jaislamer desert camel camping opium tea hash

On the edge of the Thar desert, sippin on opium tea

On the edge of the Thar desert

sippin on opium tea  


It’s mid afternoon when I arrive in the Golden City, Jaisalmer. The dry, sandy breeze intensifies my hangover. I jump in a rickshaw and head to my Hostel. The fort acts like a huge roundabout, so big that it blocks the afternoon sun on the drive over. When I arrive at the hostel, the owner is sitting out front, smoking a cigarette in his cream dhoti. His name is Raul, he’s a nice guy, probably in his mid 30’s. We chat for a little bit before he offers to take me up to a lookout to watch the sunset over the fort. We jump in his rickshaw and head over the lookout. We arrive and walk up the stairs, I sit down and marvel at the sun setting over a 860 year old castle. Creams turn to yellows and then into orange and then into gold. It’s beautiful. 

jaislamer desert camel camping opium tea hash fort


We head back to the hostel and bypass the infamous bhang lassi shop that Anthony Bourdain visited. I order a super sexy strong Mango lassi. The rest of the night is spent on the rooftop in a stoned blur, looking at the stairs, smoking biddies and playing an Indian board game - a mix between checkers and billiards. 

I wake early the following morning in the comfort of a king sized bed in my private room, all for the price of $3 a night. I drink chai with Raul and I ask him where I can find someone to take me into the desert to camp for a few nights. He tells me he has a cousin that runs a camel tour. This is always the case. It’s the motto in India, Everything is possible.  And everyone knows someone who can get what you want. And it’s generally a brother or a cousin, whether they are actually related is another question. I spend the rest of the day exploring the sandstone alleyways and then buy some hash from the cook at the hostel. A beautiful cube of resin, perfect for a desert trip. 

The following morning I wake early, again. It’s hard to sleep in the heat. I pack a small backpack with some things for the next 3 days in the desert and leave my rucksack at the hostel. Raul's so-called cousin is picking me up just around the corner. I walk over, admiring the stalls along the way. It feels like im in the setting from the book, The Little Prince. I’m greeted by a driver, a thin man with a dazzling moustache, wide brim hat and a long sleeve cotton shirt, he looks like a worn-out Indiana Jones. There are 4 other people coming on the Camel desert trip, a strange asian couple that are decked out the in latest Yeezys, a German girl and an Israeli. We pile into the back of an old jeep and head into the desert. 


jaislamer desert camel camping opium tea hash

We stop along the way to meet some of the children from a local gypsy village.  As soon as we stop, the kids run out of their huts, yelling and cheering with their hands waving high. They run up to the car and hold their hands out, begging for sweets. The driver pulls out a bag of lollies and starts throwing them out the window. We watch on as the kids scurry round, picking up the lollies from the ground and begging for more. We drive off and leave them in a dust cloud soon after. It’s disheartening. I knew that that was something that tourists have created. A chance to ‘meet real Indian gypsy children and visit their village’. We carry on, driving deeper into the desert. 

jaislamer desert camel camping opium tea hash

jaislamer desert camel camping opium tea hash

We arrive at a small village, comprised of 5 huts or so, surrounded by a knee high rock wall. A man squats in between a heard of camels. A father, named Arjun, and his two sons greet us. I light a cigarette and offer Arjun one, his eyes light up, he takes two. Not long after arriving and we are off again, this time, by camel. 

We ride for a few hours, along single tracks and over dunes. Wild horses and goats run beside us. It’s quiet. The only sound I can hear are the dings from the camels bell and the sound of sand blowing through dry shrubs. We stop behind a large dune to set up camp. The sun begins to set. I help the two boys collect wood and we start a fire to make chai. By this point in my trip I have become seriously dependant on the sweet, sweet nectar of chai. It’s crack. It still blows me away how amazing it is.

