Sunday, November 18, 2007

On Camels in India

My niece, Dawn (that's her on the sand dune below) has been in India for a few months, on a journey of self and cultural discovery. Her mother has been with her for a few weeks now and they have left behind the loud and dirty cities to travel the Indian desert on camelback. Dawn is an amazing writer and photographer and has been nice enough to allow me to share her thoughts and adventures on my blog. Here is her latest installment. (As with her previous writing and photography, please respect her copyright!)

If you are ever so inclined and your wildest dreams lead you to decide it would be a good idea to go on a four day camel safari, in the Thar Desert of India only sixty kilometers from the Pakistani boarder, for four-days with your mother and a young Indian guide, here are some things to keep in mind: 1) Never, ever, even for a moment forget to laugh at yourself (or the camels, or someone else). 2) Don't expect instructions; this is India after all. You are on your own, baby! 3) Be grateful that your mother is actually that incredible, that she, at the healthy age of 56, will think nothing of riding a camel around the Indian desert in 90 degree heat for four-days. 4) Pack your own TP, and if you find a rock, or a bush to hide behind for that matter, be sure to mark your territory while you have the chance! 5) Realize that saddle sores are real before you go, that way you wont be a complete mess when you can't walk for two days after. 6) Don't forget sunscreen. 7.) Try to be alright with sleeping in the camel blankets, because it is them or nothing at all.

What can I say, it was a blast! I think it is quite possible that a four-day trail ride is my idea of just about the most fun I could possibly ever have in my life. As a former rider, I can honestly say there is nothing in the world I would rather do than this. Now, let me modify this statement, just a slight bit. Riding a camel is, in actuality, quite different from riding a horse, but still I think, comparable. On a horse, you don't have the breathtaking seven-foot high view, however on a horse, you also don't have the never-ending stream of camel farts. (Yes it in NOT a myth, camels fart, burp and 'gargle' constantly.) The difference of Sonoma's grape vine covered hills is quite the contrast to the Thar's dunes and cactus shrubs. The camel safari was no first class trail ride through the comforts of California, but in all honesty, the desert was, strangely, monotonously beautiful and peaceful. After spending almost two months in the cities of India it was amazingly refreshing to hear silence and experience the slow rocking of the strangely clumsy camel.

Top 10 Best Things About Our Indian Camel Safari:

  1. Watching my 56 year old mother on a camel for four days
  2. Starry, starry nights
  3. Lots and lots of baby goats, sheep and camels. Lots!
  4. Realizing that I need to start riding horses again
  5. Sunsets over the golden dunes
  6. Grasping the importance of water
  7. Feeling the gratitude of the shade of one tree
  8. Warm, fresh squeezed goat milk (in our instant coffee) on the morning of the fourth day
  9. The constant background hum of Hindi songs as sung by our guide
  10. The shower when it was all over and done with

There really isn't a whole lot I can say that encompasses the entire experience, except that it was all around fun and just hilarious. Camels, and if you have ever been on one you know this, are quite interesting characters. They look funny, they do funny things, riding them they make you look funny, and they are just all around strange creatures. The desert and the people and the scenery in general was just exquisite. It was a very needed and helpful break to get away from all the mess and fuss of the world and see the simple lifestyles and everyday wonders that the village people experience. I found the quiet relaxing and revitalizing. Moving so slowly there is much to see and take in.

Although there were many great aspects of the trip I have to confess that the best part for me was escaping this ever-serious space of mind I have found myself so comfortably living in here in India. Forget the camels, it seems that I have been constantly struggling against my own reigns. I have begun to take life and everything so seriously here in India, opening myself to it all so profoundly and most of the time finding laughter to be a distant and forgotten memory. I have been caught in a net of seriousness and I have forgotten the humor and craziness of my own existence. The desert and the camels, the guide, my mom, or maybe just being on such a touristy exploration, I don't know what it was exactly, but somewhere along the way I forgot it all and let go. I relaxed and I didn't worry about the world or the people who inhabit it, or myself or anything. I was riding a camel, for crying out loud, how could I have? It was like breathing in a huge breath of clean air after being in Delhi for too long.

