FOR thousands of years, men have travelled hundreds of kilometers into the Sahara desert to extract salt from the rocks. Then, salt was worth its weight in gold. Even today, a few do this arduous trip, on camel back.
Trucks and other trappings of development are threatening to erase this ancient journey.
American writer and photographer Michael Benanav undertook this 1600 km journey before it faded out of the sands of the desert. He lived, slept, ate and travelled with the miners, who rode up to 18 hours on camel back.
The outcome is the book The Caravan of White Gold.
The Sahara desert is a treacherous piece of land. It buries men who are not strong enough to endure its tests. Travellers who fall ill have no way of reaching for medical facilities.
Michael chronicles in the book how he prepared for the journey, first of all toughening his soles, by walking barefoot through the streets, eating to build up his strength and reserve.
He learnt to take care of the camel, command it and ride it. Such was his ease that by the time he was into it a few days he could read while riding. The riders camped for meals and a few hours of sleep, used camel dung to burn the stove for cooking a frugal meal, mainly of rice.
The book is an enchanting account of the journey that seems like a scene from the western films. The camels with their gentleness endear our hearts.
(Jaico Publishing House, A-2 Jash Chambers, 7-A Sir Phirozshah Mehta Road, Fort, Mumbai – 400 001, E-mail-[email protected])