jaislamer desert camel camping opium tea hash

jaislamer desert camel camping opium tea hash

jaislamer desert camel camping opium tea hash

I roll a spliff with the hash from the hostel and walk up to the top of the dune. The heat haze blocks the intense light of the sun, creating a perfect silhouetted circle above the horizon. I light the spliff and pass it round. The asian couple are on another dune, the girl is throwing sand in the air and the guy is running around with a camera, trying to get the perfect shot. The rest of us sit in silence. Just being present, enjoying the moment. A boy from a nearby village rides his camel up beside us and sits down to enjoy the sunset with us. It’s so cliche. Like, is this really happening? I’m almost convinced it's a setup. I guess I’ll never know. We all just sit there, enjoying the sunset. 

jaislamer desert camel camping opium tea hash

jaislamer desert camel camping opium tea hash

I walk back down the dune and help Arjun set up the swags and prepare for dinner. An ominous cloud lurks above the horizon.  I ask him how often it rains in the desert, he says it only rains once or twice a year. I look back at the cloud, thunder belows and a gust of wind blows sand in my face. Maybe this is that time of year. 

The dark cloud becomes a black cloud. The wind continues to increase, blowing sand everywhere. Our fire blows out, our bags are quickly submerging into the dunes. I feel a droplet. I fuking droplet of rain. I create a makeship balaclava using my jacket. It’s storming in the Thar desert. I turn to Arjun and the boys, they’re running around trying to make sure we don’t lose all of our shit and still have food for dinner that isn't completely covered in sand. I couldn’t help but enjoy the moment. Maybe it was the hashish, but it was beautiful. A freak storm in the Thar desert. What are the fukin chances? I guess, 365 to 1. I was completely defenseless and I embraced it. If it were to rain, we are pretty screwed. No tent, no cover and a 2 hour camle ride back to Arjuns village. 

storm rain in desert jaislamer desert camel camping opium tea hash

storm in desert jaislamer desert camel camping opium tea hash

After an hour or so of panic. The storm calms down, the wind dies off and the clouds roll away. The asian couple peer out of their jacket cocoon and gesture something towards Arjun. He ignores it and continues to rebuild the fire. I chuckle. The boys and Arjun prepare a meal for us as the night slowly appears and the stars come out. A curry with rice and naan. It’s delicious. I eat it with my hands and enjoy every mouthful. We all sit around the fire and marvel at the stars, they are so bright I wonder how I will be able to sleep without covering my face. One of the boys plays the drums using the rice pot. The yeezy couple next to me inspects every mouthful with their iphone torch. We chat briefly around the campfire, the boys speak engligh pretty well, much better than Arjun. We scrub our plates clean with the sand and put on a pot of chai.

Arjun holds my shoulder with one hand and holds out a small bag with the other, “opium tea?” he asks. I nod and grin, without looking too desperate. I’ve always wanted to try opium tea. I knew it was popular in Jaisalmer. We are less than 100km from Pakistan, which is flooded with opium. So it’s no surprise that it’s readily available. I ask him how strong it is and spin my head around in some type of communication charades. "Strong wine," he says. The boys divide the chai between everyone, including Arjun and I. Arjun uses a stick to scoop out some opium from his bag and then mixes it into his chai, he then does the same with mine. I’m a little hesitant as to what the feeling will be. Some friends of mine had opium tea a few nights prior and they said it was quite mellow. I take it slow, taking small sips. The rest of the group head to bed. Arjun and I sit around the fire in silence. Shifting our gaze from the crackles of the fire to the glowing sky above. It’s beautiful. The opium cuddles me and I melt slowly into the dunes. 

I eventually find my way into my indian swag - a thick yoga mat and a blanket. The sand is still warm from the sun. The air is cool. I don't think I have ever been this comfortable before.  It’s not long before I find a couple of desert beetles crawling their way under my leg and into the warm blanket in an attempt to cuddle with me. I spend the next 15 minutes trying to locate the beetles in my bed, throwing them as hard as I can over the dune as soon as I grab one. I can hear the Asain couple still awake, shining their Iphone torch around in their bed. Their probably looking for desert beetles too. 

