Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tradition versus development..musings during a camel ride

Today we are in Jaisalmer, the golden desert town.We are staying inside the fort, built in the 12th century. There are concerns that due to overpopulation and therefore over-use, the fort is gradually sinking. Lonely Planet refuses to recommend any of the hotels inside the fort, encouraging tourists to be environmentally conscious and not contribute to the ongoing decay. As our hotels are prebooked by our driver we are not respecting that advice...of course I feel guilty, but it is pretty impressive sleeping inside of a fort. It feels a little like King Arthur and we are inside one of his gated cities, with a little middle-eastern look!

The Thar desert is between India and Pakistan. e are not far from that country. There is a huge military base at Pokanar, not far from here. We have been told that nuclear tests have been done in the desert near there.

Yesterday we lived the real tourist experience. Our desert escapade was lots of fun. We rode camels over the scrub and dunes to watch a beautiful sunset. We met troupes of goats, cows  and sheep in the desert, gathering at a local watering hole. Many of these animals are herded by children.....they work to support their families, not going to school in many areas, especially rural ones, and the government is hard-pressed to do anything about it as if these children did not work, they could end up begging on the streets. In Khuri, the desert village where we ate and met our respective camels, there is a school and our camel man/boy, told us they attend from 10am until mid afternoon and then they help with the camels.

Riding on a camel is no easy task. Getting your balance and then feeling safe as the camel walks or trots over the dunes required some getting used to. The hardest part is when they lie down, back legs first (camel man says to lean back) and then front legs (camel man says to lean forward). Each time I thought I would fall off. But we saw locals galloping over the desert on their steeds, so I guess you eventually get used to the feeling. My camel kept kicking himself, probably to bat at the flies, but each time he did so I got a good shake and had to steady myself so as not to fall off. Pierre's camel whose name was Disco, was much calmer and did not give him such a rough ride.

After a delicious meal, complete with Rajastani music and dance, we escorted again out into the desert on a camel cart and spent the night sleeping under the stars. Beds were set up for us, complete with dusty old blankets. The stars and moon were incredible. Of course, this is all done for the tourists, and the local camel owners have become wealthy catering to those who wish to have a desert experience.

The villages are clusters of little adobe huts with thatch roofs, or flat roofed square houses built with local- made bricks or stone. Once again they remind me of pictures in bible-story books. But the paradox is the camel man talking on his cell phone as we sleep in the desert, the sound of jeeps in the distance, and most of all, the miles and miles of windmills we could see in the distance. One cannot help reflect on the effect development and the arrival of outside influence has had on the lives of the people here.

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