Drafted 16 April 2011
A camel is something like a cross between an elephant, a horse, and Chewbacca.
(The last you would understand if you heard the noises it makes every time it’s asked to do something. Not that I blame him, really.)
Its fur is that of a well loved infant’s teddy bear – worn through in patches and ready to be thrown away. And I am pretty sure that the other animals make fun of its knees.
I did something utterly touristy and took a camel out to the rural area around Pushkar, a region somewhere between a plain and a desert. There’s sand (and sand dunes), but also scrub brushes and pockets of green farmland. All of this is framed by barren hills, many of which have temples on the top. I camped out there with Raja (the camel) and Pachu, an Indian man the same age as me who speaks with a stutter not unlike a CD skipping. He insisted on calling me Madam and cooked me a dinner of subji1, rice, and little ball chapattis (I grilled him on how to make those chapattis – he made them with a campfire, they were delicious, I want to replicate it when I’m camping back home).
Pachu also provided really cheap rum, which was cut with water. I gave him advice on mixers, though cutting it with water seems to be an Indian then, and let him consume the flask sized bottle mostly on his own. This helped him to stop calling me Madam and eased his stuttering a bit. We lay out on the camel blankets under the stars with a moon so bright I didn’t need to hear Raja’s farts to know where she was sprawled out. Not that a camel is easy to miss at a campsite.
He and I spoke a bit of our families and our lives. Marriage, too. He asked when I would marry, an answer I don’t have (his answer to the same question is in about four years). I asked if his parents would choose for him (Yes. My answer to the same question is no). He asked if I would marry an Indian man, and I had a hard time explaining why I probably would not. There are some language and cultural barriers surrounding the answer that what I want out of a partner and a relationship and what I can bring to a relationship would not make an easy match with most born-and-bred Indian men.
Eventually, he slept and I slept. The area is eerily quiet. My previous camping experience has all been woods based. There’s always noise in the woods, crickets, animals shuffling through the undergrowth. That night it was just the window whistling across the plains and the moon outshining the stars. Every now and then you would hear music carry across the land from a far off farmhouse.
Sleeping on the ground is always only so comfortable, though I did make the pleasant realization that my permethrin treated sleep sack keeps ants away, because our blankets and bags were rife with them in the morning. But even ants could not take away the simple pleasure of the sunrise and the continued quiet of the land around us.
Getting back on that camel… well, I hadn’t realized just how sore the two hour ride out had made my “sit bones” until I got back on, it’s not a terribly comfortable means of transport. I am particularly glad there was never anyone around when the camel attempted a gallop, as I’m sure my facial expression was a particularly bug eyed grimace.
We rode back to town just after sunrise and our obligatory chai.
And the first sounds of civilization occurred as we passed our first farmhouse…
the opening notes of Flo Rida “Low”.
1 “subji” = vegetable dish. As a word, it literally means vegetables, but in a meal context it’s usually a dish composed of mixed vegetables and spices. For the record, this is the first dish in years that truly tested my spicy limit. My nose was running and I had tears in my eyes. I honestly don’t remember the last time that happened.