I don’t remember falling asleep. But I remember waking up. Arjun taps me on the shoulder and gestures with two fingers towards his mouth. “Cigarette?” he asks. I can’t believe this prick. Waking me up to steal some darts, the audacity. But I was in too good of a mood to care. I point towards my bag and tell him to get them himself. He grabs the pack and heads over to the fire where he is cooking a pot of chai. I roll out of bed and walk to take a piss. It’s so calm. So quiet. I’ve never been in the desert before, except for Stockton beach when I nearly died of dehydration with a mate of mine, but that doesn’t really count. This is my first, ‘real’ desert. 

jaislamer desert camel camping opium tea hash

I finish my business and walk back towards my swag. A dog is sniffing around the campsite. I ask one of the boys whose dog it is, he tells me it’s a desert dog… A fuking desert dog? What kind of an answer is that. That’s not really answering the ownership of the dog. If I found a rabbit in a shop and someone asked, ‘Whose rabbit is that?’, I couldn’t just say “shop Rabbit”. Or maybe I could. Maybe some animals don’t have owners and they are just ‘animals of the environment’. Whatever. The dog is nice and it chills with us around the campsite. We drink our chai and packed up the camels again for the ride back to the village. 

jaislamer desert camel camping opium tea hash

The ride is nice. The temperature is warm - the day hasn’t progressed enough to become hot. We arrive back at Arjun’s village. The jeep is waiting for us on the road. I shake Arjun and the two boys’ hands before searching through my backpack to look for some parting gifts. I give Arjun my remaining cigarettes, my torch to one of the boys and a pack of playing cards to the other. They seemed to be pretty chiffed. We pile back into the car and drive off through the desert. 

I ask the driver if he saw the storm last night. He looks at me with his eyes stretched wide open, gesturing with his hands above his head to indicate that his ‘mind was blown’. I laugh. He laughs. The weird Asian couple in the back look tired and fragile, I don’t think they enjoyed the trip that much. We drive through the desert with the windows down, listenting to strange indian gypsy music.  We make it back to the golden city by dawn. 


The Enlightening Power of an Apricot

The Enlightening Power of an Apricot

Words/Photos by Kim Feldmann

I step inside the bus at the scheduled departure time but the driver is busy fiddling with the engine. Bags, baskets, suitcases, and rucksacks are thrown atop. People come in a hurried pace, sinking their bottoms on any given seat, rendering my ticket and early arrival useless. Men run behind the bus station and find a spot on the rubble for one last wee. It’s a cosmopolitan crowd, and considering the street lights have just switched off, a very energetic one.

I feel slightly out of place just as any foreigner would, but a deep breath keeps me at ease. If the bus doesn’t start, I won’t go; if there aren’t enough seats, I shall stand. I observe. I reconsider. I acknowledge. I merge. I change. That is what I’m here for; that is why I go places. I hike over bags and children and claim a seat of my on.

On my lap sits a 30L, waterproof backpack with everything I need – and own. At present, it is set to bus-journey mode: a 1L bottle of mineral water fits firmly into the lateral net pocket; sleeping bag, 13” laptop, hard-drive, towel, notebooks, and enough clothes for three months strategically entangle in the main compartment. Four packages of wet-wipes cushion my camera from above. A bag of dried apricots bought at the local market earlier this morning blocks the string-tied opening. Everything is an unlace, unhook or unclip away and I’m sure I’ve left nothing behind.

When the engine chokes and roars into a start, I reach into the packet and, blowing some microscopical foreign bodies off the hand-picked, home-packaged apricots, munch on the dusty fruit for breakfast.

