Thursday, 25 November 2010

Where's the one with a silver lining?

Indeed, the stage had been set for a safari which gave more rewards than I gave it credit for. The unhappy overtures plagued the whole safari, even if they weren’t openly voiced complaints, most aspects were tainted by the flow of negative comments or sour expressions. And then, to really give them something to complain about, the second day of riding ended with a cloudburst, drenching us all. If they’d had any spirit in the first place, that would really have put a dampener on it. It’d rained the first night, but only once we’d been fed and watered. Besides, my tent was the only one which seemed to leak, so they couldn’t complain that much.Morning broke with deep blue sky and fluffy white clouds, a promising start which materialised into displays gloom and thundery temperment. Kama, you reap what you sow; it couldn’t have rained on more deserving people! Pigeon holed as unofficial go-between, I’d been asked whether to shelter or continue riding, I’d elected to continue, on behalf of us all. It wasn’t driving rain, it wasn’t freezing cold, and it only lasted for half an hour. By the time we reached camp it had stopped and we were nearly dry by the time we arrived. Our dry beds awaited, blankets folded and slightly musty, a dry rug on the floor. We even had buckets of hot water waiting at our campsite, we’d never had that on the first safari. Bloody luxury I thought, I even treated myself to a warm douche and gave my dreads some attention. (Photos: 1] Urban farming; 2] Lesser Pied Kingfisher - Outside Deogarth, Rajastan)

I should have saved myself the trouble, a worse drenching the following day undone all my hard work. Another unanimous decision by me saw us take shelter from a storm front that caught us a few kilometres before the new camp. The veranda of the local school gave ample shelter, it really lashed it down for over half an hour, without abating in the slightest. Huddled into the deepest darkest recesses of the veranda, the other four clients sheltered, while the staff and me held the horses, hiding behind pillars, to avoid the spray back from eddying winds. When finally it settled into a heavy drizzle, I slipped out and plucked my rain cape from my saddlebag, Jasel suggested it best to set out, despite how wet it still was. An hour away from camp, and two from darkness, we couldn’t hang around too long. For once I opted out of the decision making process, I didn’t feel I had any right to, I was the only one with any waterproof clothing. It was better than nothing, but only kept the water out to a certain extent, within half an hour water was seeping through, needless to say I was warmer and drier than the rest. A sodden entourage of foreigners riding horseback through the villages was a sight of hilarity for the local populace, what sorry picture we were painting. With a resigned smile glued to my face I done my usual, nodding greetings, exchanging mirth and generally getting the most out of the situation. (Photo: Country living - Nr Arvelli mountains, Rajastan)

Even from a distance that night’s camp was a disaster zone, it was reminiscent of Glastonbury, awash with mud, bits of camping debris strewn about, and tents disappearing into the gloop. And still the rain fell! A full scale mutiny would have erupted if any suggestion of camping had been made, but there wasn’t a plan B. There wasn’t much I could contribute to the group discussion, it was mainly moaning in German in anyway, so I retired to a bedraggled awning to have a smoke, soon joined by the guide and the safari manager. To apologies and enquiries is things were OK I maintained my smile, it all amused me, all I could do was shrug my shoulders and smile. Whatever will be, will be! We weren’t exactly in desperate straights, slight discomfort perhaps, more inconvenienced than anything. You had to laugh about it, what else was there to do, cower together and compete for who’s the most miserable? Within an hour two rooms in an animal clinic had been cleared for us, we had almost dry beds under a dry roof, with a dining table on the veranda. But the rain eased off and stopped completely by the time food was served. Rice, dhal, curry and chapattis, now there’s a surprise! Actually, the special dish they served up was exceptional. The Paneer was in a gorgeous, rich Masala sauce; nice and spicy, just the way I like it. Of course for those who don’t like Dahl, and don’t like spicy food, I believe it failed to impress. Amidst the murmurs of discontent could be heard the rumblings of rebellion; What should or shouldn’t be done, about the rain, the safari; what will or won’t be tolerated. I think that was the first night I took myself away from the group to write my journal, and then had an early night. (Photos: 1] Under the watchful eye: 2] Left to tend the goats, while the mature women gloat - Aravelli foothills, Rajastan)

To put things into perspective, before the others awoke I meet a group herding their buffalo to Pushkar. They were still 80 – 100km away, so had a fair walk ahead. On their backs they carried a small bundle each, containing all their goods and supplies, they slept out in the open every night, rain or shine. From dawn to dusk they drove the cattle ever onwards, towards Pushkar camel fair, it was a two-week walk each way. For protection against the weather they had dhotis, thin shirts, a single thin blanket and a turban. Cheery smiles and courteous greetings were exchanged, Vishan and Virendra established what they were up to, then we all wished each other the best of days and they were off. A simple, yet gracious, exchange can make your morning bright, settle well on your soul for the forthcoming day, but sharing them won’t always transfer the joy it brings yourself. The rain had cleared over night, blue sky prevailed, but the outlook remained gloomy. (Photo: Leaving the fertile valley - Aravelli Mountains, Rajastan)

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