Previously on Dang Old Man

As we stood in the road trying to remember which direction we’d come from, the old vendor breathlessly caught up with us at the alley’s corner. He remembered L telling him the name of our hotel. He’d drawn us a map.

Read Wild Dogs Part 1 here

And now, Part 2…

Wild Dogs Will Steal Your Shoes [2 of 2]

Following the blanket-walla’s map, L and I reverse-coursed our way through narrow backstreets of sandstone havelis, stepping around the auntie watering her plants and the naked toddler feeding chapati scraps to a baby goat. Left, left, right, right again, until the road widened into a main thoroughfare buzzing with shops, street vendors and human/animal/vehicle traffic.

He’d drawn a big star on the map where our hotel was, and we were getting close. Once it was in sight, we spotted the passenger van idling out front with the embarrassing vinyl decals on its side reading JAISALMER CAMEL TREKS. The driver was helping a grinning blonde couple in matching trekking outfits into the van. We watched as he closed the rear doors, walked around to climb in and started the motor.

We sprinted, our fresh new blankets high above our heads as our feet splashed through foul green-grey puddles. Ahead of us, the passenger van pulled out of the U-shaped drive and into the street, only to stop seconds later in front of a sickly old sick cow sat in the middle of the road, ropes of green phelgm sliding down from its nostrils, blocking all traffic.

Reaching the driver, I flashed him the ticket on my phone — “OK OK” he waves — and we squeezed ourselves and packs into the back of the van, pressing against the no-longer-smiling blonde couple. The van door took three times for its latch to catch, twice just bouncing off my buttocks as I tried to squeeze even smaller against the wiry legs of the blonde man.

Inside, the driver loudly sucked his teeth, banged the steering wheel. The cow has apparently laid down his head and died. Around its open-eyed slumber, a crowd of Hindus and Jains gather, hands together, honoring the sacred animal’s passing.

But our driver isn’t having it. Whiplashing us through a jerky three-point turn up onto the road shoulder, tapping the gas and honking at the throng, he forcefully inched the van through the crowd until we’d turned around and headed the other way.

ME: Hey, sir? Isn’t it bad karma to just leave a cow to die in the road like that?

DRIVER: I am a Muslim. A holy cow is my sacred hamburg— [he catches our eyes in the rear-view] Apologies. I did not mean to come across as insensitive. Would you prefer to stay here and mourn the cow, or meet your camels in the desert?

No one spoke up for the cow. He waggled his head, and the van roared back to life. We sped — too fast — down narrow streets crowded with soft bodies until the thoroughfare around us abruptly fell away, leaving us on a cracked open road under a gigantic blue sky, the Sonar Quila fort looming far above us like the villain’s castle in a video game.


Our ride to the camels passed in near silence, but not for our lack of trying.

Squished four-across on the bench seat with us are the aforementioned Blonde Couple: early 40, tanned and wiry, wearing matching “professional trekker” outfits. They observe everything with blue-grey eyes that dart around the van and landscape with a birdlike focus. Whenever I spoke to them, both would stare at me with big smiles — thin lips, all teeth — while nodding and saying nothing. I figured they were German or Finnish and spoke no English, until later I heard them whispering to each other in thick Aussie accents, meaning they were just sociopaths.

The remaining bench seats were filled by two tubby American families traveling together. Each set of parents were irritated with each other while pretending everything was okey-dokey by loudly and enthusiastically pointing out everything aloud in cream-cheese-thick Wisconsin accents like simple children. Their kids, completely checked-out next to them, existed only inside their phones, game consoles and loudly-crunching snacks.

I have a rule I live by: when stuck in an uncomfortable situation with socially-challenged strangers, do whatever the fuck you want. Make yourself happy. So L and I engaged our driver with questions about the history of the ruins, about his own roots in Jaisalmer (which went back to before the days of the Rajput). He even agreed with us that the open desert is essentially a giant litter box for camels.


The van pulled up to the desert ruins. I since have forgotten every single detail I’d learned about them, but they were beautiful. We got out, stomped around, took some photos. As we headed back to the van, the driver asked us:

DRIVER: Please, friends: who will not be riding the camels? Raise your hands.