I’m in Ladakh, a region in India’s Jammu & Kashmir state that borders Pakistan and Tibet, and the bus is headed north-west to the village of Tur-Tuk, from where you can supposedly see the K2. Despite it being a historical trade hub, infrastructure is not something the region can pride itself on: The ups and downs on narrow gravel with gorges to one side and crumbling rock walls to the other require both instinct, skills, and, preferably, four-wheel traction. I doubt this old TATA bus from colonial India is 4WD, and the driver looks underage. Accidents are rarely fatal, but not unheard of. There is the odd group of foreigners on their rented Royal Enfields driving as if they were on the autobahn. There are thousand-meter-high drops delineating most of the road we drive on. Somehow, the latter feels less hazardous than the first. I chew a handful of dried apricots and watch the precipice below.

All the turning and bumping and waggling begins to stir something inside me. Not figuratively – it is not an emotion that stirs, but a substance of some sort. At first there is no alarm; after all, having sat on a bus for the past four hours, it is a matter of course my body responds. But then come the belly grunts. After an intermittent sequence of duller noises – always followed by a tremble – the stomach orchestra stops.

I let a doubtful sigh, for in a situation like this, on a crowded bus at 3000 meters of altitude and miles away from any toilet or bush, I need more than a mere pause to truly grasp relief.

Images of emergency escapes flicker lively in my mind’s eye. I try to con my thoughts away from the daymare by reminiscing on how I got here. Like the shaky frames of the world’s proto-films, I relive my day from the start: the waking up, the chai at the kiosk around the corner from the guest house, walking to the market and purchasing the apricots, heading to the bus station. Mind-tricking myself diminishes both the cramps and the premonition of their potential consequence. But then I feel hungry.

All around us is rock and dust. The way from Leh until our first stop in Nubra Valley winds constantly, and when it doesn’t, the long straight road shows no end in sight, squeezing the horizon out of me. It’s a high-altitude desert and as far as I’m currently concerned, not very different from any concrete-laden metropolis. One is the raw material, the other its anthropomorphized product. We’ve just learned to overvalue the beauty of that which is yet to be build because we continue to perceive ourselves unintegrated in nature, struggling to appreciate that which we have created.

We drive past another group of people standing by the roadside: workers, their bodies fully covered, a t-shirt-cum-mask and sunglasses blocking their eyes, a determined posture sheltering their fatigue.

They hammer the ground and move rocks around, stopping for a brief stare at the bus, returning to dirt and shovel as soon as we pass.

With the thick, high-altitude air, they probably don’t sweat as much as if they hacked stones at sea level, but they sure gasp more often. I stare back at them with a shiek around my neck and no idea what goes through their minds.

The stomach cramps return at full steam; frantic agitations protuberate my t-shirt. Looking around at my neighbours’ expressionless faces, I can feel my own lineaments contorting with the ache. But apart from the noise, the involuntary movements of the abdomen, and the needle puncturing my insides every now and then, nothing is actually happening.

An eruption doesn’t feel imminent.

As I sink into my seat in pseudo-relaxation, the bus halts to a stop. A congregation of houses shields both sides of the dusty road. The pubertal voice resounding from the driver’s mouth announces a 20-minute stop.

Twenty minutes standing seem to have settled my organism somewhat: I’m glad, but aware; hopeful, but sceptical. In order to reconnect with the present-tense – from where I have been diving and resurfacing constantly through daydream – I spin my neck and scan around, my eyes sentient for the first time since we left Leh six hours ago. I stop at the seat to my left, where a woman – blond, short hair, lean posture, narrow blue eyes, at least forty years old – looks strangely at ease. On her lap, a set of 50mm lens attached to a Canon 5D (which probably costs more than the bus) moves gently with the motion of the ride. Her left hand rests on the gadget, but it’s her right hand gripping the bare metal rail of the seat ahead what truly impedes both bodies from hitting the ground.

She senses my stare and opens a smile with her head still facing forward, as if saying I know you’re looking.

“I’m from France but this is probably my twentieth time in India,” Julie tells me, her eyes unable to hide the fervour the word ‘India’ incites within her. “I’m a photographer and my work is pretty much all about this country – India is my muse,” she elucidates the mystery behind the expensive gear and overconfidence. As we continue to chatter about the different shades of the country she has sensed and captured, my mind sneakingly wonders if she has ever been in the situation I was in just a while ago. A hankering for commiseration and advice teases me to throw the topic out there – something like “So, what’s the deal with these long bus journeys and stomachache?” My anticipation of embarrassment holds me back.

