Also known as the Great Indian Desert, the Thar desert is a band of desolate beauty that runs between northern Rajasthan and the border with Pakistan. Despite the vast, seemingly empty dunes, it’s actually one of the most populated deserts in India. In fact, in the province of Rajasthan, about 40% of people live in the desert.

I found myself outside of Jaisalmer on a camel trek, hunkering up and down over the dunes. When we arrived at the desert camp, I saw a man arranging the camels and felt really compelled to talk to him. I have to admit, I forgot to write his name down and it’s something I’ll regret for a long time. But what I do know is that he is born and raised in the desert, and he believes he’s about 47-years old. His family before him lived in the desert, and he’s spent nearly every night of his life out in the desert quiet. I asked if he’d like to see other parts of the world and he said there was nowhere else he’d rather be than next to his fire, with his camels, looking at the stars. I asked if I could take his portrait and he agreed. We strolled out onto the dunes chatting about life in the desert, the struggles that come with desert life, like extreme heat and extreme cold, the struggle for water, but mostly he spoke of his pride for the place.

Indeed, as he sat in the glow of the setting sun, the dunes turning from yellow to orange to red behind him, the play of light and shadows, the incredible vastness of it all, I could understand that pride. Later, after dinner, he sang a long, slow song about the desert. It was in his native tongue but I felt like I understood each world. When I left for bed, he was sitting by the fire. He was still there when dawn arrived.

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