Parched lips and dry throat trembled at the prospects of getting wet. Assured of getting drenched, the whole body broke loose and unclothed itself. Ah! The smell of water! Waves and ripples grazing at a distance. A herd of camels is speeding past the pool. Our eyes clearly saw water splashing and spilling under their hoofs. That very moment a water bird flew past
us flagging its tail in a queer manner, as if jeering at us.
us flagging its tail in a queer manner, as if jeering at us.
The sky lay clear. A cloud in the guise of a giraffe stretched its long neck as if to drink the water or to chomp the leaves of grass. Like hermit herons a few other clouds are meditating on one leg, their fishing lines thrown down. Our car traversed a pretty long distance and reached near the herd of camels. Alas! Not a drop of water is seen anywhere around. The camels hesitated for a moment, and then they continued the trudge. At some distance, again water splashed under their hoofs.
A lakeshore. Waves play tender music. Some animals—lookalikes of huge whales—are resting by the lake. Surely, some vessels have anchored there; but the eyes cannot make out whether they are ships of boats. Yes, yes, some people are seen bathing too. Some are washing clothes. Our spirits hurried to reach the lakeside. It is not too far either. ‘Really it’s very close, we’d better slow down’, warned somebody, ‘otherwise the car would plunge headlong into the lake’. After that talk our car ran for almost a whole day. But we never reached the lakeside where people were seen washing and bathing.
Islands lay ahead. Stumps of trees poked their heads above the water level—they reminded us of the Thekkady Lake in our homeland Kerala at the southern tip of the Indian peninsula. Birds are perched on the tree stumps, their wings are visible. Amidst those stumps there are spots of dense greenery. No doubt it is an intense forest, not just a cluster of thickets. The tyres of our car groaned, tired and moaned, the islands still lay far away. We scared ourselves stiff, that those might be the islands of the dead.
Eating up the land, water is heading toward us. Undoubtedly a deluge. No, it is the sea; the wind smells of salt. Clouds are building a bridge into the sea. They have piled rocks at one end. As on the previous days, our car has been running for quite a while. But we did not get to the sea; we would never reach it, it seemed.
How many times have we been chasing water like this! Driving for eight days we covered 800 kilometres; but water gave us the slip. Not even once did it bless us with a drench. Many a time did we see waves that are its fingers and shores that are its shadows; but never, never did it reveal its real being.
We had been travelling through the Barak Alwadi (the desert between Al Khurge and Wadi de Wasir) region of the Dehna desert in the South Western KSA. It was during this drive that we had hallucinatory experiences—the deep gulf of mirages, the phenomenon that gives psychedelic illusions of pools, lakes and puddles.
|The illusory lake in the desert. Photo by Mohammed Sajid|
The words of O.V. Vijayan, (the great wordsmith of Malayalam and a great myth-maker) haunted me with a passion:
“Vayoone Kangaan Kajjo?” (See the air, can you?” Legend of the Legend—Ithihaasathinte Ithihaasam)
“Watersnakes of the mirage beckoned us” Vijayan had written in “Legends of Khasaakh” (Khasaakhinte Ithihaasam).
Our seven member crew was trapped by this phenomenon called ‘Mirage’ in English, ‘Suraab’ in Arabic and ‘Mareechika’ in Malayalam. These tantalizing illusions of wetness begin dampening the desert wilderness when the sun showers his rays with intensity. In a way, it is the eyeshade of the deserts; the gospel of the presence of water, and of thirst; the illusion of Yes and No. Mirage is the desert’s nostalgic journey back into its past. From the deep unconscious, the desert is pouring forth its memories of being a sea once long ago. These were the thoughts that haunted the mind in that tired sleep after those frantic chasings of non-existent waters. Moistening memories of past, vapour-laden sighs, shades of proximal water. Imagination chases the mirage beyond all limits. Those days of pursuing an entity, fully aware of its nonexistence, instilled in me a feeling—a feeling of becoming more of a man. Those incarnations of hope repeated themselves many a time. That nonexistent entity etched the tyre-marks of the highs and lows of life.
How many men and animals driven by thirst would have been led astray by this very mirage. Some of those tortured spirits might have reached the oases. Oases unbelievably pregnant with pure water. Nothing else prompted the desert travellers of yore to address the oasis as God, the Be-All and the End-All.
