sand, space and silence: journey into rajasthan’s thar desert.
“I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Sometimes you don’t notice the constant presence of something until faced with its absence. That thing for me here in India is noise.
The constant whirring of fans, honking of horns, hacking and spitting and coughing from men. The traffic and touts and trains and a thousand other little sounds – some good, some bad – that are somehow unavoidably always there.
Except, I recently discovered, in the desert – in the Thar Desert, to be exact, a 77,000 square-mile swathe of golden sand stretched across the far western edge of Rajasthan, on the very border between India and Pakistan.
I’d spent the week in Jaisalmer, a fantastic little fort city that you have to promise me right now to visit when you’re on the Subcontinent (and I mean it…go to Jaisalmer!), but it wasn’t until my last night that I finally ventured out into the desert.
The standard “thing to do when in Jaisalmer” is an overnight camel safari, but because we were short on time, we took a jeep out just to catch the sunset, specifically from a sand dune named Khuri.
After a full-on week of documenting the finish line of the Rickshaw Run, to suddenly be surrounded by nothing but sand and space and silence was jarring – but in an absolutely positive way, as though the TV and radio and blender are all going at the same time, and then swiftly, magically, they’re not.
At first, I had grand plans for a photo essay about our sand dune sunset. I culled through my pictures from Monday night, edited and grouped them all together in a little folder, like a shepherd bringing in his flock for the night.
I wanted you to see the stirring beauty of two girls walking home in the desert with water balanced on their heads.
I wanted you to see the delicate hollows left by footsteps on the patterned sand.
I wanted you to see the striking sight of camels silhouetted against the setting sun.
But then I thought:
No, that just won’t do.
Because as much as I wanted to show you all that, I also want you to feel the jeep rumbling beneath your seat as you speed away from Jaisalmer, and the wind ruffling Ricky’s bandage around his badly burnt hand (note: don’t hold a firework as it goes off, it won’t end well).
I want you to hear the beat of a local drummer as he plays on the summit of the dune.
I want you to taste the salt of chips and Masala Magic snacks and a cool beer (or two) to wash them down.
And so, my friends, I turned to the footage I also captured that night and whipped it together with a very special soundtrack: a song called “Mashallah” from Bollywood’s latest, Ek Tha Tiger, that’s currently all the rage here in India.
Ready to hit the desert? Let’s go (or Challo! as you say in Hindi)…