Friday, November 25, 2005

The Ugliest Animals In The World

Well, I survived three days of camel riding safe and sound and in one piece (though my ass and thighs might care to disagree). The Thar desert may not be the most inhospitable, or breathtaking of deserts as there's a certain amount of vegetation and habitations and no vast expanses of sand dunes, but the whole safari experience was very enjoyable. For 3 days I traipsed through rocky scrubland and sand on the back of my trusty camel, who I soon named Humphrey, along with two Swedish girls and a Canadian (Hanka and her boyfriend Martin could only manage a day as they had to rush to Mumbai to catch their plane) as well as our team of camel drivers. I honestly don't think there is an animal as bizarre as the dromedary: notwithstanding its stupendous ugliness, it is ridiculously gangly, with long, spindly legs that seem to fold up like a state-of-the-art camping table when it sits down, and it is the only animal in the world that eats more loudly than the Chinese. But they are also fantastically suited to the harsh desert environment, with each ugly attribute an invaluable desert survival tool. It's also quite comfortable to ride (at least more so than a horse) and its height gives you a supreme riding position almost 3m above the ground (the dromedary is the ultimate SUV of the animal kingdom).

It was nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of the crowded towns and cities, with their constant noise, smells and pestering. In the whole 3 days we briefly saw two other tourists, but apart from that it was just us and the locals. The latter, especially the women, stand out with their brightly coloured clothes: vivid reds, blues, greens and pinks can be seen from miles away. The whole of Rajasthan, it seems, is only made up of vibrant primary colours: the clothes, the sky, the ground and the havelis (beautifully carved and decorated sandstone houses) all vie for your eyes' attention. Sitting round the campfire after dinner, warming ourselves from the surprising chill of the night and listening to the songs of the camel drivers (we were, of course, obliged to sing as well, so I had to dig out my rendition of Flower Of Scotland again, which is slowly becoming my party piece) was particularly enchanting. It did get rather surreal at one point when one of the drivers started belting out "Country Roads", but then again why not? it's a good song. I also learned three, perhaps not important, but nonetheless interesting, lessons. Firstly it gets cold in the desert at night. Very cold. I knew this beforehand, but didn't quite appreciate it until I got myself a bunged up nose. Secondly that melons grow in the desert. They were almost everywhere: small, yet tasty watermelons. Whenever we got thirsty we could just grab a melon, punch it open and munch away. The number of half eaten melons we left in our wake was really rather shameful. And finally that sand gets everywhere. This I had also experienced before, but I failed to appreciate its effect upon my camera, which, after many years of trusty service, is now officially dead. I am now going to have to bite the bullet and cross the digital divide,something that I had been planning to do only once I returned home. But I suppose you have to adapt to your circumstances.

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