The interplay of sunlight and hot air spreads on to the wide canvass of the desert, the illusory picture of undulating water. This phenomenon becomes more appealing at noontime, and disappears just before sundown. This is the manner in which we can see air with naked eyes, in the form of water. In sultry summers, miniatures of this phenomenon can be seen on the sandy banks of rivers and on the beaches. But since the riverbanks and beaches do not have the infinite vastness of deserts, these local mirages cannot betray us completely. At first it seems as if vapours are rising. Staring for some more time, it transforms into mild waves of water. In the deserts also this is the basic phenomenon, but on a gigantic scale.
Throat endures the thirst; eyes transform it into water; and mind takes some consolation. “Come on, step ahead” is the message that every mirage conveys in the desert. ‘The substance of your search IS there; but you have to persevere and hold on till the end’ it seems to exhort. No other metaphor could more powerfully teach the distances and the agonies of the journey of life. Thus the mirage is an excellent text and manual during the travels and sojourns in the desert.
Lone single trees can be seen occasionally in the Dehna. A single tree amidst an arid land. In the vast expanse of the huge desert the interplay of these trees and their shades take on the guises of islands, wharfs and whales. They at times play like the tree stumps of Thekkady Lake. After the dramatics of one tree, comes the histrionics of another tree or a group of trees; and they continue the act of sorcery. Asking for refined lime to spread on betel leaves, they leading people astray.
There is no end to the number of actors and actresses thrown up by the sunlight falling across trees in the desert vastness. This was a great lesson learned in this trip. All learners and teachers of the theatre should come and see what light does on these desert trees, the multiple roles that these trees play in the drama of the mirage. The drama closes by the fag end of the evening. The trees then don the looks as if it were not them that staged all those shows a while ago. They pretend to be mere trees, and nothing else. They reminded of the great Kathakali artistes of Kerala who, having undone all the costumes and facial paste-ups after the stunning performance of a whole night, wait at the bus stop for the first bus of the day like any other simple ordinary man. The trees say we are just trees. The air says I am just air. The sun shyly says I am just some light, and he withdraws from the hours-long drama of illusions.
After long wanderings in the inner forests and the inner seas of the deserts, having realized that all these are part of some great make-believe theatre, a humble smile lights up in the innermost self when you see this drama again—a smile that betrays a deeper cognition of the real essence of this life.
It was on the way to the deceptive ‘islands’ that a fellow traveller spotted the eagle’s nest. It is a miniature of tree-houses—very huge. No feathers are seen beneath the tree. Perhaps the strong winds of the day might have carried them away. It is built of the leaves and twigs of the thorny trees that are aplenty in the desert. Also, pieces of plastic are used. (Wherever man goes, plastic goes with him). Thanks to the thorny building blocks, the nest also has beaks and nails like its owner cum architect—beaks that can be opened and shut, hefty nails that hold on strongly to the branches. The design is such that it can survive even high-winds and simooms. It looked like an abandoned nest. Some mighty wings of flight might have rested umpteen times in that nest opening on to the vastness of the sky. Bedouins say that snakes lie beneath the trees bearing eagle’s nests. On previous journeys we have had enough warnings to exercise caution in such places where snakes and eagles commingle.
|The eagle's nest. Photo by Mohammed Nowfal|
The eagle’s nest found when chasing the mirage reminded me of some bird nests found in the deep forests during some early expeditions into the wilds of India. However, it was one real thing among that profusion of illusions. On the way we saw many burrows of desert lizards; but could not see any lizards.
All this while, mirages had been cheating the camera also. They crouched in the frames as islands and seas and lakes and trunks of elephantine waves. When we enlarged the photos on computer screen, they had the strokes and dots of a painting in watercolour. When enlarged into greater details, water receded from the paintings, leaving behind just a watercolour. It is not easy to differentiate whether it is the eyes of the camera or the human eyes that are hoodwinked. The photo frames have some moisture left, ready to be wiped with fingers.
We kept our route far from human habitations and highways—as far as possible. We had enough preparations too. We had marked Dehna and Barak Al Wadi on Google Earth (2002 update) and transferred it onto the GPS (Global Positioning System) attached to our caravan. The GPS guided our tour. Six years had wrought some changes to what was marked on Google Earth; but those were not bad enough to mislead our route. Some desert tracks (routes carved by the frequent travels of people) have formed here and there. We had a reserve of woollen clothing since it was the beginning of winter. We had two tents, large reserves of drinking water and food. The only major issue was fuelling the car. Almost all desert villages have petrol pumps, and that allayed our concern. We had ropes to retrieve the car if it got buried into sand, and shovels to remove sand. In addition to the GPS we had a good map; and two of our fellows are good map readers.
All these are detailed here because the sight of a mobile tower in a small wayside village roused tragic memories of two boys from Kerala who dried up in the desert without a drop of water to sustain them. One of our fellow travellers was among those who went to reclaim their bodies. That tragedy was in 2001. The two men had gone to erect mobile phone towers. Because they hoped to finish the work and return soon, they did not take much water with them. But unfortunately their vehicle got enmeshed in the sand. They were not using a four wheel drive vehicle, which is most necessary for desert rides. They did not have any satellite phone or GPS. It was so lonely a place that nobody ever came to their help. Doubtless they must have craved for a gulp of water. After long days of search the corpses were found. One was leaning on to a lonely tree. The other was found about 500 metres away. In the scorching heat the dead bodies had dried up and wrinkled. After this tragedy, it was made compulsory for the companies to provide GPS and other amenities to those labourers who go installing towers that link the remote desert villages with the mobile phone network.
Bedouins are a curious folk who find route in their own ways. A few years back, one aged Bedouin was straying in the city. But he did not ask anybody about the way. One might presume that he was asking the road itself to show him his destination. He was talking to himself and after a while walked into a building. His face betrayed a special joy in finding the way by himself. Not only in the desert, even in the metros, the Bedouins find their ways in their own curious fashion.
We had travelled the 110 km from Riyadh to Al Khurge before driving into the desert. At the very first turn into the desert the spectre of civilization vanished into thin air. Before long we saw a small tower of stones. Every passerby placing one a stone upon the pile, it had grown over the height of a normal man. It might be the message of somebody passing by; some kind of a signal or message telling newcomers to go along. It reminded something else also—signs pop before you when you are searching for the way. Not knowing the route is only an excuse for avoiding travels.
|Sand dunes of Barak al Wadi, Dehna desert. Photo by Mohammed Nowfal|
Before new technologies were in place Bedouins identified directions and routes by looking at the colour and design of sand dunes. When mirages tried to betray, they fixed eyes on the sand. If water is near, the sand will have white colouration. In regions with heavy winds, sands will be thin and light. In places which abound in reptiles, sand will have a specific smells—such were the wisdom handed eown the generations of Bedouins. Many texts vouch that for the Bedouins sand served as a compass. They can easily identify the footprints of a stranger. They know if vehicles with outsiders have entered their village. Even today they retain this wisdom. It is no wonder that they live beyond 100 years of age. They never crave for the city. We found one such Bedouin in this trip. Adeeb, nearing his 90’s. While he was travelling across the sand dunes his vehicle overturned. Three days he survived in the fortress of sands, with wounds all over. Third day he was found and taken to the hospital. Death is final, death is truth; but it is a reality that has to be confirmed—Adeeb’s story reminded. Adeeb, however, forbade us from photographing him. It was Rajendran, a Malayali from Kollam, who took us to Adeeb.
Even in that remote desert village having no connections with modern life, a Malayali lives and works. Rajendran is the chief moving force of this little Bedouin village. He runs a workshop, petrol pump and grocery shop. Thus he is known to everybody in the village; and dear to all too. However, for them it is not easy to pronounce Ra-jen-dran. So they call him ‘Andhra’. He gets paid decently for the work done. None of the trickeries and deceptions of cities have crept in. Life is comfortable, he is happy. He goes home once in two years. Once in a month he goes to the market and brings things for sale. He is happier than being in Riyadh. He has become a part of the village. He has none of those complaints often raised by people working in remote villages of Saudi Arabia. He is all smiles, always.
Chase of mirages exhausts us by the end of the day. Tents should be put in place before sundown. Otherwise rest and sleep will be spoiled. We cannot afford to miss the sun that descends the fissure carved into the desert. It is an extraordinary sunset, uncommon too. But we have to fix the tent before the light is gone. For that we should hunt out a place safe from snakes and scorpions. (Applying kerosene is the first aid for scorpion sting). Again, the place should have sufficient supply of firewood to burn campfire. And it should be away from desert tracks along which vehicles may ply at odd times.
During the day we collect branches found on the way. Mostly branches fell from brambles, but at times logs left out by other travellers (cutting down wood in the deserts is punishable). We tie them together on to the extra carrier. Sometimes amidst the journey the knot will loosen and the faggots fall down. By the time we recognize this all the pieces would have been lost in the desert. Again we collect whatever is seen on the road.
