This is me in a snake stance with “Happy Camel” in the Cholistan Desert.
Cholistan Desert, Pakistan 1990
I was in Pakistan teaching special education, tutoring a private student and working directly for his family. They allowed me a lot of leeway in terms of where, what and how I taught. For example, we built a killer treehouse in a Mango tree outside his bedroom using the plans, purchase of materials and measurements as math classes. Physical Education was Poekoelan, the martial art I train. For him, martial arts classes were about discipline, a positive attitude and sticking with something even when it’s hard. Art classes entailed designing and painting murals, and there was lots of reading and writing built into everything we did. I brought a stash of Roald Dahl books with me, and his favorite quickly became “The Twits”. The best class of all, however, was a camping trip through the Cholistan Desert!
Opportunity for Adventure
We were invited to tag along on a guided tour that some US expats had arranged. My student’s parents gave the okay and lessons began well before we left. We studied our itinerary and route. We read and wrote about the history and culture of the desert. We looked at maps, graphs and photos. We wrote lists of what to take, practiced packing and thought about gear and food. By the time our guides picked us up that late October day, we were ready!
Starry Skies and Camel Bells
The desert was beautiful and very hot. We were in Land Cruisers and flew across the sand. Nights were spent under the incredible starry skies with the sound of prayers and jingling camel bells lulling us to sleep. Sunrises were magical things with hues and colors you can only imagine. And so much sand! Sand as far as the eye could see!
One night, we camped out by Derawar Fort. We arrived too late to be able to see it because the desert is very dark after sunset. A lover of solitude, I woke up the next morning before anyone else and decided to explore.
The jingling camels wandered freely in the chilly pre-dawn and birds stirred as I walked alongside the impressive fort. It was huge and very ancient having originally been built in the ninth century AD. I felt calm and reverent as I often do among old things. There is a sense of smallness and insignificance as my perspective and the magnitude of life, time and space seem to shift and swirl.
The Sufi Shrine
As the sun rose, I came upon a beautiful open-air Sufi Shrine. Beautiful rugs covered the floor, tapestries hung on the half walls and the air was still and quiet. I removed my shoes and bowed into the shrine feeling awe and respect. There was history in that shrine, and beauty everywhere I looked. From the fabrics to the rugs, to the carved wood to the lightness in the sky.
I felt quiet and deeply respectful and settled into our form of meditation with legs crossed, elbows on knees, palms pressed lightly touching the bridge of the nose, head bowed. It felt sacred. Special. Joyful.
I was alone. I felt free and calm. Deeply moved, I stood up and ran one of our Poekoelan forms. My whole body tingled and vibrated. The familiar movement was exhilarating in a way I’d never experienced it before. I felt connected to the Sufis, to the universe, to the spirit that binds us all, no matter what religion or belief system we hold.
When the form was done, thoroughly out of breath and completely satisfied, I plopped back into meditation, nearly exploding with the joy and lightness in my heart and the tingling sensations in my head and body.
I came up out of meditation and did “Temple Stance”, a sacred form we do to complete a set of movements, or after fighting. Temple stance includes a recognition of oneself, respect of the physical place in which we learn and the heart with which we train. Then we slap off to bring the energy back to ourselves and bow showing respect to all who have come before us. All of these things I did. With intention and a clear heart.
As I came up from my bow, I saw an old man on the opposite side of the shrine. He was beaming at me with his hands over his heart, eyes glistening. He was not there when I began and I don’t know how much he saw. He bowed to me and I bowed to him in return. We stood there looking at one another for a moment. Quiet. Open. Hands to hearts. And then he nodded at me with that big smile and walked on his way.
There was magic in that moment in the respect, the history, the love, the joy and the connection. Amazed, I walked back to our camping spot with a heart full to bursting.
This was to be our last day on the journey. It was the day we were to ride camels through desert to our final night of camping under that incredible sky. If you’ve never sat on the back of a camel and raced through the hot desert sand, it’s absolutely thrilling and fun! THAT was one memorable adventure!
This is me and my student riding Happy Camel on the last day of our adventure!
Photo of Derawar Fort & More Information
Keep traveling, keep moving, keep safe and keep having a wonderful life. Meanwhile, learn about Poekoelan and the art we teach at Naga:
Silvia, that was a engaging description of a moving experience. The sacredness of it brought tears to my eyes! Great spiritual depth – an experience to last a lifetime! Thank you for sharing this precious time!