Into the desert

Jamba – 8th February

A very leisurely rise and late breakfast today. Time spent lounging around the freezing pool looking out over the desert and reading books. Managed to get enough WiFi signal to get emails and blog which was pleasing after a while without it.

We had a cookery demonstration at 11.00 a.m. ……some people will protest about anything it seems! We learnt how to make carrot halva which was delicious.

Lunch followed and then we had. Time for a post-prandial nap before getting in to the jeeps and heading off into the desert. We drove along some well made single track roads only having to leave them when confronted by wagons or tractors overburdened by their loads.

Our first stop was a village school where we were created with great delight and caused complete disruption of the lessons. The school was for 6 – 16 year olds and we were delighted to see that girls were there as well as boys. This has only been the case in the last 5 years. The pupils all looked very smart in their uniforms, although some wore coats as it was chilly in the classroom. They sat on mats on the floor, although there were desks and chairs for those taking exams.

We stood at the back of a class of about 23 which we think was being taken by the headteacher. He was teaching them English and particularly the difference between nouns, pronouns and adjectives. He involved us, asking us questions about grammar. The pupils listened attentively as well they might for it was clear that he stood no nonsense! We distributed pens to each pupil and took photographs. I asked if that was alright and he shrugged and said yes in a way that suggested only fools would want to do that – perhaps he is right?! He asked if I thought the lesson was good and of course I told him it was excellent.

We looked in at other classes which all seemed to be about the same size. We gathered there were about 200 in the school, although I think it may have been smaller. Pupils gathered on the raised platform outside and two pupils recited ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’. Suki gave them a poem her Ayah taught her as a child in India and Christine got the whole group going with ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes’ which they loved. Overall we were impressed with the school and the aspirations of the pupils who clearly wanted to learn and get good jobs.

We drove off and stopped at a fairly modern house and met a family who specialise in camels. The men were out with the herds, but we met the wife, grandmother and children. The camels are used in the hot season for transport because they ca cope best with the sandstorms which will cause tractors and lorries to seize up. However the camel business is in decline as new technology takes over.

From there we headed out across the desert sands, slipping, sliding and getting stuck. One of the jeeps behind us plunged off a steep sand bank and managed to stay upright, although its occupants all went a bit white. Late we all had the experience – Alton Towers eat your heart out! We passed groups of the small wild deer called Chinkara and saw a desert fox, but I couldn’t get a picture of it.

We came to a village of weavers and one particular house, now a workshop. Here we watched a man and his wife weaving cotton on a hand loom. Keeping the thread taught using combs to pack the thread into the warp. It was painstaking work and the two of them managed only a metre a day. The patterns were lovely and when he offered some for sale afterwards none of us could resist. At only less than £5 for a small mat it was remarkably good value for money.

I climbed up the sand hill at the back and took some pictures looking down onto the work huts. Beyond stood the family’s new brick an concrete house which they had made from their hard labour in the last year or so. Water in this region is delivered by tanker and put into large tanks in the ground. I stood on the hilltop and drank in the stillness and calm of the desert. It was so beautiful in the evening light.

From there we slid and dropped across the dunes towards another village and a house which is owned by an elderly couple who made us very welcome. The house is completely traditional and made of clay with smooth dung floors hand smoothed each season. It was spotless and the lady of the house did not like her husband to stay in his hut as he made it untidy. A circular stick hedge with a charpoy in it showed where he had to sleep each night! Various relations, many of them young men turned up to greet us. They all looked very smart as there was a wedding taking place in the house at the bottom of the hill. We had passed it on the way up and had met the groom who our driver knew. We were able to congratulate him on his forthcoming nuptials. The house was bedecked with coloured tenting and bright coloured lights.

The moon was rising and the sun setting over the desert and it seemed an idyllic spot to live, high on the hill overlooking this largely empty landscape. The husband lit his pipe, which probably contained opium and passed it around amongst our drivers which was slightly worrying. He was a merry old soul and clearly held court amongst his male visitors while living Nader a strict regime imposed by his wife. This good lady had lit her fire and was busy preparing chai for us all. This was served on immaculate metal bowls and tasted very good. We were guests and welcomed into her home. Her husband and the drivers sat on the mound outside the house where any traveller could rest and receive some food and drink as is the custom in these parts. The sun glowed orange and lit the desert with a gentle glow. Frankly it was hard to leave, but it was time for dinner, so we reluctantly got back into the jeeps and drove away.

Back at the hotel, Abhiraj, the young owner, had had prepared a barrow of street food for us to try. Needless to say it was all delicious and we tucked in washing it down with G&Ts. Braziers were lit and we sat around comfortably eating and reflecting on the afternoon. Then it was time for DINNER!!

Yet more delicious food! Mental note to self, “a strict regime must be followed once back in the U.K.” But then how many times have I said the same thing? Ah well…… camels tomorrow.

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