Posts Tagged ‘Sunsets’

North Tour: Jaisalmer: Once upon a camel

April 17, 2011

Friday, 4 March

JAISALMER TO JODHPUR: Riding a camel isn’t like riding a bike. It’s not like riding an elephant. It’s not even that much like riding a horse.

I’ve ridden them all in India, and something about camel riding is just different.

Perhaps it was the setting of our rides this evening: barren wastelands of sand and dust, a bit too interspersed with bush and weeds to fit the Saharan stereotype, but nonetheless quite devoid of oases. Perhaps it was the length of the journey: over two hours allotted for two rides – much more than was given when I rode an elephant and a horse on separate occasions this year. Perhaps it was the camel’s distinctive rocking gait, one that requires an abundance of leg strength – especially when that gait turns into a trot.

It’s not for everyone.

But if you like riding a camel, you’ll probably love it.

The sun set just before I embarked on my second camel ride Thursday evening, and it rose just before our ride this morning. We saw both sunrise and sunset in the desert, the sky’s great ball of fire intensifying the thin shadows in the sand. The landscape, dotted with footprints, tents, and a few other creations of man, was just another average, everyday, mind-blowingly breathtaking sight. We actually missed the start of sunrise this morning, choosing to return down the sandy plains early due to the chilly desert wind. Never did I think I’d ever leave a desert because it was too cold.

But our other experiences from the last two days have more than made up for today’s deficit of early morning beauty. I was so tired during last night’s dance and musical performance that I dozed off with my Cubs hat over my eyes. Minutes later, I was awoken when my hat was stealthily stolen by Amanda. Soon thereafter our group was dancing and singing Munni Badnaam in a circle with a guy wearing makeup and a dress.

I guess those five minutes of sleep helped, because I had the energy to get through the songs intact. Having not been to a legitimate dance or party since discotheque night in Goa, the surprise dance was a welcome one. Another outlet for my dance-frustration had been found.

We slept in the desert last night. Sand was our floor and canvas tents were our ceiling and walls, yet none of us awoke scorpion-, spider-, or snake-bitten. Before calling it a night, we laid on the ground in a group and just gazed up at the stars. Though our knowledge of the sky’s constellations was far from complete, we found The Big Dipper, The Little Dipper and Orion. Like on the houseboat in Kerala, the visibility of the stars was striking, providing a rare kind of sought-after solitude. For twenty minutes, we just laid in the sand, staring.

I can think of only one word to describe the view, the same one I can use to describe many things on this tour. Beautiful.

The day after, too, was full of moments I never want to forget. A goat, which strayed into our path this afternoon, was allowed to wear my Cubs hat – the significance of which only Olivia was able to comprehend. (Have I single-handedly lifted the Billy Goat Curse? Oh yeah, I don’t believe in it.) Ten of us sat on two pedal-boats in a spectacular Jaisalmer oasis while Nikolas and I pedaled for half the group. (It would have been a more difficult task had I not been so practiced in giving exchange students rides on non-motorized vehicles.) For dinner, we went to an Italian restaurant where I ordered a pancake with Nutella but was instead brought a (delicious) crepe. Not that I’m complaining.

What I want to remember the most, however, is Thursday night’s camel ride.

With the camel walking, not running, our bottoms weren’t yet worn out, and our pace was slow enough that we could enjoy the view. With Anaïs and Amanda on camels in my wake, I looked up at the sky in foreshadow of midnight’s stargazing. We’d just had an outstanding recess in a particularly epic sandbox – posing for pictures while jumping in the air, chasing each other shoeless around the desert, and running down the dunes so quickly our legs would become too fast for our bodies and we’d faceplant quite comfortably in the soft, cool Rajasthani sand.

Something about that camel ride was special. The sky darkened over the course of the ride, fading from pale blue to dark blue to black. Occasionally our guides would mutter amidst themselves, and our camels felt the occasional urge to sneeze off the flies blanketing their necks. Otherwise our ride was tranquil, its peace uninterrupted but by the predictable dull clang of our camels’ bells.

It was the kind of moment I came to India for. And the kind of moment I live for.

I was living. Somewhere in the Rajasthani dunes, life was just as I wanted it to be, and in the moment, nothing could have made it better. Forgive me my simile, but while I was atop the camel, I may as well have been atop the world.

That’s why I’m so happy in India.

Because I’m living the moments. And I’ll always have the memories.