As it was the beginning of winter heavy cold creeps in by dusk. The cold intensifies through night and reaches the lowest degree in the small hours between two and four, and gradually picks up when night transforms into day. Every night during our journey, cold zeroed up to 2o Celsius. After the completion of the journey we had reports that it had even slid down to minus values. The campfire is not only for preparing food; it also serves to counter the heavy cold. Food for the day is roti and some fruits including dried dates. At night we have roasted maize or boiled tapioca along with some bread/roti and fruits. Rice and meat need more firewood to cook. The desert travellers’ menu contains only items that need little fire. That alone is possible.
|The night camp at the desert. Photo by Mohammed Nowfal|
Eagerly watching the setting sun, picking up faggot and setting up the tent progressed together. And then it is moon smiling all over. If there is any shortage of firewood, the search continues in the moonlight. Torches and head torches are also used. Never did we run short of firewood. The hearth was never short of fodder because brambles had shed lot of twigs and branches on to the sand.
All our nights were spent in enchanting places amidst fortresses of sand dunes where a balmy breeze sang lullaby. Lonely places where no one would come. At one place occasionally vehicles trundled along the desert track, perhaps to the nearby villages. The vehicles cutting through the silence of solitude brought to mind the drone of air planes.
How far is the city! Mobile phones networks are available only rarely. Satellite phones refused to become active. Thus for many days we could not know what was happening in the outside world, the world of civilizations. Absolute nomads. Only a little water—just enough to drink, to cook and for essential toilet needs—can be carried on such trips. So there was no question of bathing.
The cold was getting bitter. Soles were numb due to low blood circulation. Numbness seized the tip of the nose also. The woollen clothes and campfire can resist the cold only to some extend. Despite this benumbing cold we would walk on the dunes in the charming moonlight. At times its highs and lows are threatening. Huge sand dunes that cast their shadows on the moonlight stood like the towers of citadels in the Arabian tales.
Driving through the sides of dunes is one adventure. It is a jugglery from one hillside to the other. The first such drive amidst the hills will freeze your heart, and then it begins to thump with exhilaration. The frills of the sand dunes are shining in the moonlight. By midnight the shine is most glossy. Dunes are having a royal bath in the golden moonshine.
Lying before the tent looking up at the sky, eyes captured the stars in all their glory. A huge ceiling adorned with an unending array of stars. Some stars swim across rivers and go out to feasts. Some are swinging in the wind. Some live in joint families; some have atomic families; and some others are just alone. Some of them are into a brawl, it seems. The sky and the stars together bear a corner of the huge flag of this universe. The proud stars are bordered by the sky. Where would be the boundary of the sky? Numerous questions about the mysteries of universe set fire to the pyrotechnics of imagination. ‘Shed all your fancies and doubts and questions; just stare at our beauty and enjoy’, commanded the winking stars, and I continued staring at the gorgeous sky. How many such nights in the deserts are behind the astronomy of the Arabians!
During our trip, the moon was young. It grew almost to three-fourth. Only on the day after we wound up the trip, did we know that the moon can be seen in bigger size and greater glory on December 13. Had we know it earlier, we could have extended the journey for one more day. The full moon would have raised a canopy of beauty above us. We felt jealous when listening to some friends who had spent that night in the desert. The moon won’t be coming out in such glory in the near future.
|A sunset in the Dehna desert. Photo by Muhammed Sajid|
Bitter cold is biting into the bones. It has riven the whole armoury of woollen jackets, monkey caps that cover the ears and the neck, woollen gloves, socks and inner jackets and is penetrating deeper into the bones. Sleep sits heavy on the eyes. On the first day all the seven of us slept in a single tent. One who lay across was blessed with the stamping of all others. So from the next day onwards we used both the tents. The joint family broke into two atomic families.
I crept into the sleeping-bag, pulled the zip and gave in to sleep. The nose was kept outside the bag. One who had not cared to poke out his nose told us that he felt as if he were in a burial vault. He felt short of breath. However he opened the zip from inside and breathed. When sleeping in sleeping-bags, one has to take care to leave room for breath.
The tents were set in a manner that allows us to see the sunrise. On the first day it was beneath a lonely tree. Snow melted down the tree like buds of jasmine. Sun who had vanished into a fissure in the desert the previous evening, is back and is gently waking up the desert. He apologizes a while for leaving her in darkness for some time and then sets out on his wonted journey. The sunrise and sunset in the desert reminded of the famous paintings of sunrise and sunset. It seems the painters had collected their colours from this desert. At sunrise the temperature was 5 degrees. As light spread, sand dunes began to appear in their characteristic saffron shades. Their wrinkles opened eyes to the light, and imbibed heat into their nerves.
