At the crack of dawn, I woke up to a cold morning in the Ekal maata mandir. After having a cup of warm tea, I was waiting in anticipation for the first light so that i could make my way to the Great Rann.
At 6:30 AM, the priest of the temple came out and told me there was a person outside who was going to take the camel to the salt desert and he asked me to accompany this person. As I went out, i was greeted by the smell of camel poop and bidi. The camel driver (for the lack of a better word) introduced himself and told me he was heading INTO the rann and said i could join.
So, there was this huge camel and then there was a cart tied to the camel which is used to hold the driver plus the salt that would be mined in the rann. The camel driver said the camel could pull a tonne of salt plus a driver and a passenger.
Now, I have a personal rule never to sit in any vehicle which was powered by any animal and so, i told him i would walk along side the cart and asked him to get on the cart. But, he laughed and told me that I’d not be able to keep up. Reluctantly, I climbed up the cart and sat beside him and the camel took off.
Boy was it fast!! I’m sure we were doing at least 20 kmph and the camel powered cart just flew over the desert terrain (mostly comprised of mud). It was a cold 9 degree Celsius and the first light was just beginning to appear. We got chatting along the route and he said he needs to mine over 800 kilos of salt a day to get a profit of Rs 500. It would take over 6 hours of hard work in the sun to mine the salt and then load it into the cart. His job was to mine the salt manually and get it transported to the nearby factories for processing.
He took me 4 kms into the rann and said he’d have to make a detour from there and asked me to hop off. Along the way, I’d marked a lot of gps waypoints to ensure I’d not get lost on my return journey.
I got off the cart and thanked him and offered him Rs 200 for the ride conscious of the fact that, for the same camel ride in a touristy place, I’d have to shell out over Rs 1000 and that too for just a few minutes’ ride. He smiled politely at me and said i was a guest to his “home” and said he’d not accept the money. He wished me luck for the remainder of my trip and said “bas bhagvan se dua hai ki tum khayriyat se ghar laut jao” (I just pray for your safe return home).
How is it that, a person who had to feed a family of 3 kids and a wife earning Rs 500 a day for back breaking/tiring work refuse to take or fleece money from a toursit? I’d never understand…He went off alone on his cart leaving me in the middle of nowhere…A place I always craved to be in…
It was a heart warming moment in that cold, chilly morning…