What is it like to travel to a place that has nothing? Nothing but dry red rustic earth as far as eyes could see!
A few of us Square Trippers† wanted to experience just that! Only one place came to mind, Thar desert! No, not the fancy places around Jaisalmer with Bollywood music, buffet meals and folk entertainment, but the part of Thar that is devoid of civilization.
So, on a chilly December morning, I found myself sitting on a rock over a remote hill near Kuldhara Village. A veil of red slowly emerges casting its’ color on landscape to the east. It is soon replaced by a golden glow, subtly at first and then with fierceness, as the glittering sun emerges, erasing all traces of darkness.
Ironically, most places that are harsh, rustic and extreme seem to be the most enchanting. With midday heat that makes one cower under shade, cold that can freeze bones at night, air that can suck moisture in seconds, Thar Desert could most certainly not be an ideal place to live, or, is it? I was about to find out.
We made it in time to witness Jaisalmer Festival. The competitiveness and excitement with which people participate is infectious even in the heat. I was soon cheering for the Indian team in a tug of war between locals and foreigners, clapping excitedly for the winner who tied his turban, decked his camel and raced to win.
With a jeep and local guide, 150 kms into the Desert National Park, witnessing a variety of birds, deer and other desert life, we reached our destination – vast undisturbed sand dunes. Merely seeing the dunes is ofcourse not enough! So, we lie down on an almost vertical dune and roll down uncontrollably. Body is battered, every pore of skin is filled with sand, head is disoriented by the time we land with a thud. Laughing childishly, we climb again to repeat!
Dusk slowly settles inviting us to witness the transformation once again. A myriad colors fill the sky. Sun now changes to a visible round sphere sinking one thin layer at a time against a flat horizon. Physical beauty apart, the sight fills one with a sense of peace and quiet.
As it gets dark, a makeshift barbecue is in progress while the square trippers struggle to hold onto chickens whose lives were going to be mercilessly shortened. Our guide indulges us in folk songs, long riddles and stories. Couple of hours into it, I long for the quiet of desert!
Sitting on the last highest dune, the view on one side is dark rugged land until earth’s end scattered with knee-length bushes; and moon lit dunes covered by innumerable stars on the other side. Earth seemed to have come to a stand still.
Well past midnight, we try to sleep in bone chilling cold with no roof, minimal blankets, ignoring thoughts of venomous snakes or foxes.
Waking up to boiled eggs and hot tea, we excitedly climb on the waiting camels. Although initially not aware that camels can run up to 60kms an hour, it soon becomes evident when I find myself in air with every leap and nothing to hold onto.
Back in Kuldhara village, our accommodation is a thatched roof hut. After a quick lunch under a tree; and rest in its’ shade in a hammock; we set out to explore Thar. Stopping at a remote village, we join villagers sitting in shade. Sheep are huddled together while camels surrounded a pool of water. Villagers offer us freshly milked camel milk which I force myself to taste, and surprisingly don’t mind. Hundreds of tiny birds are huddled in a small tree. We whistle to watch them fly out and then return quickly to it’s shade.
On our way, I get to immerse my feet in cool water of an oasis, an idyllic spot to rest and chill. Abandoned villages tell the tale of bygone times where honor of community was valued more than comfort or life. Some square trippers try the bhang and are half dead for the rest of the day and night!
So, Thar introduced me to another perspective on life. Living in this vast desert I figured was waking up to a golden sky, draping yards of colorful sari or turban to contrast a barren earth, accepting to sit under shade in hot noon guiltless’ly, settling comfortably into darkness of evenings not artificially lit, being part of a community with a sense of identity, sleeping on a woven cot with an undisturbed view of milky way, earning to live and not vice versa. Did it just sound like a dream vacation!
Modern life seemed to have convinced us that we need bigger and better comforts. But Thar, in its’ vastness of land where only earth and sky are visible, in its’ harshness where trees barely defy gravity, and more significantly in its’ timelessness, seems to remind everyday how insignificant and short human life is; and in its’ beauty seemed to remind us to ‘live’ while we can.
And that, no matter what you possess, at the end of the day, it all comes down to ‘nothing!’
†Square Trippers – Group of crazy travelers that prefer to travel without an itinerary, or knowledge of destination or plan A. Checkout the Square Trip Facebook page to know more.