It was very much needed, but still, although after I feel better, I was left with a sort of guilt about it all that I had to examine. How could I have just let go that easily? Haven't I been affected? Don't I have a new outlook on things? Haven't I learned anything? Haven't I grown up at all? I don't know how this sounds to all of you, and I know it may sound ridiculous, but in all honesty it is a weird balance to have to sort out in oneself. I realize that it is very important to see and understand all aspects of the world and I intend to do so, however difficult that may be. It is, of course, important to be aware while being light, to be helpful but not obsessed, to be caring as well as being carefree, to be heartfelt but not a mess. Balance, I suppose, is the key and now I must tern my focus to that. It felt great to laugh and forget my prodding dissatisfaction with my own efforts, but I cannot abandon my drive to help or make light the issues of the world that have become such a concern for me.

So how do I enjoy the humor of a camel's company or the joy of a beautiful sunset and also feel the immense importance of the pressing issues of the world? I do just that I suppose, both. I enjoy, but I also hold the sadness in my heart along with the joy. I don't forget, not even for a moment, the beauty and the sorrow of the world. I see the whole picture, everything at once, and take it all in as it really is. Because, I think what it is, is just that – what it is. You know? There isn't much more than what there is right now, and right now, it seems to me, there is everything. So, I must try to live this way, I think.

Camels are funny and poverty is not. The young girls in the villages are wonderful, but the fact that there are not very many of them is not so great. The village men are nice to us, but perhaps some of them are not so nice to their wives. The world is continually beautiful and ugly, funny and sad, enlightening and restricting. So, I must remember that things are both this way, and they are that way too.

Mother India is perhaps the best place in the world to see this duality, as things can look very different from person to person. It all depends what you know and how you choose to look at it. Wow, this topic is far too great, and I have far too much to say about it to get into it at the moment. I do, however, have much to say about it though, it is becoming more and more apparent to me that we all live in our own worlds, believing whatever it is we choose to. Seeing India as an outsider who want to wiggle my way in, I feel this difference of perspective weighing on my own soul. Sorry, I absolutely cannot start babbling about this now. Maybe the next email… we'll see.

Love, love, love you - and I am starting to miss, miss, miss you!


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Betsy said...

WOW! What a cool post! Beautiful pictures, fun to read-- thanks!

Becky said...

Her photos are amazing. It's like stepping into a story book.

swenglishexpat said...

Excellent, beautiful photos and fascinating writing. What an experience it must be for your niece. I also read your post about giving birth to your twins, very well written and interesting. Although I am a mere man, I remember vividly my son's birth 34 years ago. Now I have to make do with seeing grandchild(ren) *after* birth, but believe me that is as memorable. Just you wait!

Home's Jewels said...

I love reading these posts. The photos are incredible - I especially like the wrinkle-faced lady photo. Love it!

Anonymous said...

Dawn is incredible. Her writing and photos are great! Her mom's pretty neat too!

I have a couple of 'taking photos' questions for her that maybe you could pass on sometime?

What camera does she use?

and to get those wonderful portraits, how does she approach the people she photographs? I was on a yearlong trip at about her age and I was too shy to ask people to pose and I was too polite to take their picture without asking! I missed a lot of shots. I'm guessing that Dawn is much braver than I was. Does she speak their language at all?

Carol said...

Isn't she amazing?! Her camera is a Nikon -- I think a step up from a D40, what ever that is. I know that she saved for it for quite a while before she left!

My brother (her dad) gave her a cool lens that has a prism in it so you point it one direction, but it actually takes the picture in another direction. I have a feeling she used that lens to take some of the people photos...

Rositta said...

I'm certain whoever reads what your niece has written will feel envy at her having the opportunity to make this trip. Then again, how many people who could do it would have the guts to do so. Hats off to your niece...ciao

mks said...

Whoa I don't often get insanely jealous but her story is amazing and her writing and photography is a fantastic account of it all. She is doing an amazing thing that she will be able to carry with her always. I admire that.

Rebecca said...

you truly have an amazing family, Carol! Lucky you.

Anonymous said...

Once again, I am completely amazed at your niece. I felt like I was reading a National Geographic...only much more real. I can't help but think she could easily have a career with them if she so chose.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comment here explaining about her camera and the lens with the prism.. In the photos of the older man and the old woman, they are looking at her with such intensity, it might be that they're looking at her with curiosity as she's turned away from them! I just noticed that someone has their hand on the old woman's head and I wonder about that. ...I love the photo of your niece in that carved stone place. Thanks for sharing some of her photos and story.

emily said...

Wow. Beautiful photos, beautiful story. Thanks for sharing this!

Jen said...

Oh my goodness. What an extraordinary writer and photographer she is.


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