“Hey guys, your ride’s here,” Binu, our Indian tour guide says, his dimples piercing his cheeks, only when he smiles.
I grab the water bottle from my lap and slide my thongs back on. I’ve got into a habit of taking them off, everywhere and anywhere. Looking up, I realise why Binu is smiling. I’ve never watched a sunset like this.
Four camels, dressed in exquisite rainbow jewels. Standing right out the front. All four are chewing something, as their owners stand there, pulling smokes up to their lips, in sync.
Three young Indian boys are perched up on a fence behind – staring, with one foot over the other. It feels like we’re the talk of this little town. A beautifully run down, mustard clay building colours my vision. It’s got violet doors and a cow meandering out the front.
I’ve learned to expect anything in India.
We’re deep in the heart of Rajasthan in a charming little village town, Tordi Sagar. It feels off the Golden Triangle trail, with backpackers opting for the big-ticket cities and towns. How sad, I reflect. I can already feel this place has a special vibe to it.
Quickly distracted from my daydreaming, Binu encourages us to “pick our ride.” I boost myself up on a flat piece of wood covered by a canary yellow sheet, just to add a touch of glamour to our journey. We pick our patch of sheet and position ourselves with our legs dangling over the edge. Our two Canadian friends follow our lead.
Before we can snap our group photo, our camel starts walking and Mel aims to throw our phone back, but we get too far ahead. “You’ll catch up to us!” I say, as we all laugh.
We begin to weave our way through the gravel streets of town. There’s a gorgeous baby blue mosque with a wide, intrinsic arch. Making our way closer, I notice the intricate detail of the paintwork. Peeking through the arch, two little boys start running down the hill shouting “Namaste, Namaste!”
The little boy has no shoes and he’s wearing a back Hungry Birds t-shirt. His friend, a little girl, has a short violet floral dress on. She’s carrying a worn tyre, which they’re creatively rolling down the hill. They both have black leather necklaces on and handmade material bracelets.
As we continue our bumpy journey through town out to the sand dunes, we’re showered with love from local children. Their parents simply sitting down and waving at us, while the children run circles around our camel. Constant waves, kids and elderly shouting ‘Hello’ and ‘Namaste’, and beautiful old grandmas opening one door smiling, just to watch us go by.
“One photo, one photo”, the kids ask, inquisitively. They don’t ask for any sweets or money, but just want to see what they look like on your camera. Brothers and sisters play together. People get along here.
The colourful personalities of this town are undeniable. Turning right off the main road onto the sand dunes, my heart is about to explode with love. I’ve never felt more welcomed to a place. Ten minutes on, we reach the rolling dunes, with the golden round sun close to piercing the horizon. The late afternoon sun giving the dunes a gentle, mysterious glow. I follow the large footprints in the sand from our camels, and I start to count them, without even realising.
With smiles and sunsets energising me after a long 12-hour bus ride, I start to reflect as this day draws to a sensational close.
Life is different here. The things we look at as basic rights, they don’t have – food, cleanliness, money, opportunities, and a hot shower. We have so much to be grateful for, but most of the time we don’t even see it.
These people make the most out of what they’ve been given. Their life is pre-dictated for them, depending on the family they’re born into – the caste system. Compare this to our life back home. We have the power to do anything we want with our lives. But does this work against us, to debilitate us? Too many options. Too much pressure.
Is it a curse back home that we know more, have more and expect more… I reflect. The highlights on social media – is it a poison in itself? Is it what’s making us unhappy? Do other people have these epiphanies?
We met this girl two days ago. She was working at a restaurant that supports acid burn victims. This one girl shared her story about her mum burning her with acid because she continued to give birth to girls, not boys.
The only difference between this girl and me is that we’re both born in different continents. That’s it.
There are many lessons I’m learning in India, but this is the most important one. We’re all the same. And you’ve got to have the cold showers, see the street kids, and feel these emotions to understand this.
We travel because so we can see the place we come from with new eyes and extra colours. Coming back to where you started isn’t the same as never leaving. You learn. You appreciate. You grow. You see.