Jaisalmer’s Night Sky & The Death of Mr. Desert

March 6, 2013 § 1 Comment


So, against Owen’s wishes to avoid touristy type attractions we decided to go on a camel safari in Jaisalmer. I have to say it was actually pretty fantastic. After a two hour ride through the desert we arrived at a very minimal camp where we were greeted by some masala chai.  Three men were already working on our dinner—a simple but delicious meal of chappati, dal, potato and cabbage curry, and a spicy vegetable curry. While the men cooked we watched a truly spectacular sun set. As it so happens we ended up travelling with two unrelated German couples, who were both very lovely. Gerd and Angelika and Jan and Rebekka. We washed it all down with some Kingfisher lagers and then called an early night. The sky was completely dark by 9pm and I don’t think I’ve seen as many stars since I’ve been in the middle of the ocean on a cruise ship (one of the only pleasures of being on a cruise ship). I’m always amazed when I see a sky that clear that shooting stars are a nightly occurrence… happening, I’m guessing on average at least 2-3 times an hour. Owen took to camel riding like a boss… imagining long treks on the silk road helped him persevere the wilting heat—normally so enervating for the white man. He even did a midnight ride through the desert. So enchanted was he with the camel and the camel life that he did drink from the mellifluous teet of the camels of Bikaner. That night as he was drifting off to sleep, he said that if we end up with jobs teaching in some back water in a desert climate, we will definitely procure ourselves a camel (or two).


Ahem, but back to our safari… Dev, our camel man probably drank an equivalent of 4 shots of whiskey that he mixed with water in a huge water bottle. As night was falling he settled into the story of Mr. Desert—one Laxminarayan Bissa, a light-eyed native son who won that moniker by repeatedly winning a male beauty contest—”Mr. Desert” five times in a row following its founding in the mid 80s as a strategy to increase tourist interest in Jaisalmer. The contest officials figured it was pointless to hold a competition when the incarnation of the ideal was walking and living amongst them. So in its sixth year they decided to name Bissa Mr. Desert Emeritus… and permanent judge. Mr. Desert, a life long chewer of tobacco died of mouth cancer just last year. Before he died he had to shave off his magnificent beard and moustache—half the treasures that earned him his titles. Dev, our camel guide and much of the staff of Sahara travels left because Mr. Desert’s co. was taken over by his son and brother—who, according to his staff were pale shadows of Mr. Desert. It seemed to me, a familiar enough story—of  what happens when a father who is also a guru leaves an indivisible life behind him.

Dev’s made a great tour out of it though, and we enjoyed our time with him, and the story. So much so that I will leave him a glowing review on Trip Advisor.


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