“Your camels are ready.”
A man in a red turban came to our canvas tent and uttered this simple statement.
Our family’s camels are ready for a trip out into the Thar Desert of Rajasthan …. Are we?
In a way, I’ve gotten used to India’s surprises and differences compared to life in Alaska. A turbaned man telling us our camels are ready seems fairly standard for this mystical and magical place. The practical part of my brain thinks, “Good–the sun is about ready to rise and I don’t want to miss it!” Another part wonders in amazement, “Are we really here? Is this my life?”
The turbaned men who led our three camels were quiet, clucking their tongues or making other noises to their strange, awkward charges as we left Manvar Camp, a circle of tents nestled among the dunes. Camels have two sets of knees on their hind legs. Watching them sit down and stand up is fascinating. Being on their backs while they actually do this is wobbly and a bit surprising. They are much higher than horses.
I can ride a camel, I think. I don’t hesitate to put my 8-year-old daughter on the camel’s back behind me. I put my trust into the turbaned men.
The trek is a peaceful wave of smells, sounds and sights: The pungent but not unpleasant smell of camel poop; the tinkling sound of the bells around their necks; the break of dawn over the sand dunes; the welcoming smell of fresh, clean air. The camels’ gait is lurching, somewhat halting. I try to take everything in — nature is my favorite church and temple.
We are all quiet, absorbing the scenery and the peace of the desert. We see a rabbit and somebody remembers the Hindi word for it. “Khargosh!” I repeated aloud. My camel man looks up at me, mildly surprised. “Hindi?” he asks, raising his eyebrows. “Nahi,” I say, the Hindi word for “no.” Is that a small smile on his face?
Climbing up a sand dune, we watch the golden sun rise in a clear, blue sky. The landscape is rolling with scrubby brush and sandy dunes. I inhale deeply—I’ll likely not breathe air this clean again in a long while. I’m filled with gratitude to be in this calm, wide-open space. I briefly think about some Fairbanks politicians, more interested in playing to their anti-government constituency than they are with people’s ability to breathe good, healthy air.
“Prana” in Sanskrit means “life air” or “life force.” Prana and breath are integral to yoga, which I’ve practiced for 14 years now. Prana enters the body through the breath. How thankful I am to breathe good air, I think. Maybe the politicians don’t inhale deeply and fully? Maybe this has affected their brains. Do they not notice the difference between clean and dirty air, a shallow or a full breath?
I banish thoughts of politicians from my mind. I listen to the camel’s breath, chuffing a bit, as we arrive on top of the sand dune. Inhale, exhale. Prana.
“Your camels are ready,” the man had said. Are we?
The answer is yes.
Watch the video from the back of the camel here: