The Thar desert that borders Pakistan and India is a place I had always imagined I’d visit at one point in my life. The unknown of the environment and the long history of conflict between both nations interested me. Josh and I found the opportunity to travel to the remote town of Jaisalmer in the middle of the Thar desert after our time in Udaipur.
Jaisalmer is a place you would imagine out of some sort of ancient middle eastern war movie. In the middle of the town sits this very large fort perched atop a mountain. Within the fort itself are several haveli’s where visitors can rent rooms and stay. Around the haveli’s are several merchants of every kind selling turbans, opium, and beaded textiles. Life here feels very different in compared to the rest of India. There is a sense that the people and this town have stopped in time and that change and evolution is an unknown concept.
The goal of our visit was to learn about the culture here and travel overnight by camel into the deep desert to sleep under the stars in the sand (this sounded like a good idea at the time). The night before we departed on our desert adventure we ended up at a notoriously famous government approved bang lassi shop that initially became popularized by the late Anthony Bourdain. After learning from the shop owner of the different strengths of lassi’s available to us, we picked our poison, downed the surprisingly delicious beverage, and made our way to a nearby restaurant for dinner. Like most of our dinners together in India, we people watched and waited hours for our food to arrive and then for the servers to take our food back and remake it because the wrong order was served.
At one point during the evening, I asked Josh if he was starting to feel the effects of the lassi. It was only until he stood up after dinner that it suddenly hit us both instantly. To say this was a feeling that was comparable to something either one of us had experienced in the past or even to this day is not possible. Who knows what’s actually in these lassi’s to begin with – other than the shop owner himself and maybe Anthony Bourdain who will now never be able to spill the beans, but it felt like we drank some sort of magic. We felt peaceful. Undisturbed by the chaotic and typically stressful environment around us. Everything had a feeling or a smell. Our bodies became hyper sensitive to everything – in a good way. I remember there was a warm breeze coming off of the desert this night. The sensation felt like a warm hug by a familiar presence wrapped around me.
After successfully making our way down the winding staircase and out of the restaurant, we sat down next to a cow on the street and observed the people and animals that passed by or hung around us out of curiosity. We sat in silence for who knows how long. At this point in time, I heard a soundtrack of favourite songs playing in my head – even though I had left all musical devices in my room. Distant memories and sounds replayed like a rolodex. Some time passed and I eventually regained my focus on Josh and noticed that he was starting to fall asleep. Maybe I should have let him be and today he’d have a good story about cuddling with a local cow in Northern India. Not knowing if I would soon start to feel the same, I gathered it was the safest option for us to retreat to our rooms and call it a night.
Up until this point, I hadn’t had drank a sip of alcohol in India because I was conscious of the fact that I wanted to stay sober in order to be more in tune with my emotions. Note, my relationship with substances before arriving in India wasn’t any different than a typical social 26-year-old professional. But I was aware of the fact that back in Toronto when I finished a stressful work day, or something was upsetting to me, it was a vice to be able to have a drink or a joint to chill out. Escapism through alcohol and drugs I feel is an epidemic in our culture. People consume in order to change their current state and “get away” from something that their body is telling them they should be staying sober in order to feel. I didn’t want to live like this. I didn’t want these social habits to evolve into an actual problem where it would be harder to reverse then address and lay a healthy foundation. I believe in moderation and having healthy relationships with substances. No one is perfect. We are human. We only know what’s truly best for ourselves and at the end of the day, it’s our decision to choose what type of relationship we have with substances that alter our state.
Climbing up a mountain in the middle of the night into a castle that has hundreds of doors that all look the same while you’re half asleep and on some sort of hallucinogen isn’t something I would recommend. We eventually found our haveli and our host was nice enough to leave some “light” on so we wouldn’t trip and fall on ourselves. Why do I have quotations around the word light in the previous sentence? Because this light was actually a handful of red lightbulbs that illuminated isolated areas of the surrounding walls - making our rooms look like a royal kings’ luxurious crack den. I do have to say the ambience was fitting.
Before I knew it, it was the morning. The red lights were still on and I had my glasses, jacket, phone and purse hugged tightly in my arms. It was time for the desert. If Jaisalmer wasn’t already adventure, we could never anticipate what was waiting for us in the desert later that night.