“What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well” -Antoine de Saint-Exupery
And there it was…A well….well-hidden under the muddy platform with an opening just large enough for only one pail at a time to reach in to draw water but when we had reached the camp resort, there was no activity, we failed to notice the well, covered as it was. However, by six in the evening, when we returned to our tents from the camel safari, the well was a buzz of activity. The scene seemed to have come alive straight out of a painting…..birds returned to their nests chirping noisily and women dressed in riot of vivid red, green, violet ghagharas covered in tiny sparkling mirrors that reflect the bright sun and the golden expanse of sand, their arms full of ivory bangles and heads covered with colorful embroidered ‘odhni’, drawing water from the well and carrying the pots precariously balanced on their heads back to their huts.
I was surprised to find sweet water well in middle of a desert. The old guard cum handyman at the resort, amused at our surprise, pointed out two more wells a little farther from the camp towards the village. He told us that the wells now maintained by the villagers, once belonged to some higher caste family who generously gifted the wells to the villagers.
With the intent of spending some quality time with friends and family, our group of fifteen including kids, planned a night stay at Khuri, away from the chaos of over-commercialized, overcrowded and expensive ‘Sam’ sand-dunes of Jaisalmer. We dumped our overnight bags in the tented accommodation and after gorging on delicious dal-pakoras and large mugs of tea and coffee at the resort, readied for camel safari.
A huge century-old Neem tree with its thick green foliage spreading out into a large umbrella, like one rich great-grandfather who takes all the children under his wings protecting, nurturing and bestowing upon them all the lavishness, sat silently at some distance from the thatched roof mud huts and tents of the resort, near the water-well, observing all the excited flurry of activities and us, the city dwellers. It was the only big green colored thing in sight on that brownish golden landscape.
The resort provided us with young robust camels, their seats decorated beautifully with colourful tassels and cloth sewn in patchwork. A spare camel cart was loaded with cold beverages and munchies for the kids along with instructions to bring the waste back. Our little procession travelled up and down the slopes of dunes deeper into the desert away from our resort.
The magnificent rolling dunes at Khuri with windblown twisted peaks like a soft-serve ice-cream and ripple patterned sand, stretch for miles till the horizon shimmering with a golden hue when the sun sinks in the vastness of this pristine lesser known desert destination.
The young and grown-ups alike were tempted to frolic…and sure enough, just like the carefree two-year olds with us, we slid, rolled and jumped away on sands. My twelve-year-old, the eldest among the kids, took off her Crocs clogs and dared me to race her up the slope of the dunes which of course was a very difficult task for me, what with my feet sinking at every step and sand filling up in my shoes!
Young village teenage boys, very adept at handling camels, showed off their riding skills and raced the camels across the sweeping landscape encouraging a bunch of other visitors to ride a running camel. Suraj, a young boy with a ‘dhol’ on his shoulder persisted till we gave in and heard him sing folk song with dhol beats… and he was actually quite good! No sooner had the young artist left with his hundred rupee prize money; we were hounded by a father-daughter pair who wanted us to see the ten-year old girl dance to folk music. Fearing an avalanche of more such performers, we declined the request of the duo choosing to laze on clean carpet of sand instead, hoping for a spectacular sunset with our stock of beers, soft drinks and munchies.
In a bid to outdo each other, everybody took turns taking shots of the beautiful sunset, silhouettes of each other, camels and of that one odd deer which strayed too close to the visitors at the dunes, before riding back towards the camp resort.
Though sun had set but it wasn’t quite dark at about six in the evening and there was quite some gathering a little away from the resort. That is when we discovered the existence of a well some hundred meters from the camp.
As the darkness enveloped the whole camp resort, the activity at well dwindled and kerosene lamps along with some electric ones lit up. The chill of January evening forced us to huddle near the campfire in the resort.
The stage was set for the entertainment of the resort guests. Benches and tables were put up around the campfire, leaving space for the ‘Kalbeliya’ the snake charmer, dancers. Another surprise awaited us in the form of the dancers.
Dressed and adorned as women, complete with ‘lehengas’, bangles, face paint, kajal…the two men danced to the folk songs on burning ember or on small saucers, their waists swaying like snakes. It was not until we all joined in to dance around the camp-fire and the two dancers spoke up, that we realized the entertainers were men!
For people at Khuri, life is tough. The extremely hot dry weather and sand storms force them to work during mornings and evenings. The wells are life-lines and the villagers diligently preserve water making efforts to reuse some water for whatever little farming they are able to do.
At home, I try to use water as carefully as possible but the amount of gadgets that we use in city unfortunately tend to waste water more. One night at Khuri made me realize how we take the water supply granted. Though I might not give up my city life all together, but in a small way, I have started recycling water wherever possible. I hope a little change in my lifestyle is a step to save environment.
Khuri, a small village, is about 40 kms south-west of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan and relatively lesser known destination among tourists who spend time at ‘Sam sand dunes’ at Jaisalmer. There is nothing much to do at Khuri but because of its cleaner dunes some tourist who do visit it, go for night sky watching with their sleeping bags. Those who have time may take a chance of spotting some wild life too.
Jaisalmer is connected to Jodhpur, the nearest airport city, via road and railway. Taxis can be hired till Khuri or visitors can drive up to the village.
November to March is best time to be in desert of Khuri. The temperature during night may plummet to below zero at times but the day temperatures are pleasant. Summers are very harsh and absolutely not the weather to visit.
Besides cattle rearing and some farming the people do not have much avenues for earning. The village is slowly waking up to the tourism opportunity because of overcrowding at Jaisalmer dunes. Some home-stays and camp resorts have come up which have mud huts with thatch roofs and tent accommodation.
The resorts offer packages of Rs 1600 to Rs 1800 per adult and Rs 650 to Rs 800 per child which include breakfast and traditional dinner and a camel safari. The camel riders, who act as guides, however expect some reward money for the safari.