The desert men with white scarves, dark faces and dried out skin prepared the camels for the trek. The sand spiralled in the warm wind and cold water relieved the dryness of my mouth. However, this is not a desert tale as such, but more a story about goodwill, karma and an unforgettable character, by the name of Polu.
Polu had arranged our camel safari here in the Thar Desert, near the city of Jaisalmer. He was the owner of the guesthouse we were staying at, Hostelavie or Titanic Hotel as it was previously called. I first met Polu the morning after we’d checked in, he immediately introduced himself with a big grin and friendly persona. A small Indian man, with a larger than life personality, he was regularly singing local songs and making beat box sounds with his throat. He amused us with his tales about other tourists and his claim that he could speak the language of Korean better than the country’s natives. There was a spark of madness about him, which made him even more entertaining.
While talking to him on the third day, the morning before our safari, he told me part of his life story, revealing how he had come to own a guesthouse in Jaisalmer. It was a remarkable tale and within it, a hidden message.
Polu was from humble beginnings and had grown up in one of the very basic villages in the desert on the outskirts of the city. At eighteen he became a rickshaw driver, at a time when only about twenty of them existed around the Fort and tourism was in its infancy stage. He’d been a rickshaw driver for fifteen years when a French couple arrived in Jaisalmer and wanted someone to show them around.
Enthused by the challenge with his witty personality and local knowledge, Polu and his personalised rickshaw (he had his name across the front!) introduced the couple, who were both photographers, to the beautiful Fort city of Jaisalmer. After four days with Polu, the couple continued their India quest and left happily for Jodhpur, a five hour bus journey away.
However, Polu soon noticed that they had left behind a camera on the back seat of his rickshaw. Unfortunately it was too late to catch them and Polu made the respectable decision to catch a bus himself, for five hours to try and return it to his newly made friends.
Polu explained to me that at this time, he was quite poor and as a rickshaw driver he wore shabby clothes. When he finally reached the town of Jodhpur, his only method to try and locate the French couple was to visit the numerous hotels and ask. However, because of his scruffy appearance, hotel staff just ignored him or asked him to leave. He wasn’t willing to let such matters deter him and that night he slept on the floor of the train station, with the aim of looking for a second day.
It was at the end of that second day, that a tired and hungry Polu was spotted in the streets of Jodhpur by the French couple. They were shocked to see him and questioned him why he was there. It was then he had the chance to explain his story to them and give them back their camera. The French couple were extremely grateful, but because they carried so much, they had not even noticed it gone. However, that night, showing their gratitude they treated him to a meal and hotel.
Polu told the French couple that his dream was to one day own a hotel and to use his skills to show people around his beloved town of Jaisalmer. The following day, Polu returned to Jaisalmer, satisfied that he had found the couple and returned their camera.
A year later, the French couple decided to come back to Jaisalmer for a visit and were eager to meet up with Polu and have him as their guide once again. After a few days of showing them around with his usual humour and enthusiastic attitude, they asked him more about his dream.
They explained to him that they wanted to give him a chance to fulfil his dream. They accompanied him to a hotel that was up for rent and paid the owner two thousand dollars, a fee that would cover the rent for a year. They told Polu that he now had an opportunity to make his dream a reality, the year was paid for and after that it was up to him. Karma repays in wonderful ways.
That first year of business was in 2000. Polu stated that he wanted his hotel to stand out and therefore he took his guests for tours of the city, to see the lakes and to watch sunset over the Fort. To this day, he still continues this service with all guests (we completed the tour with him).
In 2007, he converted his own house into a hotel and with the help of his wife and sons, he is now in his seventeenth year of successful business. He has not yet been reunited with the French couple that provided him with his chance back in 2000. He explained that at the time, he had no email or computer access, but he believes that one day they will return and he’ll be waiting.