She segues with her storytelling and I instinctively reach for the apricots, throwing them into my mouth as I would with popcorn, watching her act out her stories as I would with a film.

Then a twinge in my stomach steals the scene.  

The bus slows down; I can hear the driver speak to someone through the window. A loud creak opens the door, a softer creak lifts the figure of an elderly woman inside, and with her upward motion, the pain in my gut escalates. I can’t pinpoint its nucleus but I sense that what was once the ideation of an eruption is about to become real. Eyes closed, I think of the buses back home and the times I was stuck in traffic for hours, on roads fenced with restaurants and cafes, always a bush around, plenty of toilets to choose from. My eyelids part – I’m still here.

The mid-afternoon light breaks through the dusty windows, and in a debile response I squint to see a bunch of rooftops outside. I turn to Julie – who by now has stopped talking and watches me attentively as if about to unwrap a present.

There is a split second of stillness.

Then I spring from my seat – bag in hand, apricots now on the floor –, exclaim “just leave without me” twice and stampede to the door. I don’t know if Julie understood what I said but I’m sure she understood what I meant. I run around the front of the bus and disappear into the village.

On a dark alley shaded by the straw roofs of stone houses, I halt at the sight of a child – probably old enough to give directions – hanging off a second-floor windowsill. “Toilet?!” I beg him, likewise begging that globalization has touched this part of the world. I also hope “toilet” doesn’t translate into “school” or “church” in his language, for I once met a Taiwanese guy named Tai who, while travelling somewhere in southern India, was advised to change his name to anything other than Tai, since ‘Tai’ meant “penis” in the local dialect.

Much like Tai’s fate had a lot to do with the person who suggested the name change, my own fate here is literally in the hands of a nipper. Unaware of his responsibility, the boy points to a light at the end of the alleyway, towards a clearance where a roofless building of four naked brick walls and a wooden door stands, pot-of-gold-like.

I run in – it’s a toilet. I sigh and lock the door.

The lock is far too modern for such rustic construction but I don’t think about it; there is a chasm on the dirt ground and that is where I direct my focus. Time stops. I barely perceive the mechanics; my entire organism floods with a mix of emotions like never before. Fear becomes joy which turns into dread until metamorphosing into relief. I am the quintessence of humanity – a vortex of contradictions. This is the epicentre of the most beautiful hurricane I have ever witnessed.

Its raving winds blow all my preconceived notions of “problem” a million miles away.

Here, crouching half-naked between an aperture on the earth and the cloudless Ladakhi sky, I question my entire existence and conclude that real necessities are few and, more often than not, unsophisticated. Diverting as thoughts are, mine manufacture a hatred towards apricots, dried fruit in general. But as justifiable as the hatred may be, it can’t seem to gain momentum – I’m enveloped in love and gratitude and acceptance and the most surprising ilk of peace. No ashram or week-long meditation course provides such insight. I wonder if I have reached enlightenment.

A knock on the door interrupts my rumination.

“Man, we gotta go!”

It’s a polite voice; a voice taken there almost against its will, with a duty to fulfil, not meaning to intrude. I recognize the voice: other than Julie and the old man at the market from whom I purchased the (possibly poisonous) apricots, this is the only other voice I heard today.

“Just a second!” I shout back, knowing it will be more than a second.

Silence...then a much harder knock, a single arresting punch, shakes the door. Either someone else is there or I just offended the first knocker with my lie.

“You go – now!” threatens the puncher. It is an impatient, perhaps even upset punch. It makes me realize I never stopped to consider that this may be someone else’s private toilet.

“Can you please give me a few more minutes?”

“No! No foreigners here!”

“C’mon, one minute please?!”

No sound comes from the other side of the wall. Then the first knocker breaks the silence:

“Everyone on the bus is waiting for you.”

“That’s fine, you can leave without me – I’ll find my way to TurTuk later.”

“Are you crazy?! There is no one else going to TurTuk from here. This is the last bus today.”

“I’ll get a taxi or hitch a ride.”

“Man, there are no taxis here and no one goes to TurTuk – it is the end of the road.”

“I’ll walk.”

“It’s 18km away! It’ll be dark soon!”

“Then I’ll just sleep here and either walk or catch the bus tomorrow,” I say, trying to wrap up the case.

Just then the puncher jumps into the conversation: “I say no foreigners here!”

Acknowledging I won’t win the argument, I decide to buy time by feeding them random questions, all the while hoping that, despite his anger and resentment, the puncher won’t kick the door open.

“Why no foreigners? I just need a place to sleep for tonight and tomorrow morning I’m gone.”

His sigh seeps through the tiny gap between the door and its frame.

It is a language I don’t understand.  I reconsider the kicking-the-door-open thing.

* * *

For someone who was so much at peace only ten minutes ago, musing about life, appreciative of this unexpected experience, I start to sweat quite a bit. Not because of heat or effort – we are at 300m of altitude in non-tropical India and there was no effort whatsoever in undergoing my business – but sheer fear.

A fear that relates more to embarrassment than pain, yet I classify as fear due to its alarming properties, something embarrassment lacks.

Regardless of what it is, this fear-cum-embarrassment has little to do with what people may think of me and more to do with my behaviour towards people. It’s a cultural shame, the everlasting fine-line between a local and a foreigner: Why didn’t the bus depart at the scheduled time and people didn’t seat on designated seats? Why couldn’t I spend the night at this village before Tur-Tuk? Why was my organism so sensitive to dried apricots?

On the way back to the bus, I think of Julie and wonder if she, with all her knowledge and wisdom gathered over years of traversing India, would have had a tip for me.

I think of all the guidebooks and travel forums I never read and wonder whether they would’ve prepared me for any of this.

I promise myself that once there is electricity and Wi-Fi I’ll write about extra-ordinary, non-marketable, potential features of a long bus trip in northern India, emphasizing the cost-benefit of purchasing hand-picked, home-packaged, unlabelled dried fruit.


I reckon this is as important to address as “Where to Stay in Delhi” or “10 things to do in Rajahstan.” If anything, I should warn people to bring more wet tissues than they would deem needed.


A Storm in The Thar Desert

I spent a few nights in the Thar desert, somewhere between Jaisalmer, India and the Pakistan border. On the drive out to the village I asked the driver how often it rained, he said once a year. 

It rained on the first night. 

thugs of hindustan how to become stunt man rarlo magazine

How to become a Bollywood Stuntman


It’s Spring in Rajasthan, India and it’s just past midnight. I’m playing cards outside my hostel with 5 other backpackers I met 2 days prior. Amongst the warm, hash-smoke filled air we aptly split half a pack of Hide and Seek cookies in celebration. It’s my 22nd birthday. In a few hours we will be on a train together to Jodhpur. Unbeknownst to us all, we would soon star as Bollywood stuntmen in a new film with some of the biggest actors in India.

The Blue City

We ride in general class on the train. Half of my time is spent crammed next to the toilet door and the rest spent sitting with my legs dangled over the side of the train. We arrive in the late afternoon at our hostel and head straight to the rooftop to watch the sunset. We smoke beedies while we play cards, watching the pastel light over the city fade into a grey night.

Breakfast is served from a food cart on the side of the road; bananas and samosas. Our plan is to loop around the city, check out some sights, try to find a decent coffee and finish with the Mehrangarh Fort. It’s around mid-afternoon by the time we reach the fort.

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur.
Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur.

Entry is 600 rupees. Even though it is about the same price as a goon sack, everyone seems hesitant. Perhaps we are just so used to paying $2 for everything that it seemed outrageous. That’s like 6 Thalis.  We make a unanimous decision not to go in. We pile into a rickshaw and chug down the hill, through the blue city and back to our hostel.


