Sam is a village in Jaisalmer district close to the India – Pakistan border, Sam is known due to the popular Sam dunes which is a tourist spot brimming with dessert camps and tents. The dunes themselves are amazing when it is quiet and natural and sans the hustle of tourists. I know at the time we were tourists too but one can always hope to have a place all to ourselves.
When we reached Sam dunes and our desert camp, we were briefed by the manager who proceeded to tell us with precision what our next 24 hours would look like down to the hour. It was a good thing that we did not listen to him after the first itinerary point because who wants to be told what one should be doing during a vacation, I can’t put up with such pressure (*sigh).
The first thing on the itinerary was a camel ride, it was hilarious for the camel rider as he watched us flip and flop as we tried to mount. After a few attempts he offered us his salwar clad knee so that we could scramble up the camel. He was an old man who said that he is farmer and some of this land belongs to him but this year there were no crops. Considering the sand around us it was difficult to fathom any type of cultivation there. He wore a turban loosely tied on his head and a pastel colored loose salwar kurta, his lips were pan stained and his camel wore polka dots with distinction.
He led his camel almost stoically across the sand towards the dunes where the desert air carried the sounds of people squealing in merriment on the sand buggy rides. One of the first questions he asked us, after asking where we were coming from was whether there were muslims in Bangalore. He spoke Hindi with us but with a distinct tilt to it much different than the accent one hears in the marwadi heartland. I wanted to know what his camels name was because after all the camel was carrying us two city folks and I felt obliged to make a connection. Turns out that the camel was called Pappu.
At the dunes, we met a kohl lined camel rider who insisted that we try the sand buggy or jeep ride, he seemed amused by my apparent disinterest that he took it as an affront. He spoke at length at how all the tourists who came had ‘majaa’ on the sand buggy. Soon the conversation turned to when Bajrangi Bhaijan was shot at location near there and how the crew did not allow locals to see the shoot. The locals apparently decided that this was their land and no one can keep them off it and barged in at the shoot to which the crew amended that the locals can see the shoot but needed to be quiet which was something more amicable to locals there.
The conversation also took us to their village in Sam and how it was off limits to tourists because of permits that were required as a border town. A specific village that had gone to Pakistan during the war and then came back to Indian territory. He also insisted that the dessert camps are a sham and are only manufactured experiences. I was quite on board with this particular assessment as I found that the dessert camp experience while good seemed a bit forced with its banjara dances to Bollywood music, rich food and alcohol while the dessert lay silent and the camels hmmphed all around us.
We continued talking as our camel was ferrying a few other passengers and our elderly camel rider promised to come back for us shortly leaving us alone on the dunes. It gave us a chance to soak in the cold dessert air, the stars beginning to twinkle above us and an offer for tea from the kohl lined camel rider. He then spoke about how we should actually stay at a village where people will be more than welcoming and sleep on a charpoy under the stars and then claim to have had an authentic dessert experience. The premise was very tempting but unfortunately we weren’t the type to walk into a village and ask to be fed.
As we watched our camel rider come back for us with the camel against the backdrop of the setting dessert sun, I felt grateful for having stolen this moment away from the regular tourist trappings and feel the sand run down my fingers.