Desert Traditions
…where new journeys into life, tradition & culture begin

Tourist not Terrorist

The last time I used this phrase was in 2002 when the Indian-Pakistan border was flaring again and Stealth bombers vied with the local crows for dominance of the bleached skies over Kachchh. I was woken at 2 am by heavy banging on the door of my room at the Lakeview Hotel – a seedy establishment opposite Harmisar Lake which belies its name. The lake is merely a pond fed by the sky and, depending on the latest monsoon, varies from being a fetid muddy puddle to a vast, overflowing water body. The intruders were the police checking up on itinerants and I was only concerned that they would find my bottle of whisky stashed under a pile of clothes in the closet. After checking my papers – which they could not read – and casting their eyes over my room (and semi clothed body) they departed. They did not comprehend my early morning play on words and they did not find the bottle!

A few days back – although the way I keep dropping in and out of shifting time zones it is rapidly disappearing into weeks – I was summonsed from the Lufthansa Lounge where I was calmly recovering my mislaid wits and ordered to follow a young man into the nether reaches of Mumbai’s unpronouncable International airport. It was a long journey downwards in creaking lifts and across vast spaces filled with baggage handling equipment, scanning devices and luggage of all shapes and sizes. It was hot, airless and fume laden. And I was tired. The offending items were in my small overnight bag and I was instructed to locate and remove them while the authorities stood behind a metal partition. I duly removed all the plugs, cables, adaptors and camera bits and pieces. I had not removed the rechargeable batteries from the charger and I had not wound and tied the leads and cables in an orderly fashion. They showed me the x-rayed jumble on the screen and I have to admit it did not look good.  After a lecture on keeping my accessories in neatly wound bundles I was escorted back to the lounge by the young man, who managed a smile at my old joke, just in time to gather my carry on bags and catch the flight home. I have not yet recovered my wits or my mislaid property. I did have Laksmi in my wallet so I hope she will find her way back to me along with the contents of said item intact. Mumbai is a city of the ‘great distraction’ and taxis seem to have a way of disengaging the mind while swallowing loose stuff. No blame.

More than a month has passed since my last posting. A month of dust, mud and cold winds (it snowed in Kashmir hence Kachchh was icy);  a month of hot breathed camels, high stepping goats and steaming buffalo; a month of sitting in circles  drinking scalding smoky chai made from various milks and a month of recording the sounds and images of those who wander the land in charge of flocks and herds – the Jats, Sumara, Maldhari, Rabari and shepherds of many remote communities. The call of morning birdsong is a miracle of the wakening world; the shrill cries of camel herders a ululation in the wild; the passing of goats in the dust a chattering cacophony of hoofs, bells, clicks and bleats. I recorded the makings of a symphony of the land and the challenge to turn it into the music it deserves to be lies ahead.


Bleating cacophony of sheep goats and shepherd. Lakhpat area. © Carole Douglas 2012


Pattern of movement. Dhebireya Rabari group (Kachchh) heading for Saurashtra. © Carole Douglas 2009

I now move into the production phase of editing and shaping the impressions of a wandering life via four projection surfaces including salt, several speakers and an installation of ‘markers’ to map territory and identify place in the ‘jungli’ – local term for wilderness and wildness.  I hope you will join me, in heart if not in body, at the opening of ‘Markers for the Journey’ on April 27th  6pm, at Manly Art Gallery and Museum, Sydney.