My Escape from a Creep in the Deserts of Rajasthan
I was sitting in the red sand of the desert not far from the border of Pakistan and India. All I could see in front of me was the sun setting beyond the rolling hills of the dunes where the land met the sky. I shook my head slowly and exhaled a strong and frustrated breath from my lungs. I had one palm on my forehead and the other on the soft shoulder of a camel next to me.
I’d got myself a great bargain earlier that day when my train arrived in Jaisalmer, a city in the region of Rajasthan, West India. I had haggled with a young Indian chap named Sachin to a price I thought reasonable to get to my hostel. Sachin had been a tuk-tuk driver for quite a while, so he knew all the best places to visit. “Even places tourists don’t know about,” he told me, which is always a selling point — show me authenticity and I’m there with a backpack on.
“Where are you going while you’re here?” Sachin asked.
“I’m definitely keen on a camel safari trek,” I said.
As it turned out, Sachin was actually a camel safari driver! And so he offered me a price cheaper than what I’d discovered researching online. We dropped my stuff at the hostel as I checked in, then went on our merry way to the camels. Woohoo!
It was too far to travel via tuk-tuk, so we had to go via motorbike. As we roared along the open freeway on a journey meant to take an hour, I became confused when we stopped in the middle of nowhere amongst some old stone ruins — broken structures held together by yellow stones were scattered around us.
“Where are we?” I asked him.
“This is an interesting town. It’s hundreds of years old. It’s abandoned because it’s haunted,” Sachin told me.
As the legend goes, the Paliwal Brahmins lived here in the 18th century, and the ruler of the village, renowned for his debauchery and unfair tax-collecting demands, had his eye on one girl in the community — the daughter of the village chief. If he didn’t get her, he would increase the communities’ taxes.
Feeling the man’s wrath, the entire community decided to flee in the night, leaving everything behind. No one knows where the Paliwals went, but it is believed they left behind a curse.
“Want to take a seflie?” Sachin asked.
“Yes,” I replied awkwardly, and tensed my shoulders while Sachin placed his arm around one and shoved his brick phone in front of our faces.
“Are you married?” he asked.
Fuck, here we go, I thought.
“I have a boyfriend,” I lied. “Can we go to the camel safari now?” I asked, a hint of worry in my voice, which shook as I spoke the words.
So we were off again, riding down the highway and I watched as the sun started setting — creating a shimmering haze in the horizon and making the red dust appear a little darker.
Finally, we reached the camels. They were amazing: giant, magical creatures with lazy oblong eyes fringed with delicate eyelashes. I wondered if they were lazy because they didn’t give a fuck, or because they’d accepted their fate as slaves to humans who’d robbed them of their freedom so that people like me can ride on their backs.
Guilt aside, I was in the moment, and Sachin helped me up onto the camel. It slowly trotted with us down the highway, before Sachin steered us on a 90-degree angle and we started heading towards the rolling hills and into the evening sky. I could see people gallivanting in the distance across the sand-dunes and erupting in laughter and excitement, but the more we wandered, the more I realised we were far, far away. Soon Sachin had found us an isolated spot in the dunes next to nothing but the dirt of the desert.
I thought for a moment: Would Mum or Dad know where I was, somewhere on the outskirts of Pakistan?
I realised I was by myself, with a random stranger and there was nothing I could do about it.
“Should we get a drink?” Sachin asked.
As a solo travelling female, you know to always be cautious if a stranger asks you for a drink. Though I have experienced some amazing moments with strangers over drinks, I had a feeling that this wasn’t going to be one of them.
“I don’t drink alcohol,” I replied.
“Sure you do,” he said. “White girls love to drink. They party, they dance… so let’s drink.”
I started feeling pretty tense and anxious and wondered how I was going to get out of this one. I plonked myself on the ground and placed my palm along the shoulder of the majestic camel.
There I was, 40 kilometres out of Jaisalmer’s town centre, with a camel and a man who had ever-so-politely offered me a discount on the ultimate Rajasthan experience — travelling via camelback in the middle of the desert.
“I want to go to my hostel,” I said. Sachin began to approach me. I looked into his eyes and he appeared disappointed and a bit heartbroken as he frowned and raised his hands with his palms to the sky.
“Why won’t you marry me?” he asked.
I realised that he was just a lonely dude who was desperate for someone to love. Luckily I had a fake boyfriend, so it wasn’t going to be me. But I had to keep my cool if I was going to get out of that situation.
“Sachin, I can’t marry you. I have a boyfriend and I’m allergic to alcohol. Can we go back now?”
He started getting frustrated.
“You’re coming to my hostel and you’re staying with me,” he demanded.
Perfect — I thought — an excuse to go back to the town centre with him.
So I found myself again on the back on the motorbike, but this time in the pitch black of night, and going twice the speed.
I wondered if I was a) going to crash and die, b) be forced into marriage by this delusional random man or c) something I hadn’t even thought of yet. I watched in the distance as small white dots enlarged and became bright beams in my eyes. I contemplated the idea of perhaps jumping off the motorbike and hitchhiking back into town. But what if whoever picked me up was even worse than this guy?
I could probably punch this little dweeb in the nuts, I thought, or gauge his eyes out. Or, I could probably just leg it. I was a competitive runner as a child, so had confidence that I could bolt. But the speed of the motorbike was certainly not safe to jump off. When the pathway for a Choose Your Own Adventure storybook is certain death, it’s not an option.
Finally, we arrived at his hostel and before he or I could spare a mental thought, I was off running for my life into the distance as far away from him as possible. I hid behind a building and while puffing exhaustedly, I peered around the corner, expecting to see a small Indian man chasing after his lost future wife. But luckily I could see nothing beneath the soft lighting of the street lamps.
In vain I tried to spot something I could recognise. I could faintly see tuk-tuks parked on the street with men sleeping on them, waiting on a ride from a passenger who was hours away. I saw street dogs pick up scraps and men chatting over cigarettes and small cups of hot drink. It was calm. I was calm.
Thankfully, I soon recognised the station and I put all of my faith into my natural instincts, following my nose to my hostel. I knocked on the front door and an employee opened it.
“You are back earlier than I expected,” he said. “How was it?”
“It was good!” I lied, faking a smile. I really couldn’t be fucked going into the story. “I’m pretty tired,” I added.
I gave him a gentle nod to symbolise goodnight and pottered around the free book exchange beside his front desk. I picked up a novel, took it to my room and relaxed after a hectic evening in Rajasthan.
Cover by Atlas Green