Saturday, April 20, 2013

R: Oh, the places you'll go!

This is my contribution to the A to Z Blogging Challengein which I'm focusing on overseas destinations I've visited.

R is for Riding on a Camel and Reading

Riding on a camel in Jaisalmer, India (September 1989)
If you've been following along, you'll remember that I didn't write about our camel safari in Jaisalmer. We've finally arrived!

Our camels--the grumpy and the placid

I'm so glad I kept a journal during our travels, because the primary memory I have of our camel safari was the pain and soreness!! I will never get on a camel again. It turns out that much of the time on camel safaris is actually spent off the camel, and I had completely forgotten this. 

We were the only travelers on our camel safari--just us and four Indian men. Two of the men rode behind us on the camels (driving) and two of them rode on the camel cart, which contained our provisions. I'm convinced that the guides were out to get me, for we had two camels--one a really tall, extremely ornery male, and the other a placid female. I was hoping for the smaller female, but they had me climb on the male instead. What a fuss that camel made, every time he had to sit down for me to get on or get off or do anything he didn't want to do. When the camel stood up, I felt very far from the ground, and when he started trotting, I thought I would fall off because I was bouncing so much. By the time we made our first stop I wasn't sure how I would survive the day galloping across the Thar Desert.

Bada Bagh
We stopped at the lovely Bada Bagh, royal cenotaphs made of yellow sandstone (in the 16th century) and overlooking a lush green reservoir, which looked very out of place in the desert. Our next stop was a village with a large, dirty lake and some old Jain temples. By this time I was very tired. We wandered around for a bit and bought an expensive water in a shop, where we met a woman who was on the second day of her safari and looking very tired! Our guide came to fetch us and show us the "swimming pool," a water tank that he claimed was 200 feet deep, but I was doubtful. Many Indian men were diving and swimming in it, and they urged Mike to join them. (Women don't swim.) He declined, although later in the day he regretted that decision! We got back on the camels, mine grumbling of course.

Mike, who was enjoying Camel Safari Day 1 much more than me!

Phew! A break off that camel!! Do I have to get back on??
After riding for another 2 hours or so, during which time my driver decided to show off by making the camel gallop every time he thought it was getting lazy. It was horrible...I felt like I was going to fall off and my bum was very sore. For lunch we finally stopped at a school for lunch, which didn't look much like a school--a group of children was sitting on a porch, each with a slate and chalk. We went into an empty classroom and were given our lunch sacks, with cheese sandwiches, eggs, and fruit; however, the bananas had smashed and banana goo covered everything. It wasn't very appetizing! After eating our lunch, we were told that we'd be staying there until 4:00, for three hours. We were not unhappy about that! It appeared that our guides liked to rest. They brought us a cot to stretch out on, and we read and rested until 3:30, at which time the camelman appeared to be in a hurry to get on our way. The children were amazingly quiet--studying the whole time we were there. It was the quietest school I'd ever been to, out in the middle of the Jaisalmer desert!

We limped back onto our camels and galloped for another 45 minutes to a clearing, where the camel cart and crew were waiting for us. Of course, my driver felt the need to make a grand entrance, so he made the camel gallop especially fast for the last few meters into camp. I felt limp with exhaustion as we plopped down onto a blanket for tea, french fries, and vegetable pakoras...and extremely grateful that we were stopping for the night! Every part of me ached, but especially my bum. We were given a towel and told we could go to wash in the muddy water. I waded in to wash my feet but they felt dirtier afterward by the time I walked back to my shoes. At the water we ran into some foreigners on another safari--one a grumpy woman we had seen in a Jaisalmer restaurant a few days before--and their grumbling about a lack of water made me think they were not enjoying their safari much either.

Our guides
We walked over to a ruined village at sunset and wandered through the rubble. As we were sitting on the steps of an old temple, three Israeli guys (who we'd seen in Jodhpur--that's what happens when you travel in developing countries, you often run into the same people!) stopped by and chatted with us. They'd been out for three days, also had a water problem, and said that two days on safari would have been quite enough time!

Back at camp the guides were busy preparing our dinner. They lit torches and set up our little tent. We treated ourselves to a cold beer, which turned out to be a bit disappointing--Indian beer wasn't that great back in 1989--maybe it's better now! We sat and chatted as the stars lit up the clear night sky. We talked about our future (by this time we were engaged--that story will be told in "U"), and Mike said that he wanted to have three kids at the most. (Funny, that!) I remember the evening in the desert to be really peaceful, and it was wonderful to know he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me!

Our dinner was served in darkness--chicken soup, rice, curry, creamed veggies, and chapati, with a sweet Indian dessert, followed by tea. Then "the flute man," who lived nearby, came to play for us during dinner. He played two flutes at once, one holding out a single note while the other played the melody. It was amazing--and he never seemed to take a breath! 

We went to bed around 9:30, but the tent was stiflingly hot, with no air coming through at all. Our beds were made up with sheets and pillows, and there was even toilet paper in the tent! (Thank God we sprang for the "royal" safari.) We tried to sleep but it was stuffy and our muscles were sore. (Now that I think back on the camel safari, I wonder where I went to the loo, especially with all of these men about! I have no recollection of that detail.)

The next day we woke from a restless, stuffy night feeling sore and exhausted, and not looking forward to another day on a camel. That day, however, I insisted on the female! She was so much calmer and not so tall, and she had a much more comfortable saddle. When Mike got on the grumpy male, the camel started to stand up before the driver got on and made a huge fuss! 

So happy to be getting on the nicer camel!!
(I wore that scarf around my head to protect my head from the sun,
and I often covered my mouth because of all of the dust!
The entire second day was taken at a much slower pace. Behind us, I heard the male camel stamping his feet, followed by Mike saying "give me some warning!" and to me, "You're right, sweets, he is a crazy driver!", which the driver thought was hilarious. I shouted back, "Crazy camel; crazy driver!", which the camelman kept repeating the rest of the day!

Mike, who was blissfully ignorant about how grumpy his camel would be!
We rode up into and over the hills on narrow, rocky paths. It was beautiful to see the desert valley below and billowy white desert grass waving in the wind. We saw huge clumps of spring cactus and large bushes of waxy, purple flowers. Mike's driver got off to walk, which was a relief because then we slowed down.

We stopped at a deserted town called Mool Sagar for lunch and collapsed under a tree (Mool Sagar has since been developed into a luxury spot!). Then we read for a few hours as the guides ate and chatted, smoked, and slept. We stayed at the lunch spot for four hours and were finally on our way around 3:00, after they found the camels, which had wandered off somewhere.

The last leg was only an hour and a half, although we went a bit faster. As we went over another ridge, we could see Jaisalmer looming in the distance...I remember distinctly how glad I was to see that beautiful walled city!! I couldn't wait for ice cold water and to lie down on a bed!

The beautiful vision of Jaisalmer--so, so happy to see it!!
I felt so relieved when we finally got back to the hotel, where we bought a really expensive bottle of water and took a refreshing mandi (bath consisting of pouring cold water over yourself). When the lights went out again, we left the hotel to buy cheaper water in town...and then drank two cold bottles in a row...we were so parched! The evening was spent getting attacked by bugs (a large cricket flew down my shirt and then a forbidding-looking beetle flew at the back of my head and bounced on the table!) in the restaurant, before returning to our room to apply tiger balm on our muscles and collapse. 

I wouldn't necessarily recommend a camel safari to anyone (I'm glad I can say "been there, done that!"), but some people have much better experiences. I'm sure if I had not been on such a grumpy camel and had been tortured by the show-off driver on the first day, I would have had a better experience. This is an excellent travelogue, with beautiful photos, of a great camel safari a man took, probably more recently. Or this is another good one, from 2010, by a young man who went solo on a safari with one Indian guide. Nowadays, safaris seem better organized (you can book them on the Internet), and some provide extra transport by jeep so you can get farther out into the desert. Back in 1989, it was much more difficult to comparison shop!

