Riding on with a smile

Rahman Khan runs a camel safari tour in Jaisalmer, India, He makes a mere average of INR3,000 (RM184) monthly after paying off ruthless commissions to travel agents who introduce his services to tourists.

The tanned skinned father of four children works 8 months a year running his safari tours while the other 4 months are spent doing odd jobs including farming and constructions to provide for his family.

By Chris Tan

He walks in his almost worn-out slippers for around 4 hours to collect his rented camels from their owner whenever there is a job order – he can’t afford his own camels yet as each would cost him about INR30,000. He walks another 30 kilometre with the camels in tow to where his clients await, as he doesn’t want to tire out the animals before reaching his customers.

After packing everything on the animals and presenting a 3-minute training demonstration for first timers to camel riding, he walks ahead pulling the customers and camels behind him. Along the way, he picks up wood for the campfire. It takes at least 2 hours under the scorching sun to reach the nearest sand dune for which the group will spend the night.

He unpacks, lay out the camp site and feeds the hungry and thristy camels. While his clients frolic on the dessert sand, Rahman is already heating up the stove for his ginger-flavoured chai tea while at the same time rolling out the mats and blankets for the night.

After sunset – where he is also often asked to coax the camels into place for photography – the man who has never set foot out of Jaisalmer, let alone travel outside India, hurries away to prepare dinner. His speciality of Maggi mee, naan bread, dhal and home-made crackers, all served in one plate, is to die for!

At the fireplace, he entertains guest with stories of his family, adventures from his previous customers getting lost in the dessert, and sings a tune or two in his high-pitched voice. His smile never once wavered since greeting his customers earlier in the day.

 The moment everyone’s tucked into their blankets, he puts out the fire and tucks himself in. Several hours later, he’s up and preparing a healthy breakfast of toast rice bread and hard-boiled eggs long before the first customer awakes.

 The next day, Rahman leads the group to the next dune; walking, singing, cooking, storytelling and collecting wood all over again. He does this for the duration of the 3-day 2-night expedition.

At the end of the 3-day safari tour, while his current clients looked weary from their adventure as they reached back to the jeep to take them back to their comfy hotel, Rahman kept up his jovial demeanour. Another group of tourists was waiting for him in front of the Jeep excited to go the dessert!  

Anyone in Malaysia willing to walk in the sun, cook under the skies and tell me stories to put me to sleep for RM184 a month?

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