How many camels for you?
Attaining honorary Indian status in Rajasthan
16 May 2015
NO CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA HERE
India is a place that is easy to grow fond of; as easy as it is to be completely irritated by her. It is a landmass so large that domestic travel is inevitably an adventure in itself. And although it is a country that boasts multiple religions, languages and traditional practices, it is uniformly colourful, flavourful and odourful. More astounding is that all her peoples – Gujerati, Malayalee, Tamil, Parsi, Sindhi, Punjabi and more; whether Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist or Christian – are all identified as Indian. On the odd occasion, even foreigners who impress the locals with their smattering of survival Hindi, and who are aware and respectful of local practices and norms, are declared Honorary Indians. A shot of the local moonshine, a congratulatory slap on the back, and Little Miss Singapore is as pukka as a Chicken Tikka Masala.
PUSHKAR FAIR, JAISALMER
Our most recent travels to the great sub-continent took me, Carol, to Rajasthan in the North, arguably the most historically magnificent and beautiful of India’s states. The Rajasthan itinerary included necessary stops such as Udaipur, Jaipur, Jodhpur and, of course, Jaisalmer.
The Pushkar Fair is one of Rajasthan’s many desert fairs that are not only a staple for local merchants, but also a must-see for visitors. For as long as we can remember, we have been regaled with tales of camel traders, artisans and the hippy trail. Being a part of the festivities in real time was an experience that lived up to the stories.
RANI THE MARWARI
There were really only two things that I had set my heart on seeing at Pushkar – camels and Marwari horses. The Marwari is indigenous to Rajasthan and is a specimen of magnificence and beauty. Its unique ears make it immediately identifiable. I had the privilege of actually riding on one and can testify that they are also extremely speedy.
Kunzang: “How was it?! You look starstuck!”
Carol: “My horse wanted to run. So, I let her run and buckled myself into the saddle. We flew!”
Throughout the Rajasthan sojourn, I had my guide and friend of many years, Kunzang Sherpa, with me. I have travelled solo in India and agreed with myself never to do so again. I am not a strawberry traveller who bruises easily, but engaging a male escort in some parts of the world really is a smart thing to do.
At the fair, I witnessed a successful deal for a beautiful mare named Rani. More interesting was how her handler and seller wore no special outfit or gear as he paraded her before potential buyers. He had on his regular dress and chappals (slippers).
CAMEL SAFARI FOR ONE
The Thar is as spectacular as it sounds. A vast expanse of arid land separating India and Pakistan, a safari through the Thar can be done either cheaply or lavishly as is customary in India; one would be hard-pressed to find middling options.
My safari-for-one included a support vehicle, a cook, a butler, a safari leader and his two camel riders.
My tent started with a narrow vestibule for shoes as one entered, then into a ‘bedroom’ area replete with dressing table, and finally a commode with flush and a basic shower – ie: big container of water propped up outside at a height to create enough water pressure for a decent rinse.
MY PRICE IN CAMELS
It was in the heart of the Thar Desert – about two days into the camel safari, and miles from home or the nearest town or even a well - that I found myself attaining Honorary Indian status. My survival-level knowledge of Hindi was enough to keep everyone tickled pink. I ordered a whiskey pani (whiskey and water) with panache and identified the aloo ghobi (potatoes and cauliflower) and bindi (okra/ladies’ fingers) with confidence. It would seem even my camel-riding skills were pretty impressive; only because I asked to go faster. Not a good idea, by the way; camels are not as comfortable as horses and their giant middles make it impossible to hug them with your legs.
The safari leader, Mr Khan, and I sat down for a chat during one of our breaks in the day’s trek. It is truly a man’s world when a woman cannot travel alone without arousing suspicion; she must be either mad or gay.
Mr Khan: “Are you married?”
Carol: “No.” (I regretted it the minute I said it).
Mr Khan: “Why not married?”
Carol: “Not interested.” (Always lie when people ask you annoying questions).
Mr Khan: “Boyfriend?”
Carol: “No.” (True. Damn it!).
Mr Khan: “You marry me?”
Carol: “No. You’re already married.”
Mr Khan: “That’s OK; no problem. How many camels for you?”
INDIAN PRINCESS IN EXILE
If I truly believed that I might have been an Indian princess in exile in my past life, I would have scoffed at his offer and had my people lash him for impudence and demand camels, elephants and Marwaris as compensation. But, we were still only halfway through the safari. Under the circumstances, I politely declined Mr Khan’s offer altogether.
We made it safely through the desert without incident and I look forward to renewing my Honorary Indian status in the near future.
I now speak a smattering of Tamil as well.
Fully customised itinerary that started and ended in New Delhi.
By road: New Delhi – Mandawa – Pushkar – Chittorgarh – Udaipur – Ranakpur – Jodhpur – Jaisalmer – Thar Desert Camel Safari – Bikaner – Jaipur – New Delhi
Guide: Kunzang Sherpa
Born and raised in Darjeeling, India, Kunzang has been guiding for over 20 years. He speaks Nepali, Hindi, English and German. A top quality travel companion.