I woke up late Sunday morning in my hotel bed in Pushkar. I chose to sleep in rather than take the optional excursion of a morning hike to a hilltop temple; sometimes you just need the extra rest after being on the go for two weeks straight.
Some members of our group knew about my birthday, but I didn’t expect anyone to remember as we had only known each other a total of 6 days at this point. Regardless, I got a few “Happy birthday” greetings, plus I knew we had a fun day in India planned, so I was already having a great 31st birthday.
I spent sometime in the market with Cindy, another of the Canadian group members. We had a delicious lunch at a Lonely Planet recommended restaurant called “Honey & Spice”. Great food, slow service…whatever! It’s India, right?
Eventually, we made our way back to the hotel and got ready for an evening in the desert.
I decided to stay overnight in the desert with some other group members, so I packed some kind of an overnight bag…what does one need to in order to survive the Rajasthani desert for one night? I packed my deodorant and toothbrush.
Most of us met around 4:15pm and took a drive to where we would choose our own special transportation in order to reach our desert destination; camels. Mine was named Krishna and he was beautiful!
For 90 minutes, our convoy of camels trekked their way through the desert, lead by camel trainers, who must do a TONNE of walking. Impressive!
I was the first one to arrive by camel to our site for the evening. As advised by our tour guide, I disembarked as quickly as humanly possible because I was scared that Krishna would decide to lie on his side while I was still on board. Turns out I didn’t need to move that fast…the camel trainer let me know; “Slowly! Slowly.” Krishna did lie down shortly after our ride came to an end; he looked exhausted. To his credit, I’m not the lightest load.
As everyone stepped down from their respective camels, we made sure to take photos with them, as well as a group photo. It seemed to be taking a long time to finish with the photos and Danielle kept asking me to take very specific photos for her, even as the rest of the group was walking away.
I soon caught up and came to the spot where we would enjoy dinner in the desert. Blankets and small tables were laid out in an even “L” shape, with a fire pit in the middle. I settled in between Harriet and Dorothee. The desert men who had come with us laid out some more low tables, three stacked on top of each other, close to me in the middle of our “L”. Then all of a sudden, the rest of our group burst out from behind a hut, carrying balloons and blowing on noise makers and throwing rose petals all over me and popping a confetti gun over my head. Oh, they also threw pan candy everywhere and yelled “HAPPY BIRTHDAY HELEN!!”.
You don’t expect this level of love from a group of strangers you’ve known for a week. I guess travelling together and getting sick together and looking out for each other by necessity bonds people rather quickly. I feel so fortunate and humbled to have ended up in this group of amazing, kind, loving, open-minded people. We all get along and I feel like I’ve gained a second family.
The cake was brought out, and we were told that birthdays in India were celebrated by serving the cake first, and dinner afterwards. I think this is a spectacular idea and will be adopting it once I’m back in Canada.
My new family sang to me, all wearing party hats. With me in my special Disney Princess birthday party hat, I stood up and blew out the candles on my cake, followed by our guide placing a garland of orange flowers around my neck. I was even given a special notebook with Ganesh depicted on the cover by two of my new friends, Emma & Gemma. don’t know if this birthday will ever be topped, but it doesn’t need to be.
The rest of the evening consisted of watching one of the best and most hilarious magicians I’ve ever seen, eating our thali dinner while seated in the sand, watching a performance by traditional Rajasthani dancers (complete with fire breathing and balance clay pots of flames on their heads), being dressed up in Saris and our boys in white pants and shirt with turbans.
We were all under the impression that we would be sleeping on blankets in the sand. Not the case. The desert men set up metal bed frames, mattresses, pillows and duvets for each of us. This was GLAMping, not camping. We listened to music around the camp fire, while slowly and one by one everyone made their way to a bed, under the blankets to sleep with the stars in their eyes. Four of us, myself included, stayed up until 4am, talking and laughing and then eventually falling sleep.
The next morning we had breakfast in the desert, all looking well rested and relaxed.