the sand made me remember a passage from Annie Dillard's "For the Time Being" I recently read. It's rather long, but the context is beautiful: "A few years ago, I grew interested in sand. Why is there sand in deserts? Where does it come from? I thought ocean waves made sand on seashores: waves pounded continents' rock and shattered it to stone, gravel, and finally sand. This, I learned, is only slightly true.
Lichens, and ice and salt crystals, make more sand than ocean waves do. On mountaintops and on hillsides you see cracked rock faces and boulders. Lichens grow on them, in rings or tufts. 'The still explosions on the rocks/ the liches grow in gray, concentric shocks,' wrote Elizabeth Bishop. ...
Why is there sand in deserts? Because windblown sand collects in every low place, and deserts are low, like beaches. However far you live from the sea, however high your altitude, you will find sand in ditches, in roadside drains, and in cracks between rocks and sidewalks.
Sand collects in flat places too, like high-altitude deserts. During interglacials, such as the one in which we live now, soil dry. Clay particles clump and lie low; sand grains part and blow about. Winds drop sand by weight, as one drops anything when it gets too heavy for one's strength. Winds carry light ston dust- loess- far afield. Wherever they drop it, it stays put in only a few places: in the rich prairies in central North America, and in precious flat basins in China and Russia."

photohydraulicturbine said...

Excellent description, Lia. I would add to this that mountains can collect sand dunes as well. Near Pushkar, it appeared that moutains had trapped sand dunes in linear belts (upwind, I think) of small mountain barriers.