March 17, 2008

Of Pelvic Thrusts, the Sheesha and Angry Camels

Normally I hate conducted tours. You get clubbed down with all sorts of holiday tourists with most of them trying to figure out if there’s any freebie that they are not having. For example, I have heard tourists in Jaipur looking at the Hawa Mahal and asking the tour operator, “So where is the special Rajasthani snack that’s mentioned in the brochure?” (Well, to be fair, we all do that. That’s human nature.)

But the point is that while at Singapore I realized that it is always better to explore a country as it is without any guide. To get lost in its by-lanes, to get helped out in the most unexpected way, to search for a place that serves something that resembles vegetarian food, has charms of their own.

But sometimes, it pays to be on one of these conducted tours. Let’s take for example the case of the desert safari here. I believe it’s a trip worth taking if you are in the Middle East, if for nothing else then at least for having within a few hours time a taste of the lifestyle of the Bedouins that once were and yes of course the belly dancing.

So before anything else you must leave the city of skyscrapers that tend to be forever growing upwards and drive down a road that’s as smooth as 98% fat free margarine at a speed of 160 kms/hr to hit the desert sands and of course be in time for the belly dancing.

The first thing that you should do in a desert safari is wish that you had been brought up in a Calcutta that was building its Metro Rail and loved its potholes or you had gone to a college in Rajasthan or Bangalore which were so hated by the authorities that the approach roads resembled the roads of World War II ravaged Europe or you had cycled down a paddy field with 10 villagers and their dogs chasing you thinking that you were the chicken thief. (Well, I had done the first two but just added the third in case you fit the description). In case none of your wishes have come true, you MUST pray to Dharam Paji and the other screen Gods of the 60s and 70s. Or if you are slightly westernized, you might pray to Gregory Peck. But trust me; it requires the blessings of a Dharam Paji. After all, you need to live to watch the belly dancing.

So you start with the dune bashing. It’s submitting your life at the hands of a crazy driver on a four wheel drive, (the one who drives at 160 km/hr) and remembering all the Chambal ki daaku movies which had a definite scene with the villains chasing the hero (or the other way round) on a jeep across the desert (that’s where the Western movies come in handy) Trust me it’s not easy. It’s like the worst roller coaster you have ever been on. One moment you see a huge dune rising up in front of you and the next you drive straight into it. So you realize that the seat belts are actually there for a reason. But when you drive straight into the shining sun it’s an experience worth having. And obviously you are going to the belly dancing.

So typically after your inside has been churned and churned again by this ride, you finally reach a nicely set up camp which is supposed to give you a taste of the world that was. You take pictures dressed as a Sheikh and hope if they threw in an oil well as a freebie that would be just awesome. And you look at the stage set for belly dancing and wonder.

But before that there are a couple of other things that you can do. You can go in for a camel ride. At the cost of being racist, I must say I find the camels of the Thar far more gentle, friendly and well mannered. You can go for the Henna painting on your hands or go and splurge at the amazingly overpriced souvenir shop and also buy your ultimate Arabian fantasy dress if you know what I mean. And you wonder if this dress would be worn by the belly dancer as well.

But before that there is Sheesha. The Europeans call it the Hubbly Bubbly and the Indians call it the Hookah. In fact, whether you’re a nicotine addict or not, it might just be a good idea to sit in the middle of the desert with the seesha in your hands, waiting of course for the belly dance to begin.

Now unless you are absolutely inattentive, you must have realized by now that the phrase belly dancing has appeared quite a few times in this post. Well for every Indian male, the typical idea of a Middle Eastern Belly Dance comes from the repeated viewing of the movie Sholay, but for certain people the connection is a bit stronger. If you have attended college and have a few extra pounds around your waist, you probably have been through it. You are the one who is picked up in the senior interaction sessions and asked to do the belly dancing. So I guess if someone decided to finally lay the questions in his mind to rest and understand for once the intricacies involved, you can’t blame him.

In most of the conducted tours however you will be disappointed. It might just turn out to be a Lebanese or an Eastern European dancer well past her prime doing the regular moves that had been age old secrets carefully guarded by the pelvic thrust specialists of Bollywood. But in the chill of night, when you hear the music and see the dance, you might just realize that traces of an art form still remains hidden waiting to be explored.

There are ways to get away from the formatted patterns of a tour. You can lie on your back and hear the sands sing to you. You can ride the camel, forget the really uncomfortable jeans and sing to yourself, Ajeem o shaan Shahensha, you can watch the sun set, imagine yourself to be in a land centuries ago where you were yet to light a fire to keep the wild animals of the night away.

And yes, the other good thing about conducted tours. You get good Indian vegetarian food. And yeah, that’s something important. Trust me.


Anonymous said...

Hello Banjo

Ran into your blog somehow. How are you doing kid?


Madhurjya (Banjo) said...

:) Hey Dhaaji. Zendagi Migzara pretty much sums it all up.