South Tour: Goa – The beginning of the end

January 2, 2011

11 Dec – 14 Dec

NAGPUR: In the three days since boarding a Nagpur-bound train in Mumbai, I’ve spent more time asleep than I have awake.

Sleep debt is the reason I’ve waited three days to write my end-of-tour recap, which I’d planned to write on the final leg of our journey, and the reason I penciled nothing in Mumbai or Goa – two destinations which gave me much to say and little time in which to write. I could have taken out my laptop to finish these entries, but it seems more prudent and appropriate for me to write these by hand first.

Now that I’m back in Nagpur, well-rested, well-fed, and more comfortable than I’ve been in weeks, here’s what I did before I got here.

Our train from Kochi to Madgaon arrived before sunrise on Sunday – the only time of day, in retrospect, when Goa actually seems to sleep.

I think it’s safe to call Goa the beach and party capital of India. Nowhere else on the tour – save perhaps the hill stations – can match the natural beauty of the beaches we visited. From the cliffs where we parked our bus, the beach looked just as it was billed beforehand: relaxing and beautiful.

As we made our way down from those cliffs, however, relaxing didn’t seem an appropriate word anymore. Unlike the beach at Mahabalipuram, tourists clogged the shores of Goa – especially after morning turned into afternoon. Rather than lying underneath a palm tree sipping coconut juice, I took an active approach to enjoying the beaches we visited: tossing around a small ball that Amanda [Washington, USA] had been “given”, taking a brief but exhilarating ride on a jetski, and attempting (and failing) to bodysurf the gentle waves that rarely came in higher than my head. Goa was the setting for a lot of great memories that day – and that night. I fell asleep before we could finish watching Scream together – at 4:30 a.m.

I woke up late Monday morning, and the day seemed much more relaxing than the day before. It was late afternoon before we drove to the beach and buried Jakob in the warm Goa sand. Our attempts at bodysurfing failed once again.

Mostly what I’ll remember from this day is the sunset.

Having missed it the day before, and having not seen a true sunset since the Golkunda Fort in Hyderabad, I was eager to watch the sun set over the Arabian Sea. After half a day enjoying the beach, I stood facing west with my arms crossed and my shirt over my shoulder as the others gathered their things, ready to head back to the hotel for the night. The sun crept lower in the sky.

“What are you doing, Chris?” someone asked me.

I’m brought back now to a lecture we had at the Grand Rapids conference in July. The speaker cited a survey wherein adults were asked an interesting question. I don’t remember the exact wording, but the jist of it was: How much time in your life have you spent really enjoying life – blissful, exhilarated, and purely happy?

The average response: ten minutes

For about ten minutes, I watched the sun fade into the clouds just over the horizon. It was a dull orange sunset, the kind that brightens the nearby clouds and makes them glow in multicolored streaks and puffs of light. The sun grew darker and darker as it went down, to the point that I could stare at it without holes being burned through my eyes. As we walked back along the beach, it grew fainter against the clouds until it nearly blended into them. I plucked my eyes away for a second, looked back, and it was gone.

What was I doing for those ten minutes? Just enjoying life – amidst some of the best friends I’ll ever have. Some were snapping pictures of the moment, some were chatting with each other, and some stood like I was, just looking, caught in the world’s best timepass. It was just one of many moments from this tour where I could put my happiness atop the scale from 1 to 10.

I feel bad for the people who’ve only been happy like this for ten minutes – not because they’ve never seen the sun set in Goa – but because moments like this aren’t about where you are in the world, they’re about who you’re with when you have them.

By our third and final day in Goa, it was becoming clear our time together was coming to a close.

Even for a tourist destination, Goa seems less like India than anywhere else on this tour. We found items we hadn’t found anywhere else in India – Oreos and Pringles for some, Gatorade and a Frisbee for me. Combined with the chips and pizza we so frequently consumed on the tour, we may as well have been in a different country.

The highlights of our third day in Goa were the two cavernous churches we visited in Old Goa that dwarfed the one we’d seen in Kochi. In a cathedral large enough to hold several houses, it was hard not to feel a sense of awe, however out of place a building seems amidst rickshaws and palm trees. Seeing this, combined with the imminence of our departure, was too much for some of us to stay composed. It was just too much like home.

I don’t remember much from our train ride to Mumbai except the arrangement of our seats. Normally when we traveled by train, our compartments were separated, sometimes even on different cars. This time, however, our three compartments sat next to each other, and we spent our last train ride together closer than ever before.

If for no other reason than symbolism, it was a nice arrangement.


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