travel diaries: call of the khuri dunes

Sam or Khuri?

An obligatory part of a visit to Jaisalmer is the excursion to the golden sand dunes which sheath the Thar Desert some 40 to 50 kilometres away from the city.

Sam was touristy. Khuri was remote. What was it going to be for me? This one was a no-brainer in my travel plans. 😊

Khuri had just called out to me, I thought, with a gentle smile hovering on my lips as I looked out at an oasis on my way to the dunes.

I had never seen an oasis such as the one stretched out in front of my eyes: A pool of crystal-clear water nestled in a shallow bowl, surrounded by barren desert.

Have you ever heard silence? That’s the first thing that struck me as I stood at the water’s edge. Silence. Broken by a chirping bird, a mooing cow, the sound of my footsteps … and a series of hoots of laughter.

Turning around, I was welcomed by a group of four boys on their way home from school, a good few kilometres away. Schools and water are far and in-between in this corner of the world. Broken slippers, tattered clothes, rusty bicycles. Yet their smiles were brighter than the blistering sun, without a care in the world.

As expected, there was the usual fascination with my camera and some posing for its benefit. Simply one photo was not going to be enough for them. Why would I complain? Their contentment and energy were contagious.

My journey to Khuri was to hold a few more firsts for me.

Next in line was dune bashing. My very first and I could not have asked for a more adrenalin-packed version. Sans seat-belts or anything to hold on to whilst seated at the back of an open jeep. For the next hour or so, my butt hung somewhere mid-air, and my heart was caught in my mouth as I was flung up and down a never-ending series of sand dunes on a roller coaster ride.

The jeep finally came to a halt. What a peculiar joy it was to be assured I was still alive and in one piece.

With a pounding heart and trembling legs, I made my way to the edge of a sand dune and plonked myself down to stare at the dusty pink sun set in the hazy distance and be enveloped by warm dusk.

From what seemed another world, I heard the driver from the camp calling out to me. “Time to go back.” Shucks. I did not want to leave. But I guess at night it got pretty desolate here and I could see creatures, large and small, make their way home as well.

Rajasthani folk music holds in its lyrics and beats the very essence of the Thar Desert. There are entire communities amidst its vastness who spend their lives simply singing and dancing, generation after generation. It is their job. One such are the Manganhars, a Muslim community of hereditary professional musicians who have entertained the Rajputs over the past many centuries.

A backstage chat with them revealed to me that Rajasthan’s folk dances were a re-creation of the hardships the desert folk endure on a daily basis. Walking over glass or with a set of seven clay pots perched on their heads was no circus feat, but a depiction of the burning sand and the miles they walk for that most precious natural resource of all: water. It was their real life which the people of the Thar were celebrating through their art.

It was a humbling learning.

– – –

Night had fallen by now and the handful of guests at the camp had retreated to their Swiss tents. But I wasn’t one bit sleepy. The day’s excitement still thumped through my veins. I also missed my mother who had passed away but three months ago. She had loved folk music, passionately.

Taking a chair, I seated myself under the canopy of a million stars. And cried my heart out. It was day 18 into my 35-day road trip, and the loss I was trying to cope with through this journey hit me like a cannon ball.

The last few days had been hectic, with one sight after another. For the first time since I was on the road, I was alone yet one with the stars and galaxies and the unending universe.

The dense black skies also seemed to tell me that loss was universal. It was as if it was asking me if I knew anyone who had not faced the loss of a loved one in their lifetime? Who had not cringed in pain and grief? Who had not had to say goodbye despite wishing it otherwise with all their heart, mind, and soul?

After the tears ceased to flow, I put the chair back, went to my tent and crashed to sleep. In some strange way, I felt at peace.

My eyes opened again only at daybreak. It was also time for me to go back to Jaisalmer.

This was just my second day in the desert, but I felt I had developed an uncanny unexplained relationship with it, wherein I had opened my heart to it, and it had in return embraced me back.

My ride back to Jaisalmer will remain etched in my mind forever. Seated in the front seat of an open jeep followed by a pillion ride on a motorbike, I was surrounded by the silence and emptiness of miles and miles of scrub under a powder-blue morning sky.

In the distance, a lone bare-foot registani woman made her way to collect water from an equally distant well. Some 20 kilometres later, a shepherd accompanied with his flock of scampering goats passed my jeep, his weathered face creased in a permanent smile, his hand raised in a gentle wave.

Khuri—thank you for having called out to me. ❤

[Note: Click on any image to enlarge it and read the caption. Use the arrow keys to navigate through the set.]

Travel tips:

[Note: This blog post is part of a series from my 35-day solo and independent road trip through Rajasthan from 17 October to 20 November, 2021. To read more posts in my Rajasthan series, click here.]

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