‘Okay Fluffy Lips, looks like it’s you and me,’ I say to the long-lashed camel nonchalantly chewing its cud with teeth that would make a dentist’s eyes go ka-ching. The camels are all sitting with their articulated legs all folded up beneath them and their handlers are waiting to see which of us gets allocated to them for the two-hour ride.
The Indian camel saddles are different to those I encountered in the Middle East. They are metal-framed with smaller silver pommels as opposed to the larger wooden Egyptian variety. There is also a more subtle difference, which my sit-bones will know more about later.
Getting a camel to sit or stand is always a drama. It’s such a lot of trouble for them. They commence by extending their back legs, so, as the rider, you need to be stretching back such that when you are abruptly flung forward, you do not become a human catapult. They then struggle up onto their front legs and you’re ready to go.
Like donkeys, there is usually a pecking order with leaders and followers. My beast is a plodder and is content to be last. He does have the disconcerting habit however, of choosing to follow quite closely the most exuberantly flatulent camel in the herd. On the first leg of the journey I think it was farting along to a tune in its head. Very rhythmical. Definitely a career beyond safaris for that one.
Our handlers all ride behind us. Some of them wear turbans, dhotis and jutis, however some sport modern headgear like fur caps, and some wear sneakers. After we get going the yakking between them starts. What a bunch of gossipy old women they are, too. It is interesting to listen though, as the Rajasthani dialect is softer and more guttural than Hindi with its fair share of rolling letters. My handler is a little less garrulous than some of the others but he has a soft melodic timber in his voice that seems to vibrate in my own chest given that he is directly behind me.
By now Farty Flaps has decided he’s more of a leader than a follower and has rebelled. He's launched off on his own route to the side to have a bit of a trot. No one appears interested in whatever brand of leadership he is offering though, and the rest continue plodding along nose to tail.
The landscape we are passing through is sparse and scrubby with the occasional duney hill. The camels’ soft plate-like pads trudge their way through the sand.
We arrive at our campsite just prior to dusk and we have some time to scope out a good spot to watch the sun set and inspect the evening’s arrangements. We are floored by the luxury of our accommodation. Mounted on concrete slabs, they resemble festive tents clustered around an English jousting tournament. Inside, they have star patterns with small mirror disks stitched with gold thread in the middle of each one. Most decadent of all, even beyond the camp beds, is behind the flap at the back of the tent: a washstand with running water and wait for it, a FLUSH TOILET. Not exactly roughing it, eh. It left me feeling a tad disappointed, as it feels like a façade; as if we are only playing at safari.
After dinner we lug the enormously heavy straight-backed chairs out of the dining area and gather around the campfire – so rustic, huh – and relate the usual funny stories and jokes. It becomes more interesting when Shivani expresses a desire to discuss the dating process and find out how we all experience it. We explain the concept of speed dating to her and she is fascinated.
‘You could have this in India,' I say, 'except of course it would be the mothers going from table to table with the sons and daughters one step behind!’
Shivani’s tinkly laughter at this thought is infectious. ‘It’s true! This would work in India very well, except the sons and daughters would probably not be there. It is still usual to only meet on the wedding day itself.'
There are a good supply of drinks available, including what Shivani terms Regularly Used Medicine (ie rum). You need to have a drink just to keep the circulation going, as it is mighty nippy away from the fire. Goodness knows where the wood is coming from, as we didn’t see any nearby.
Later, when we desert the comfort of the fire’s circular embrace, we pad through the sand back to our tents able to marvel at stars unoffended by light pollution.
For bed I keep on all my clothes, including my fleecy jumper. Curled up in bed, I finally feel some gratitude for the extra luxury as I shiver to sleep, the Regularly Used Medicine having sadly worn off.