I had kind of vowed I would never ride on a camel. I’d managed to avoid it at the camel fair in Pushkar (see Life on the Edge) and didn’t think that there would be any circumstances that would challenge this. It just seemed so ungainly – the camels never look too impressed and people invariably look ridiculous up there, clinging on. But one unspoken condition of our stay at Siranwa Hills was that we were to be compliant guinea pigs. We were the first European guests and the team were eager to trial a wide range of ‘experiences‘.
And so when the Rabari herders (see The Chronicles of Nandia – Part One) arrived with a camel in full wedding finery, there was no escaping the inevitable. Covered in colourful pom-poms, glittering mirrors, patchwork rug and bells, she was a sight and sound to behold. I tried to introduce myself to our lovely mount (she-with-no-name) but my attempts were met with a derisive snort. So, skipping the formalities, Ioan and I climbed aboard and with an upwards-backwards motion we were lurched skywards. It was a revelation up there, lolling along on the back of this creature; when I was young I rode horses but this was a different experience. The world was revealed from a new perspective, it felt graceful and as though we had slipped into another dimension. At eye level with the birds in the trees, glimpsing over the wall of the temple, observing how the humans on the ground interacted and helped one another.
Fundamental to moving forward in peace, at this time of great turbulence, is our ability to collectively feel empathy, and to fully appreciate the experience of others (whether it be Rabari women gathering wood or domesticated camels or fragile semi-desert eco-systems). And to do that the first step is to allow our selves to be vulnerable. Brene Brown the Storyteller/Researcher has many wise things to say about vulnerability. She argues that far from being weakness, it is the birthplace of innovation, courage and creativity. That, maybe counter-intuitively it is the antidote to shame, the crucible of so many problems in western society. According to Brown the key to wholehearted living is vulnerability – allowing ourselves to be truly seen, to love with our whole hearts, to practice gratitude and joy, and to believe we are enough. (I thank my friends Dr Fiona Darroch and Paul Bogis for introducing me to Brene Brown’s work and I strongly recommend watching her TED talk to learn more about the power of vulnerability).
Getting on the camel-with-no-name was one of many lessons of vulnerability I learnt on the road. I was often plagued by the shame of privilege, I feared what people expected from me in return for their kindness, I made myself feel more comfortable by being certain I knew, as a seasoned traveler, what to expect, and I obsessed about failure; how this journey and my documenting of it would be judged by others, by you.
And time and again something happened that made me more vulnerable, which in turn allowed me to truly let myself be seen and connect with others. Whether it be spending short moments with the family that worked the fennel fields, or listening to Bhanwhar’s mother tell me her stories of which I understood nothing and everything, or sitting around the campfire and being spiritually moved by traditional songs, or crying with laughter with Dileep and Dheeraj in the ‘magic kitchen’.
Practicing vulnerability is an ongoing process, shame will always be with us, but by being aware, sharing our experiences and showing ourselves self-compassion we can move into a place of connectedness and acceptance, which is what we all truly crave. Namaste.*
*I write this in memory of my friend Ben Heron, who recently took his own life. Sending much love, peace and courage to his partner Lindsey, his family and his friends.
For more information about organising homestays in Nandia, wildlife safaris or trekking to local tribal villages please contact Bhanwar Singh – email@example.com or tel: (+91) 9460063475