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Million-star hotel

We’ve had three discussions now on marriage. I am unsure if this is because it is all our limited Hindi will allow or if he is just please to have found a common soul. I am “travelling the world”, in his words, unmarried and not looking to marry. He’s been scouring the desert now for at least seven years (that is how long Ram Pyaari, his first camel, has been with him), batting off claims from his family to settle down. Each year he goes back to his village for three months, when the Thar heat is unbearable and he can no longer conduct camel safaris, and must listen to admonishments. “But here, I roam, I eat. I am free. We have only one life to life. Correct?” He ends all of his sentences with this: Correct? I say, Correct, and readjust myself on the camel.

I tell him the places I’ve travelled. He says I am a foreigner only and I don’t think it is meant as an insult or a compliment—only, to him, a fact. He tells me the people he’s met. He’s an excellent imitator: he does a range of accents for us—Japanese, English, Australian. He shows us the blanket at Australian gave him once, for his camel, and another trinket left by an American. At night, at the bonfire, he rattles off the places in India we should see. He’s seen none of these himself “but I hear, you know, ji? People come and say ‘I like this, I no like this’ and I remember.” He wants to see the world now. Leave and explore. Like our marriage conversation, this is repeated, twice, thrice. He tells us of love stories in the desert: an Austrian who falls in love with a camel driver. They live deep in the Thar now, having opened a hotel. They hold their wedding in Jaisalmer, with desert flowers. I ask him about hotels here, and he says that, in his way of his, “This only million-star hotel”. I like the phrase. He is full of them: “Camel Power, 24 hour” and several that involve Hindi, and which I have therefore promptly forgotten.

At night, the sand turns to rock. I wake up in pain and then readjust, waiting to wake up in pain again. At one such turn, I open my eyes to the night sky. It has grown darker now, the moon travelling across, and I see what he means—million-star hotel indeed. It is incredible.

When we leave, he wanders back into the desert. He doesn’t have another camel safari, not for two days. To have mastered the harshest and fiercely beautiful landscape there is and to be trapped by it—I wonder if he ever wakes up and is sick of the view.

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