We tried to climb up the sand hills inclined at 90o and rolled down before half way. Such hills make us fall when climbing down also. But 4-wheel drive cars can climb many such hills. But it is high risk. That demands great spirit of adventure and great care.
Small hills with gentle slopes, lying close to the ground looked like naked women lying on their bellies. Those were the figures etched by wind on the vast sandy expanse: figures that represent the moments of joy turned into indolence. Even the minute detail of long hairs flying in the winds is made perfect by the sands being flown from the head-end of these prostrate women carved on sand.
In these deserts there are also large open spaces filled with rough sand. They remind the uneven local football grounds of rural Kerala. African deserts abound in such lands. In the Saudi deserts also there are similar landscape—vast open grounds filled with gravelly sand. It was in such places that we had seen the burrows of desert lizards. In some places these gravelly grounds join the Thuvaikh mountain ranges. These mountain ranges are forts made by nature. In some places these gravel grounds dissolve into the beauty of the sand hills. Such meeting places of two contrasting terrains are dear to the reptiles, they say. Some hills of melted stones also adjoin these regions. These are stones in the molten state. Big and small hills bearing such stones stood as symbols of the scorching treatment of nature. They were seen occasionally in this region of the desert. Nature herself has filled the vast emptiness with multiple terrains. Diversity, the first principle of nature, is not violated even in the deserts.
We passed through four villages amidst the journey. In all the four, the Bedouins had the same question—“Jawaal walla Aramco?” (Are you labourers of mobile companies or are you staff of Aramco, an oil company in the Saudi Arabia). For the interior desert villages, either of these two are the major visitors from the outer world. Saudi government had been implementing a special programme to include remote villages in the mobile network. Aramco staff visit the villages for various surveys. The Bedouins wanted to know who we were, if none of these two categories. They were not satisfied by the answer ‘Muzafireen’ (travellers). ‘What is here for the city people to see’ is their doubt. Once convinced, they extend affectionate welcome. They rush to set up a treat: compel to take tea and to stay with them for a day, they rush to prepare mutton dishes. To our reasoning that staying back would spoil the travel schedule, they scold lovingly and persuade to stay and eat with them on return. Aged people and children alike invited us to eat with them. Bedouins are like that. They feed travellers to the full, even if they are strangers. Then they give mats to take rest. Most of us were reluctant to decline their invitations. But we were forced to decline because we had to think also of the miles we should traverse across the desert.
We went to one village to fill petrol. The pump was closed. A villager asked us to wait. In half an hour he returned with a youngster—an Indian from Uttar Pradesh. He has been in that village for one and a half year now. It is for the first time that he sees somebody from outside the village. Seeing Indians he was greatly surprised and happy. Camels are grazing a little away from where the pump is. He has to look after them also. That is why he had closed down the pump for some time. The villager had taken him from the grazing ground on a vehicle. Overjoyed at seeing a group of Indians, he picked a scoop of sweets from the nearby grocery store. The sweets came handy to him in a moment when he was at a loss how to share his great joy and love.
Women driving cars is not a rare sight in these villages. In Saudi women are not allowed to drive. But Bedouin women go driving within their villages.
During the journey we saw the corpses of camels in three places. They are left to decay and become one with the sand. At one place we saw a camel that died in labour. The corpse of the baby camel, battered and dried, protruded from the opening of the uterus.
The camels we saw splashing the mirage waters were led by one Mr. Ahmed, a native of Sudan. He has come from a place 300 kilometres away, and has to travel another 300 kilometres with these camels. There he settles for some time. He has to move from place to place in search of food for the camels according to the changing seasons and climate. We saw Ahmed at Barak Al Wadi at a mid noon. He was on a camel. When one leads on camel back at the front, all the other camels follow. They never go astray. The camels are trained for this, said Ahmed. Camels obey men without the least resistance. When caught to kill, they say, it bows its head!