I had forgotten about this until rereading my journal, but the hotel (with the very annoying, nosy hotel manager who kept trying to sell us stuff, including fancy dinners and guided tours) charged us an arm and a leg for various little things...including a half-day extra's room, transportation (they had said would be free), a hefty amount for laundry, way-too-expensive mineral waters, etc., not even including the camel safari! Our bill seemed bigger than our bill from the fancy Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur! When we turned down his pleas to have a grand buffet before leaving on the train that night, he said "But it's your last night!" (and a last chance for him to get more money out of us!). I couldn't get away from this guy, who had realized that Mike was the softy between us and mostly tried to convince him of all the things we needed to do. I called him MLF for "Mike's Little Friend"!

We spent our last day in Jaisalmer wandering around, returning to the fort, shopping, reading, and catching up in our journals. We had a very nice meal in town--with dum aloo kashmiri (a potato dish), chicken kofta, vegetable and cheese naan, and apple pie. The restaurant was full of strange, noisy foreigners from Britain and Canada...and the lights went out again. After we waited and they didn't come back on, we went out into the dark streets. We returned to the hotel to retrieve our bags, and a concert was progress...and guess who were the musicians? Our little friends from the hillside, decked out in kurtas and turbans!

That evening we shared a train compartment with an extremely grumpy couple who didn't speak to each other all night long--except for the woman to snap at her husband about the fans not being on. The next day we arrived in Jodhpur, where sadly we were cheated at another accommodation.

Reading, England (1990-2002?)

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Reading town hall and St. Laurence's church
Although Mike grew up all over the world, his "hometown" for most of his childhood was Reading, a city in Berkshire located about 45 minutes by train from London. After his dad retired from diplomatic service, he and my mother-in-law lived in their Reading house. After Hugh died, my mother-in-law, Olga, moved from Reading to Cambridge several years ago to be closer to her daughter Kath and her children. 
The Thames from Caversham Bridge in Reading
Reading is most famous around the world for (1) Oscar Wilde, who wrote a poem about when he was imprisoned for sodomy in Reading Gaol, and (2) the big Reading rock festival. First evidence of Reading dates back to the eighth century, but now it's mostly a commercial center. 

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The Abbey Gateway in Reading,
apparently where Jane Austen went to school! (I had no idea...)
Most of my photos of Reading feature events with family and friends, being entertained in Mike's family home. These are not necessarily in order!
Christmas 1991, with Mike's difficult and staunchly Catholic Aunty Betty,
who didn't like the American-feminist-Lutheran woman
 her nephew married until I produced a male heir! You can tell by my look that I tried very hard...

Celebrating Mike's dad's birthday in TGIF in Reading, with his parents and Aunty Betty
Our friends from Japan, Cath and Dan, at a lunch party in Reading
Mike's mum with a young Christopher and her dear friend Margot
Kath dancing with her dad (who died suddenly in 1992)
Aunty Gena dancing in the back garden with the kiddies
Mike's aunts and cousins' children at Kath's wedding in Reading 

Mike's parents, sister, and Aunty Betty wearing jodhpurs from India

Kath holding a young Chris in Olga's back garden (1999)
Chris with his cousin Mark in Reading

Visit here to read my A-Q posts. Tomorrow's my day off, and Monday, it's all over the world again.


  1. I really enjoyed your camel adventure. You sound like a tough cookie. :)
    I have only been on a camel once in Egypt and it did not go well. I had my 3 month old with me who was ready to nurse at the time. That was interesting! :)

    Visiting from A to Z Blogging~

    1. Thanks Mary--glad you enjoyed it. I guess I am kind of tough, but not as tough as when I was 24! Now I'm twice that age. Wow--a 3-month-old on a camel. That sounds pretty adventurous and tough too!

  2. Wow, what an amazing adventure, I almost felt I was with you on your journey! I would so love to travel the world, oh the places I would go! Your photos are all very lovely.
    Hope you are having fun with the A to Z Challenge, we are now on the home stretch!
    Monica at Older Mommy Still Yummy

    1. Thanks so much for visiting, Monica. Yes, I have been having fun reading all my old journal entries and scanning old photos. I think I'm ready for it to be over, though--having learned a lesson to be a little less ambitious next year!! :)

  3. Lovely post. I've been on a camel ride in Jaisalmer, and have only respect for you that you managed to survive an entire safari. Beautiful pics throughout!

    Damyanti @Daily(w)rite Co-host, A to Z Challenge 2013

    Twitter: @AprilA2Z
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