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February 21, 2003

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Camels serve as the best way to see the Thar desert. We will ride these smelly creatures for a few days and camp under the open sky.

First stop, Jain temple. You might have seen followers Jainism wearing surgical masks over their mouths (to keep from inhaling, and therefore, killing insects). The supreme ideal of the Jain religion is nonviolence. Jainism followers believe every living soul is in bondage of karmic atoms known as karma. These karma are continuously accumulated by a person's actions of body, mind and speech. Under the influence of karma, the soul seeks pleasure in materialistic things. This is the cause of self-centered violent thoughts, deeds, anger, hatred, greed, and such other vices that result in further accumulation of karma. One can get rid of karma and attain liberation by simultaneously following the path of right faith (samyak-darshan), right knowledge (samyak-jnan), and right conduct (samyak-charitra).

It may be a relaxing thought that under Jainism, if you don't get it right the first time, you'll be back in another life to try again. All we can tell you is that the Jains build elaborate temples that are worth an afternoon visit.

My camel, Butt-sniffer, has his own mind and likes to stay in the back of the caravan, a bad place to be after the camels have eaten lunch. The camels make loud noises from both ends yet their smell doesn't drive away flies.
I look like a camel school dropout. The man next to me is India's Marlboro Man. No joke. He really is something of a local celebrity and he's known as Mister Desert. He's appeared in national cigarette ads and posters. So why is he posing with tourists? He can't stay away from the camera.