We had asked Ahmed for camel milk. He told us that camels can be milked only at dawn. A 12-year old boy was following Ahmed on a pick-up. It carried grass for the camels and an iron bucket to fill water. The boy has tamed the desert at this tender age. He had kept the door open and was standing up. Accelerator might have been adjusted to an optimum speed. Since there are no curves, steering wheel also could be put to a fixed position. If a curve came up, he sat down and steered. The two of them were driving a big herd of some six hundred camels. There will be only one male in a herd of camels. If there are more, they will fight each other until one dies, it is said. In stables males are never put together. Such is the male ego working in camels.
We are at the end of Barak Al Wadi. Now, on to the highways. After a little travel on the highway we saw this memorable sight. At a little distance, on a sand hill are perched a group of wild falcons. They were wild falcons, not domesticated ones. Born in the desert, they never yielded to the trickeries of the humans. There seemed to be more than twenty in number. Not far away, some vultures are also seen. On one side of the road, waste has been dumped into a pit that looks like a marsh. The waste is from some small market nearby. The falcons and vultures have come in quest for food from this waste. It might be the famine in their desert havens that has taken the wild falcons to the highway.
In the desert, domesticated falcons do for men what hunting dogs do in other places. They trace animals like rabbits and lizards; they can fly with these animals too. We had seen Falcons being employed in desert hunts. We had seen centres were they are grown and sold. But we were seeing wild falcons for the first time. When we stopped the car and began to move towards them, the falcons set to fly. Binoculars helped us see them clearly. They were at a little distance that camera could not capture them with details. We got only very long shots of the group scattered on the sand hills. By the time we mounted the tele lenses on to the camera, the falcons flew somewhere into the wastes in the marshlands. The vultures too were gone. It was a great loss to miss the closer view of falcons perching on the upper crest of the sand hills. Perhaps, some day we could go to a settlement of falcons.
I had read that falcons in some African deserts are on the verge of extinction because of the wide trap-hunting and poaching of eggs. The eggs are sold to falcon breeding centres. I don’t know if any studies have been conducted on the state of falcons in the Saudi deserts. Anyway, I haven’t read any so far.
Dehna desert ended at the Rubul Khali (Empty Quarter) where sand hills rise up like Eiffel Tower. It is one of the entrances to the Rubul Khali. We went up to its threshold and returned.
Back in Riyadh we went to see the Roudathul Khuraim. Usually every mid-December it would have turned into a forest of flowers. These flowers that resemble the Mosanta flowers last till mid-February. It is the mid-December rains that transfigure this barren land into a floral garden. This patch surrounded by sand hills does not let the water flow out. Water and sand has blended to thick mud and transformed into fertile alluvial soil. The valley spreads out in kilometres. For many years I had been longing to be here. This time we went there relying the reports that flowers have bloomed in plenty. But this time there were no flowers. Rains were scanty. However, many people were coming here, like us. In 2007 I had seen many photographs of this area. Those photos had proclaimed that this valley deserves the name ‘valley of flowers’. Many people spend vacations here in tents. Special tents have been built for the members of the royal family. Roudathul Khuraim was one of the favourite haunts of King Fahad, former ruler of Saudi Arabia. A palace has been built here in his name. The Saudi budget of 2009 was presented in the royal guest house at Roudathul Khuraim, and King Abdulla presided over the session.
This year there were only small flowers here and there on the shrubs. It was despairing to see, in contrast to what we wanted to see, and what we expected. Such things happen in journeys. Some emptiness, failures, misgivings, vanishings—reminders of this journey of life. There is no way but to cope with them. We left with a resolve to return when the desert blooms again.
There we saw nests of tailor-birds. Abandoned to desolation, some of them have decayed.
I was waiting in queue for ticket from Riyadh to Jiddah where I work. In front of me was a tall and stout Eritrean youth. To ward of the boredom of waiting we fell into chatting. He hung a bag on his shoulders. Suddenly, he fell down backwards, like a felled tree. My efforts to hold him failed. Another man standing next to me joined before he fell to the floor. One of his relatives was there. He shouted for fruit juice. When we poured some fruit juice into his mouth, the Eritrean slowly opened his eyes. Low sugar. A doctor was fetched. The patient and his relative went with him.
I continued in the queue like others, immersed in thoughts. The fall of the Eritrean youth had given a sprain to my shoulders. It kept on aching. Every time it ached, I remembered him. After a while, I got the tickets. Now it is another phase of the journey, into the daily routine. After that, I live in a room where mirages and eagle’s nest and flocks of wild falcons sleep and wake together with me.
 Indian ghost stories allude that vampires clad in white, appear to lonely night travelers, ask for lime to chew with betel leaves and then suck their blood.