The two American families all raised their hands. The Australian Sociopaths (and us) did not. We were told to sit up front as we were getting out first.

The van drove us away from the ruins into a bare, rolling sea of sand, remaining in motion for exactly two and a half dunes. At the foot of the second, a barefoot young man in overly-zippered acid wash jeans waited on a striped blanket in the heat. He was crouched alongside five saddled camels, all of whom looked very unhappy.

The driver helped us and the Aussies out, closed the door again and drove off, leaving us in the middle of the desert: four foreigners, five camels and one teenaged camel-walla. He smiles at us with teeth red-stained by betelnut paan. Fishing a folded scrap of paper from his shirt pocket, he dug deep into his nostril with a pinkie and asked:

CAMEL-WALLA: Camel trek? Names please?

I gave ours. The Aussies gave theirs in nasal Crocodile Dundee twang.

He nodded. We nodded. The five camels nodded. And so it began.


It was still mid-afternoon as we Camel Trekked deeper into this sea of dunes. Our steeds were roped together, tail-to-nose-ring-to-tail, a caravan of five. My legs straddled a heavy leather saddle belted around multiple wool blankets. The motion atop a camel is lazier, more seasick-swaying than riding a horse.

Around us to the horizon were endless rolling dunes extending out in direction, an ocean made of sand, wind-carved with patterns that gave them the appearance of brain coral. Still, it was sunny but breezy, the wind smelling very much like the ass of the camel in front of me, driven by our camel-walla.

L rode directly behind me, followed by the Australians. We were both hooded by our new Jaisalmeri blankets, me with my hand-me-down GoPro strapped to my forehead like an extreme sports rabbi.

My trusty camel “Sir Dingleberry” — who earned his name when he first stood up in camp and dropped all but one — was very vocal and cute. Keeping my palms flat against his neck, I wanted Dingleberry to be able to feel connected to my own chill, but the direct contact made him constantly turn around to bat his long eyelashes at me. I wondered if any other human had ever paid him that kind of focused attention before. I resolved here to love Sir Dingleberry for as long as we traveled together.

As the sunlight began to slowly bleed into a majestic orange, the Aussie man behind L started cackling loudly. His arms raised to the sky, he cried:

AUSSIE MAN: Tet chew wine! Bloody tet chew winnnnnne, might!

I looked back at him. His blue eyes met mine, searching for a ping-back of recognition.

ME [whispering to L]: What’s he saying? “Get your wine?” “Touch your wine?” Oooo, does he have wine to share?

From the back of the caravan, he bugged his dumbstruck eyes at me, flailing his arms outward at All This and repeated with growing frustration the vitally important thing I clearly wasn’t grokking:

AUSSIE MAN: Bloody tet chew winnnnnne!

AUSSIE LADY: Have ye surrusly nevah sine a Staah Waws, might?

That’s when I got it: wind-blown desert. “Tatooine.” Of course. They’re marking their nerd cultural territory. Congratulations.

But following that was a short, delicious silence — all I could hear was wind, smell dry desert brush in my nostrils, imagining myself here a thousand years ago atop my Sir Dingleberry, our packs laden with precious species — until:


The camel-walla leapt up in his saddle, frantically searching his zippery jeans for his phone, whispering what was clearly his version of “bro I’m working” and hanging up.

I looked around at the utter nothingness around us, wondering how the hell he has a signal out here, then—


Closing my eyes, I let myself sway in my saddle atop Sir Dingleb—


It happened every two or three minutes until we were ten minutes out from the campsite. The Thar Desert had better T-Mobile coverage than fucking Brooklyn.

In between calls, the camel-walla pointed off at the horizon. Behind the rippling heat distortion, we followed his gesture to a long barbed-wire fence with a concrete gate. Soldiers in fatigues with their machine guns at the ready stared out at the empty dunes and… waited.

CAMEL-WALLA: This way, Pakistan.

The Australians behind us sucked their teeth and regarded each other nervously.

CAMEL-WALLA: In past, before Partition, all Thar Desert was Rajasthan. India.

