"What if these two men take us into the desert, and then kill us?" asked my husband.
I would take a chance and say that this isn't the kind of thing one usually says on any kind of holiday, but this was a special kind of bizarre, because it was our honeymoon.
At this stage, we were both perched on two camels, being led deep into the desert by two local villagers in Rajasthan who did not speak any of the languages that we spoke. They chatted away with each other, shaking their heads vigorously and occasionally turning to me and asking, "You Ok Madame?"
"Back at the hotel, surfing for what-else-to-do-if-you-don't-like-palaces-in-Jodhpur, we stumbled upon this page that had a passport-size photo of a man called Ghemar Singh..."
About 20 minutes before the beginning of this ride into nothingness, a man, practically a stranger, had arrived in a jeep and taken our travel bags with a promise to meet us at the end of our journey. Trying not to fall from the top of the camels, we looked around and there was nothing to be seen anywhere except sun-dried desert sand. Once or twice, during what seemed-like-an-hour long journey, we would see a few people far away, mostly children whose voices were carried over to us by the desert wind. "Byeeeee....", they would say, and if we squinted hard, we could see their hands in the air, waving at us. While friendly goodbyes from strangers wouldn't usually bother us, their "byes" were beginning to sound like final farewells, especially since we had no clue where we were, and what we were doing.
All this started when we got really bored of the palaces in Jodhpur.
A few good men
Like most Indian couples after marriage, we were full of love, and all out of money. After settling in the new house in the new city, my long-time friend and now husband came home from work one day to announce that the perfect honeymoon destination had been found. In his hands were two tickets to Jodhpur. We were apparently leaving in the night.
We reached Jodhpur, got into an auto and asked the driver to recommend hotels. It is safe to say that neither of us had travelled well enough to instinctively know not to do that ever. However, the auto driver turned out to be one of those rare species of people you can trust, and he actually recommended a hotel that was within our budget, and not entirely a crime scene.
Taking cues from Google and "Jodhpur things to do", it took us a day to check out the Mehrangarh Fort and Umaid Bhawan. They were rugged and beautiful, and they carried stories from before we were born, but I don't think they were doing it for us. Back at the hotel, surfing for what-else-to-do-if-you-don't-like-palaces-in-Jodhpur, we stumbled upon this page that had a passport-size photo of a man called Ghemar Singh who promised to take people to his house in Hacra Dhani, where they could experience rural Rajasthan. Considering that we did not have an itinerary, and were practically ready to do anything if it meant not going back to yet another palace, this seemed like a very good plan. Ghemar told us over phone that he was in fact visiting Jodhpur that very moment, and agreed to meet us at the nearest McDonald's. By now we were back to wondering what sort of a rural guy would want to meet at McDonald's? We were quite sure we were walking into a con.
Turns out, Ghemar was a quiet, unassuming guy, who spoke good English and yet looked absolutely like he could belong to a village -- remember Shreyas Talpade in Welcome to Sajjanpur? He told us which bus to take and where to get down -- the following day, we did exactly that. Except when we got down, it was really in the middle of nowhere. Ghemar was there with a jeep. He took our luggage, introduced us to these two men in the front who were leading the camels, engaged in incomprehensible conversation with them, and told us before speeding off that he would meet us outside his house soon.
That brought us to this point where we were wondering whether these two camel guys would take our wallets and kill us. They didn't. Instead, after a long time in the desert, we finally got down outside three small mud huts to meet a smiling Ghemar Singh and his very excited two-year-old son.
Our hut had one room for us to sleep in, another was where Ghemar's wife was cooking, and the third was a toilet. There was no electricity, no network, and no running water. This holiday wasn't turning out to be what we were expecting, but it was certainly what we were hoping for.
A strange kind of freedom
Long after dinner, carefully prepared by Ghemar's wife over crackling wood in a mud stove, with home grown bajra and vegetables, we laid on our cots, under the pristine starry sky, in the stillness of the night, with the soft chill of the desert evening nipping at our toes. With nothing else to do, we began talking to each other. We spoke like we were two friends who were meeting after a decade, catching up on life, sharing hopes and dreams, and the future that we saw with each other, wondering if we had ever before heard such quietness, witnessed such simplicity, or trusted strangers so implicitly.
"This was the first holiday where we were intensely aware of each passing moment, as we lived it, in slow languish, uncluttered by plans and itineraries."
I wouldn't say that the next few days there passed by in a blur. In fact, it was just the opposite. This was the first holiday where we were intensely aware of each passing moment, as we lived it, in slow languish, uncluttered by plans and itineraries. Isn't it strange that when every day of our lives is stuffed with so many to-do lists, even on a vacation, we crave for the same kind of comfort, opting to build even longer to-do lists of places to see, new food to try, souvenirs to shop for or people to meet? In Hacra Dhandi, there was absolutely nothing to distract us, and it was strangely liberating.
All the nothing you want to do
On our last day, in the evening, we sat down for dinner -- Ghemar, his wife, and the two of us. Ghemar asked us about life in the big city, and we asked him about their lives here. His wife looked up and asked me, "What did you do today?"
I thought about our day. We had woken with the sun, chatted at leisure, looked at the deer and the peacock that strolled past us like they were not bothered, we had the most simple home-cooked food, and then we sat quietly and watched the evening sun melt over the sand dunes before walking back home hand in hand. "Nothing," I said. "We did nothing today". "Ah," she smiled knowingly, "that's the best thing done here."