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Camel Safari

by sue n 

Posted: 23 October 2004
Word Count: 788
Summary: A day in a 3 week tour of India, the opener to my trip around the world

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It is surprising what you can learn from a 24 hour camel safari. In the Thar Desert in India I discovered how a milimetre insect can reduce a 17 stone man to a jibbering wreck and also how to disgust a 12 year old Indian schoolboy.

The day started quietly enough with an hour long jeep ride out of Jaisalmer to meet our camels. As big Mike, six foot tall and nearly as wide, climbed out of the jeep, the camel wallahs blanched and held a huddled conference before leading him to the largest sturdiest beast. As they fussed over Mike, we women were left to choose our own animals. I looked into all the camels' doleful eyes in turn but received no signal saying 'Pick me, oh Netjetter' so chose the one with the least flies round his nose and a pretty blue flowery seat. When I asked what his name was, the camel man uttered a gutteral 'Drrrrrr'. Ignoring the possibility that he was taking the piss I climbed aboard Drrrrr, who was kneeling obediently on the ground. As he unfolded his gangly legs to stand up it was a close call as to which end I would slither off but I managed to cling on and once Drrrrr was stabilised I settled comfortably on my high perch.
We trotted contentedly up and down sweeping dunes through the bright yellow sand. The desert itself was silent but the camels provided a continuous sound track of desert-rat battles - Gatling guns of farting and artillery barrages of dung thudding into the sand.
Slightly saddle sore but happy we reached our destination ‘sunset point’, where the camel trains gather in the late afternoon. A young lad, laden down with Coke in a basket of ice, ran barefoot beside us until we finally stopped and dismounted. His reward was the sale of four bottles to our thirsty band and he settled down beside us to watch the sun setting.
Though free of tummy troubles, I'd acquired a streaming cold caught from Mike, who acknowledged his guilt by crying ‘Bless you, sorry’ every time I sneezed. My nose was in full flow and I gave it an almighty blow into a handful of tissues, before putting the soggy bundle into my pocket. The boy looked at me as if I had just smeared myself with camel dung and let out an involuntary 'ugh' of disgust. The others were laughing so much they rolled down the dune and the poor lad was confused and worried. For my part it was a salutary lesson in not judging cultural differences but I still couldn't bring myself to blow onto the ground as the Indians do and continued with my revolting practice of walking about with a pocket full of snot.
When the last of the red rays disappeared below the dunes we headed for our campsite. The blue and orange stripy tents were already up and the crew was busy cooking our dinner. Sitting on rugs around a campfire drinking beer in the middle of the desert was a fitting end to a good day. I was feeling decidedly rough from my cold but big Mike had other troubles. He discovered that his camel had off-loaded one of its tics into his leg and immediately reverted to small boy mode, reminding me of my son who, when his first milk tooth fell out, stood in the middle of Cambridge howling that he was going to die. The patient camel man assured Mike that it wasn't fatal and once blasted with suncream could be pulled out the next day. Mike still checked every five minutes to make sure his leg hadn't fallen off or been invaded by the vengeful mates of his dying tic. He went off to bed looking pale and anxious.
I woke at about 2 am to wander out to my chosen bush. The moonlight covered the desert with a ghostly silver glow, bright enough to silhouette the dunes, sparse trees and tents. This was my first experience of desert and I felt very drawn to its austere beauty and seductive silence. I sat away from the tents under the moon enjoying a few moments alone savouring my surroundings until the sharp cold drove me back under the covers.
What seemed minutes later, I was woken for breakfast, eaten as the pink dawn spread over the sky and the dunes. I could quite happily have stayed longer in the desert, but tour schedules are tight and it was time to trot back to our starting point and return to the city. I felt that Drrrr and I had bonded in our short time together and I was sad to say goodbye.

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Comments by other Members

crazylady at 12:26 on 23 October 2004  Report this post
A lovely taster of the early part of your trip - but I'd like to read more!
I hope this only the beginning of a longer chapter.
I could picture the others taking the Micky of your snot collection and the boy's disgust and loved the tic-picking Mike, and the farting camels - great.
More please.

A couple of typos - Line 4 "leading him to the largest beast" I think you missed out the 'to' and line 5 think it should read "our animal - not my animal.
Take care

sue n at 12:46 on 23 October 2004  Report this post
Thanks CL - typos corrected

anisoara at 13:41 on 23 October 2004  Report this post

An excellent topic for a travel piece! This is really funny and interesting. A full-fledged camel safari in India.

I know that you’re just writing about a slice of the safari, but I did still wonder what the overall itinerary/goal of the camel safari was. Were you heading to any particular place, or was it a circular trip? How long did the safari last?

I worked for a travel writer (I think she was BA travel writer of the year a few years back) and I remember that on one occasion when she was coaching a young man who was writing a travel piece, she had him start with something really memorable. It struck me that your nose-blowing episode would be a fantastic way into this piece.

This was very funny: “gattling guns of farting and artillery barrages of dung thudding into the sand.” - It’s Gatling gun, isn’t it?

“as if I had just smeared myself with camel dung” - This is utterly perfect! Very funny.

Some technical points I noted along the way:

“as big Mike, six foot tall and nearly as wide, climbed out of the jeep and held a huddled conference” - I think you need to make it THEY held a huddled conference, as otherwise it looks like Mike held a huddled conference.