I waited for the kid to follow this up with a wince-inducing Hindu-nationalist comment, but he didn’t. We all watched the border fence disappear away behind us in the dunes as our caravan dipped down a valley between two large dunes.

The only distinguishing feature between this dune and the thousands of others was a ring of six wooden chaise-lounges planted in the sand. Hopping off his camel, our camel-walla brushed his hands on his jeans, and nodded:

CAMEL-WALLA: OK here is camp.



Camels parked and supplies unpacked onto blankets, we sat opposite the camel-walla as he built a robust fire from dry twigs and leaves like a boy scout.

L [impressive]: Can you do that?

ME: Of course not, my native country is Disneyland.

The four of us watched as he dug up a cooking stone left in the sand and placed it in the fire, then with a plastic tray poured out pour, added some water from his canteen, and began kneading it into dough.

CAMEL-WALLA: I make dinner for us. Some details, advices for you. [He had our attention.] Desert is comfortable now but will reach freezing point at night. Take many blankets and clothes with you to wood beds.

He gestured with a finger — while slapping dough into chapatis — towards the chaise lounges. But we already knew this, hence our new blankets.

CAMEL-WALLA: Also, keep your shoes.

AUSSIE WOMAN: Surry might, kipe ah shewze?

CAMEL-WALLA: If shoes are left in open, wild dogs will eat your shoes.

This was not part of the tour brochure.

ME: This was not part of the tour brochure.

He shrugged and smiled.

CAMEL-WALLA: Desert sand is very cold without shoes, my friend.

ME: I think I was more concerned about the wild dogs part.

Again he shrugged and smiled. And one by one, the chapatis began to puff up on the cooking stone, sending out tiny jets of steam. He reached in with his bare hands and plucked each one from the fire, slapping it back and forth before handing each steaming bread to the next diner waiting.

Hungry and growing colder, we ate three rounds of fresh chapatis together off of stainless steel plates with curd, curried vegetables he’d brought in a tupperware and a spicy homemade lemon pickle. Around us, the sun darkened from orange to red to indigo to purple, pinpointed with more twinkling stars than I’d even seen in my life.

The wind-grooves in the dunes held the flickering light from the fire, and in silence we watched the shadows swaying back and forth in the pitted grooves, moving like water, like time that was passing and also never passing.

After a while, the camel-walla instructed us how to wash our dishes clean using just the desert sand and collected our plates when


Everyone’s chill broken, he answered his phone, picked his nose with his pinkie nail and nodded.

CAMEL-WALLA: The van is here to take you back.

I didn’t understand, until headlights became visible over the dunes ahead of us, blinding our eyes that had grown accustomed to the fire-lit night. Those awful Australians got up, dusted off their bums and walked away from our campfire without a word or even eye contact.

And then there were three. Plus five camels.


Losing the Aussies also coincided with a sudden and not-insignificant temperature drop. The three of us crowded closer to the fire as the black of the sky deepened and deepened further, faraway stars reaching out to us through impossible night. My teeth chattered and I wrapped myself tighter in my blanket. L leaned in, pressing herself against me. Things could’ve gotten spicy right then if not for the camel-walla.

In the darkness behind us, one of the camels groaned, a pure beautiful kvetch of a moan. I was sure it was Sir Dingleberry, which filled my heart with pride.

Watching us slowly shivering, the fire growing ever-smaller, the camel-walla’s eyes found mine and hung there for a long stare. There were thoughts he had about us I’d never know, nor would he know mine: that in that moment, my American upbringing had me assess how easy it would be for him to kill or violate us out here, and what chances might we have escaping through the Thar on foot, and whether Sir Dingleberry would side with me or his real master.

The camel-walla leaned forward towards the fire, reached behind his back for something tucked into his belt. Its shiny silver surface caught the flames. Oh fuck, he really was going to murd—

He unscrewed the cap of a metal flask and took a very healthy slug, then held it out to us with a kind smile. I accepted it with a nod, took a long pull of a spirit that slid a finger of fire from the back of my tongue all the way down to my belly. Suddenly I was warm. Grateful. Instantly tipsy.

