West of Jodhpur, the highway belongs to the Armed Forces. The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) maintains these roads. Bounded by scrub jungle, rocky wasteland and sparse cultivation the macadam runs long and straight towards the sallow sands of Jaisalmer. From here, it runs further west towards the border with Pakistan. Forming the final frontier, the sands of the Thar stretch westward, agnostic of manmade borders, across both countries — what is east to Pakistan is west to India, but what does the desert care for such arbitrary demarcations? A few kilometres out of Jaisalmer the highway continues towards the Sam dunes; here we veered right towards the hotel that hosted us for the next three nights. Suryagarh, magnificent as its name, rose like a vision in the desert.
Over the next three days my senses absorbed this astonishing desert landscape – its loamy complexion confused the white balance settings of my camera, and nearly everything I shot appeared yellowed with age. Even my eyes saw everything in a jaundiced light, mellowed by the strains of the algoza and the ravanhatta, and the haunting, soothing voices of the manganiyars from whose persons music sprinkled like rain.
This desert is old. This desert was once an ocean. Traces of that ancestry abound in the fossil beds and stratified canyons that seasonal rivers have scoured out. Life abounds, it thrives, in this bleakness of this terrain. Look underfoot – ants are scurrying. Scarabs are glistening with the last dew of the night. In the vicinity of an oasis, sand-coloured dragonflies crackle their wings. Painted orange butterflies savour nectar from the yellow blossoms of the Khejri tree (Prosopis cineraria) and goatherds seek shelter in the cool shade of the Jaal (Salvadora oleiodes).
Wheatears and Western Grey Shrikes flit among the thorn shrubbery. Desert Jirds peek out of their subterranean hideouts, munching and chomping as if grass was going out of fashion. Raptors soar over the land, seeking prey. There are eagles and buzzards, kites and falcons. Eurasian Griffons and Cinerous Vultures — rare anywhere else in the country — circle in the sky. A small band of Demoiselle cranes joins them. Out of the unknown a Common Raven, black as Poe’s poetry, visits but does not stay.
As always, I saw more than I could photograph.
In its frugal sparseness, the desert is generous (it is from the desert that the people of Rajasthan derive the vastness of their heart). And the desert had so much to offer me besides its charm and its hospitality. It wrapped me in its heart and showed me its treasures. Only because I dared look.
Hope you liked this post. If you’re tripping on the desert, you must read these past posts from The Green Ogre archives
- Birdsong in Grindelwald – Notes from the Bernese Alps - June 7, 2020
- Why so serious? Eavesdropping on dogs and cats at Kabini - April 22, 2020
- A Sea Snake out of water - April 13, 2020