“all the camel's doleful eyes” - camels’

“a close call as to which end I slithered off but I managed to cling on” - I think you need a ’would’ in here, as in “I would slither off”/“I’d slither off”.

“once Drrrrr was stabilised settled comfortably on my high perch.” - “I” before settled.

I also thought you might mention earlier in the piece that this is the Thar desert you’re writing about.

And I found the last sentence a little confusing.

Good piece! (Now I need to write mine!)


sue n at 14:18 on 23 October 2004  Report this post
Thanks Ani
I appreciate your comments.
I will make a few changes - but first I have to take my sick cat to the vet.
Sue n


2 injections and a large increase in my overdraft later, I have ammended the piece. I agree that it needed a punchier start. Is this one better?

anisoara at 21:57 on 23 October 2004  Report this post
Welcome back, Sue!

I hope your cat is feeling better with the injections (presumably they were for her(him)?)

This definitely reads better. It looks like you've made a few other little changes along the way, too. I like them. And the ending is clear now.

And I do think this start is more attention-grabbing.


Richard Brown at 12:04 on 27 October 2004  Report this post
Very enjoyable! I'm not the greatest admirer of camels (and I have consistently avoided giving them any power over me) but I loved this piece. It brought vivid memories of desert scenes. You have fashioned a very engaging account out of a few human (and animal!) incidents; the essence of travel writing it seems to me.
My only slight reservation is about that opening sentence which (purely my taste!) is too long to be truly attention-grabbing. I would prefer: 'It is surprising what you can learn from a 24 hour camel safari. In the Thar Desert in India I discovered....'
But, as I said, a lovely piece.

sue n at 18:25 on 27 October 2004  Report this post
Thanks Richard - yes changing the start did read better.
What have you got against camels, they are lovely beasts? I even repeated the experience a couple of years ago going on a 3 day safari in the Mongolian desert.Magic.

Richard Brown at 18:55 on 27 October 2004  Report this post
Well, they're tolerable I suppose but I draw the line firmly before 'lovely' ('beasts' is ok!). And they do pong from various sources and, for reasons best known to themselves, they chew SAND which gives me the creeps. Oh, and they make very grumpy, grumbling noises. Have you ever seen a camel smile?
Bear in mind, though, that I'm scared of horses, so maybe it's all Freudian. (I like bears, though, and lions).

Account Closed at 21:40 on 28 October 2004  Report this post
Hi Sue,
I too enjoyed the mix of the setting, and the human experience. I did a camel thingy in Morocco and could really relate to this (although my backside seemed to come off worse than yours!)

i've just been reading 'Eats shoots and leaves' - the chapter where she talks about hyphens. According to her, your first line should be 'a 24-hour camel safari' (and maybe even one between the camel safari), '17-stone man' and doesn't it need to be milimetre-long insect? and 'a 12-year-old Indian schoolboy'

Nice writing

sue n at 17:31 on 29 October 2004  Report this post
Thanks Elspeth
I never was no-good, at all that grammer stuff.

DerekH at 10:27 on 01 November 2004  Report this post
Hi Sue,

As usual I can only comment as a reader, since I'm no writing expert.

I enjoyed reading this but, personally, I felt that I needed to be 'Wowed' or drawn in a bit more. I haven't been to India, or trekked through a desert, or even been close to a camel (maybe saw one at a safari park once)...so I felt that I wanted the picture, the heat, the smells, and the atmosphere spelling out for me just a bit more, as well as perhaps a little more of your own sense of wonder at being in this place. Others may prefer the straight forward approach, so it's possibly just me. I hope I don't cause any offence (because I'm only offering my personal, honest, and very amateur opinion :) but I felt that you put the piece across with the sense that you'd seen it all before. For example, there were obviously many wonderful moments, such as sitting around a fire drinking beer in the desert, but as the reader, I wanted you to bring me into that scene and that special moment, rather than going straight to Mike's tic (although I think it's great to keep all the funny 'human' stuff). I just wanted 'sit with you' for a moment, so to speak, and take some time to soak up the amazing environment. (Perhaps your cold spoiled the experience for you?)

Once again, I don't mean any of that in a bad way, and I really did enjoy reading this...it's just that I'm a sucker for extra-visual/atmospheric stuff.


sue n at 17:44 on 01 November 2004  Report this post
Derek - I groaned when I read your comments - not at you, but at the fact that you are telling me exacting what my editor is always saying. One of these days I will learn.
You are right of course, I do gloss over the detail, glide over experiences and emotions,not develop scenes.
I probably won't rewrite this but I will try harder next time.
I am grateful for your comments.
Sue n

DerekH at 18:08 on 01 November 2004  Report this post
Sorry Sue... I hope it helped anyway. I didn't intend it to sound negative.
At least you have an editor... I can only dream of being in that position :)


CheekyGrin at 11:18 on 11 November 2004  Report this post
Hi Sue

I liked this but I would like to say I think it would be worth putting a blank line between each paragraph to aid readability as the solid block of text it is now makes it much harder to read.

I think the descriptions of the camel name, camel farting, the snot and the tic work particularly well and made me laugh.

Keep it up!


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