We sat there together, not so cold anymore, watching the fire’s heat-bloom slowly shrink, sputter, die, taking all warm light from the scene. In its absence, we stared at each other across a ribbon of smoke caught in the silver moonlight.

The camel-walla grunted and stood up, wobbled his way to the farthest chaise lounge, where he plopped like a fish and started immediately snoring. With liquor-reddened cheeks, L and I nodded. It was time to go to bed too.

“Bed” of course meaning bundling up with more layers, leaving on our shoes and wrapping ourselves up in blankets to lie flat all night on a wooden chaise.


I personally like a firm mattress, and there was nothing more peaceful than that clear moonlight, but I could not fall asleep for the snuffling sounds of the wild dogs.

Yes, the wild dogs were real.

I could hear at least three distinct sets of animal sounds, but since we slept in a valley between dunes, the acoustics were bouncy to the degree that I couldn’t tell which direction they came from.

Until one of the wild dogs made its way over the dune into our camp and started snuffling around behind me. In the silvery dark, I froze.

I didn’t know what kind of wild dogs lived in the Thar Desert. I don’t really even like dogs, and wild ones can be rabid. I know from hiking in California that eye contact with an aggressive coyote or bear is not a good idea, so I froze, resolved to only turn and face the wild beast if it started growling, ready to lunge at one of us.

Also, I had to pee badly out there in the freezing cold. I lay stiff, frozen in place, hoping it wouldn’t hear my chattering teeth. I shut my eyes, retreated far into myself, appearing more dead than prey.

The snuffling got louder still. It sounded like the wild dog was feet away from the top of my head, until it let out a high whimper and retreated. As soon as I gauged it was at a safe distance, I opened my eyes at the moon and turned, but I couldn’t see any trace of it. Not even paw prints on the sand.

In fact, I didn’t hear any of the three anymore. Just the sound of sand carried over dunes by the breeze, the chatter of my teeth, slowly jackhammering me towards sleep.


When I opened my eyes, the sun was up and bright, but the desert was still quite cold. I was shivering. Grabbing my blanket to pull it tighter, it was soaking wet. So was my hair, my socks, the t-shirt beneath the sweatshirt beneath my jacket. The chaise lounge was wet too: night moisture had condensed in the dawn and soaked me.

I did still have to pee though. Standing up in my wet shoes and socks, I shivered and limped my way up the nearest dune to the other side. At the top, I looked out at the entire Thar Desert, dunes golden in a rosy sunrise.

My urine escaped in a stream, my overdue relief in a visible cloud of breath. And as I peed and peed and peed, I realized I was not alone.

Sitting on the lee side of the next dune, a Wild Dog stared back at me. Not a savage wild dog — mangy, hungry, feral — but some kind of yellow-lab/pitbull mix with a kind face that screams “Good With Children”. Half its tongue dangling from its mouth and it wagged its tail at me.

Finished, I zipped myself up, and turned to walk back to camp. It was still watching me. I snapped my fingers and it bounded over my side, licked my unwashed hand and ran ahead, down the dune into our camp where the camel-walla sat making a fresh round of chapatis over a re-lit fire.

The Wild Dog looped around the camel-walla with an excited WOOF then zoomed over to the five half-asleep camels, wagging his tail hello before getting lightly bitten on the ass by Sir Dingleberry.

I joined the others by the fire for fresh bread. I was hungry and it was delicious. The Wild Dog joined us there too, and got a broken chapati that been fished out of the fire.

ME [to the Camel-walla]: I think you and this Wild Dog know each other.

CAMEL-WALLA [laughing]: Today he is good boy, but in the past, he has eaten many customers’ shoes!

And So, In Conclusion

Nah, there’s no conclusion, but I hope you enjoyed that adventure. It was fun for me to revisit.

ATM I’m juggling a bunch of (good) LIFE STUFF but I’ll be back real soon with more tales. The next few I have lined up are Absolutely Delightful. Did I really just write that? It’s my Year-End Madness creeping in.

As always, love to hear from you…