My head lolls back and forth. My body follows suit. The camel beneath me forces my legs to part in a painful way; it gets more painful with time. He continues his toil through the sand at a slow rhythmic lumbering pace oblivious to my torment above.
The tinny sound of canteens behind my back clatters and clinks with each sway and mixes in the air around me with camel snorts (and the odd fart).
The heat blazes down from a midday sun, seeking out uncovered skin to scorch and singe. My eyes are shielded and bundled up in cloth I resemble a living mummy more than a bleach white tourist.
Shadows stretch in the sand around me: our camel train shuffling through the desert. Soft sand and hard sand, dead trees and spindly bushes stretch ever further; as far as the eye can see.
We lumber on until a siesta and lunch before striking camp and continuing again. The difference between shade and sun here is stark. A welcome contrast.
Nine people and five camels stride through the shifting sands alongside one more companion. Sandy. Hours earlier – as our camels arrived – a puppy followed behind. For hours she trailed in the shadows of our tall legged sand-steeds, until as the sun rose, she could take no more. We could not leave her in the desert and so clinging to camel and slobbering on bags, she rode in my lap. A desert dog has never had it so good!
As a lake of slobber forms in the well of my bag and starts to spill and slither down the straps we finally rein up amongst the dunes. The ungainly collapse of the camel means extrication from the saddle. I haven’t moved all day and yet I feel I have performed some thousands of squats. John Wayne eat your heart out… You never walked quite as good as this!
The sand slithers gracefully down into shadowy folds. The wind whips across the ridges, and wisps in its rolling valleys, shifting the sand grain by grain; never do these dunes look the same.
The rise and fall of the sand blown land is beautiful. Everywhere you look sensual curves lead the eye from sand to sky. The wind rushes ever fiercer across the ridges. They’re moving.
The sun starts to lose its height. The sky turns a fiery red: anger, another day ending too soon. The loss of the sun means sleep for our valiant steeds as well. As they’re tethered and feed, watered and bedded, we steal a glance at the last of the day.
As the sun goes the evening turns instantly cool, yet not too cold. Beers are loosed other the flames of our campfire as we drink our fill and tell travel stories into the flames and listen to our guides fill the night air with Rajasthani music.
As the last of the drums and lilting tunes fade into the stars above we find it late and getting colder. Our beds, made simply on the sand; the stars our roof, the dunes our walls. Sleep does not come easy under that flickering roof. To close our eyes is to lose the magic. And so we lie there and look longingly into that scintillating vista…
Inevitably the next day comes. Sand has found its way into the creases of our sheets gnawing at bare skin here and there. Trapped beneath a mountain of blankets it is hard to find the freedom beyond and the chill dawn air. Everyone else still sleeps and so quietly I slink off across the tranquil dunes with naught but the whispering ‘pheut, pheut, pheut’ of my feet sinking into and rising out of the soft sand. I sit and wait to welcome the sun.
Like the grains of sand moving in the wind, time moved too quickly that night. A sunset, an evening in front of the fire, a sunrise, all behind us. The time had come to saddle up once more and pray that my gluts and thighs could take another beating from these bizarre beasts of burden.
Oh well. Here goes…