One who hasn’t slept in the desert cannot conjecture what a delight sleep may be. Feeling perfectly rested and having attended series upon series of pleasant dreams, I got up that morning, as soon as the first dawn-light hit against my eyes, and the various birds started chirping happily, flying from one to the next of the few trees of the place. It’d be soon time to go.
Having had breakfast and packed everything, we set off walking. We held the reins of one camel each and started striding forward, while our huge friends followed promptly. We walked down south the dune and a couple of kilometers into the valley, and we soon approached that tiny, clay farmhouse there situated. We tied the camels – or we actually let them believe they are tied, as their reins passed around a sprig does generally suffice to keep them in place – and we proceeded into the hut’s yard, where an old lady welcomed us with a hot cup of chai. I took my place squatting among the pieces of pottery scattered all over the yard, and I focused myself on my cup and cigarette. A whole gang of children accumulated themselves around us and got to attend us shyly yet curiously. A yeanling kept hanging about the yard-door, showing clearly his intention to walk inside, but that little girl was standing guard by the door and was driving him out in every attempt to enter.
We thanked for the hospitality and got prepared to leave. That was the time I got to ride a camel independently for the first time in my life. I got to know the commands and the operations from Maharaj, and we were ready to move. I gave a kick with my heel to Micheal Jackson’s belly, and in no time he was erect and moving forward. I found Michael to be a very cooperative camel. I could very easily direct him with just a slight twitch of the reins. With the slightest, also, kick or the hearing of that “ch-ch” sound I’d made slapping my tongue against the hard palate of my mouth, he was eagerly accelerating. And, without needing to beat him at all, only lifting that withe in the air and swaying it a couple of times through it, he would start running front spryly, my body bouncing up and down the saddle up to 20 cm.
“Jiuuu!”, I shouted to Micheal, while at the same time pulling his neck back, and he responsively kneeled to let me dismount. It was time for lunch. There was that 4 m2 thatch shed, placed upon four thick branches pegged into the sand, with a plastic bottle hanging from one of them and producing the only sound to be heard around as the wind was hitting it rhythmically against the wood. There was a man sitting there, apparently some acquaintance of Maharaj. That’s where we’d have our lunch that day.
After food and the so rejoicing desert siesta, it was time to farewell our French comrade. He would head back to town accompanied by that man we found there, while I and Maharaj were to venture further into the desert. We proceeded on foot for the rest of the day. We made a stop at another hut for a cup of chai, where an old man was sitting by the entrance and smoking one beedi after another, and a little girl was squatting down some distance away from us, washing the dishes, rubbing them with sand.
Sunset was imminent by the time we had made it to the top of that dune we were to spend the night. Before anything else, I went for a short exploration around the area and found a great spot where to enjoy the sunset from. There was that moment when I discerned a fox, some 30-40 meters in front of me. She was moving slowly, stealthily, with great caution, facing always the opposite way than the one I was standing at. It seemed like she had a candidate victim spotted, but, then, she was forgetting about it and was stopping to just wonder at the descending sun, pretty much the same thing I was doing. So it was, until I decided to let her know of my presence. I released a loud whistling. She instantaneously turned towards my part, looked at me bewildered for a few brief moments, and ran like crazy, disappearing from my sight in a matter of a few seconds.
The following morning was one of glorious placidity. The sky was transparent as nothingness, and the sun, a perfect rounded fire sphere, was slowly rising in it. A herd of cows was moving slowly across the valley, munching whatever grass was to be found along the way. While a flustered calf was running around and crashing on the rest like crazy. A fat collared dove passed above the dune, screeching out his “kookookoo” calls, while approaching speedily some mates of his far out there, high up in the sky. A daw landed mutely some 10 meters away from our food sack, and stayed skirting it thoughtfully for some time. A cloudy swarm of louse-flies was giving suffering to Lakshi, who was sitting nearby growling and struggling with that nemesis of hers, while dung beetles were coming and going carrying away the products of her excretion
We spent the rest of that day no much differently than the previous ones: Wandering around the desert. I got to ride Lakshi that day. I didn’t find Lakshi a particularly obedient camel compared to Micheal Jackson. She was, basically, not giving a shit of what my will was. I never managed to make her run. I’d try to kick her or whip her, but she would only keep the same pace stoically. At times, also, the baby camel was taking his place walking right in front of us, at which times Lakshi would listen to nothing but only follow her calf.
That day also passed, and we found ourselves squatting on yet another dune. That would also be my last night out there in the desert. We had dinner with some mushrooms Maharaj had found earlier down there in the bush. And then we stayed up till late looking one time at the fire and the other at the unending starry sky. While at times giving an audience to the heavy silence, and at other times to each other.
Last day in the desert, we woke up early, had breakfast, and started on our way back to Khuri village. About midways thither we stopped for lunch at a friend’s of Maharaj. That guy maintained there, in the middle of the desert, a small, fenced farm. The whole thing was some 250 square meters, and he was using it to crop lentils, wheat, and watermelons. At one side he had made a minimal straw shelter to be finding retreat during the hottest hours of the day, taking a break from his horticultural business.
That’s exactly where we nested, the three of us, and started working on some lunch. There was that flask of whiskey I’d been carrying with me throughout the trip, but I hadn’t yet touched it as Maharaj was not drinking at all, and I didn’t feel like emptying the whole thing myself. That old guy over there prove himself an avid drinker, though. He was also a very interesting talking companion. His English was excellent. He had been working as a tourist guide in the desert for 35 entire years, till he decided to retire and make this small farm to spend his old age in peace. We talked about lots of curious stuff, as gazelle hunting and illegal opium cultivation in the desert, till the whiskey flask was empty and both of us fell in a refreshing siesta.
By the time I opened my eyes, Maharaj had fetched the camels back and we were ready to go. A couple of hours later we were waiting by the side of that desolate road outside Khuri. In a while more, that same eagle-faced driver had shown back and we were heading back towards civilization.