The story of #85 starts around a bonfire in Gokarna. At the end of Om Beach it was a night like many others. A bonfire was roaring, the sea was as dark as the sky, the sounds of gently lapping water and guitars filled the air and the cows chewed cardboard at the periphery of the fire’s light. A balding Indian man struck up a conversation with me and though I wasn’t really in the mood for talking, I happily listened as he told me about his guesthouse in Jaisalmer and took his card when offered.
I didn’t think much about him until a few weeks later, when I was walking into Jaisalmer Fort with a German couple I’d just met on the bus and he came bustling towards us. But it wasn’t me that he recognised, it was my recently acquainted travel companions. How do you know each other, I asked. We sat next to each other at a Bonfire in Gokarna, Sophia replied.
Jaisalmer felt familiar and welcoming from the moment I arrived. Surrounded by desert, built in yellow stone and linked by a maze of tight, winding streets, wide enough only for foot traffic, I felt as if I’d strayed into the opening passages of Aladdin. It reminded me a lot of the old city in Jerusalem actually, with the same pale stone and solely pedestrian streets but with a distinctly Indian flavour. The requisite cows shared the walkways, of course, and small, intricately carved temples sat just off the street, jammed between houses. The city is hot and dry and in the middle of the day seems to fall asleep like an old man in an armchair.
I thought I’d spend a few days there and move on but the days slipped by quickly and suddenly I’d been there for almost a week. I visited the palace and explored the city but mostly I lay on the rooftop reading, looking out over the desert to the wind farms in the distance. I love deserts. They are are ascetic and harsh environments made up of only sand and sky, possessing a unique beauty that is entirely without excess. It is a natural environment that brings me closest to what might be called a spiritual experience. I don’t know what it is, but every time I spend a few days in the desert, I feel a profound sense of calm and peace.
In the desert you can see as far as the horizon permits and there is nothing that obscures or blurs that fine line between heaven and earth. There are few other places where the demarcation is so clear.
The desert inspires much of what I seek in writing – clarity, simplicity, resilience, courage, power, longevity.
I had been moving through India at a breakneck speed (relatively) but when I got to Jaisalmer, I naturally came to rest and let time pass me by without resistance or anxiety about how I should be spending it. If #85 makes it’s way into your hands, think of the lessons of the desert, slow down and strip away the excess of whatever it is you’re doing. What better way to that than read a book?
Book #85 is at Sagar Guesthouse, Jaisalmer