Adding to my Resume

We’re sitting on the rooftop, quenching our thirst with tallies of Kingfisher. Two Indian guys open the door behind us; the hostel owner and another guy I’ve never seen before.

“Hello...We are looking for extras to help with our film. Tomorrow night. Are you interested? I am a film scout,” the other guy says.

I’m hesitant. I don’t want to jump to conclusions. I’m imagining a backyard-Bollywood-private-film-college-assignment-video and frankly, I’d rather not.

The hostel owner adds: “You will get 1000 rupees, free food, sleep when you want. It’s so easy. It’s a big Bollywood film being filmed at the fort.” 

“Thugs of Hindustan, it’s a big Bollywood movie. Even Aamir Khan is an actor in it,” the scout says. He looks incredibly excited but also puzzled by the blank looks on our faces because we have no idea who Aamir Khan is.

I’m keen. This will be a laugh. I get my phone out and google ‘Thugs of Hindustan’. We, including the hostel owner and the scout, huddle around my phone and watch the pre-trailer together.

(Here is the actual trailer - with over 95 million views - which was released a few months later. )


I’m sold. We all look at each other. We are all sold. This is my calling, I can’t wait to put this on my resume.

“You will need to be there from 6 pm to 6 am the next morning. But you will get to sleep in between shooting, free chai. It’s very easy,” the scout says.

Lucky we didn’t pay for the Fort entrance.

Game Day.

The sun was certainly doing its job this morning. The 30 degree days are taking its toll on us. Swimming sounded like a good idea. The hostel owner points on a map to a nearby hotel with a rooftop pool less than 10 minutes walk away. The walk there is intermittent; we needed supplies. I knew that the pharmacies are very relaxed in India.  We stop at a few pharmacies on the way there; we need some pseudophed or something to keep us awake for the film shoot. No luck. Apparently, pseudoephedrine is illegal without a prescription. But Xanax and ketamine - no worries.

how to become a bollywood stuntman - rarlo magazine
Pharmacy hopping.

We arrive at the hotel. The foyer is empty and It smells like wet paint.

“Swimming pool?” we ask the stuited man at the front desk

“Level 6”, he replies.

We lounge buy the pool pretending we are hollywood actors. Although we all have our doubts about tonight, I was optimistic as usual. My friend back home works in the film industry and he has told me about the extravagant platters of food and drinks they have for extras. But I don’t want to get my hopes up too much; I am in India of course. I hope for the best (extravagant indian platters and opium tea) but expect the worst (cold samosas).

how to become a bollywood stuntman - rarlo magazine
Pre-game prep

Cold Samosas

All 6 of us pile into a rickshaw and chugg up the mountain to the fortress. A security guard weidling a rifle stands in front of a checkpoint and waves us down.

“Fortress closed,” he yells.

“We are actors in the film,” We reply in sarcastic synchrony.

He lifts the boom gate and waves us through. Busses and film crew with lanyards line the road on both sides. It is far more full-blown than we all expected. We are greeted by the guy who came to our hostel and he hands us all lanyards. There are around 30 other backpackers here with us, mostly Americans, Israelis and Britts. All of them had the same story about why they are here and all of us have grins from ear to ear.

how to become a bollywood stuntman - rarlo magazine
Arriving at the fort (left) and shaving my three hairs on my chin (right)

We are ushered into a marquee to receive our costumes. We are playing British imperial army officers. We boot-up and move onto the make-up tent where we shave before receiving our fake moustaches. I overhear someone say that there is food ready for us. I expect the worse and pray for the lavish smorgasbord I had imagined earlier.

I can’t believe what I see; fucking cold samosas. We all laugh but deep down I am ratted.

The film set was far from what I expected. Granted, it is in India and we are just backpackers playing extras. But it was a shamble. Myself and the other extras line up in the middle of the fortress and are told to stand still for the shot. We stand. I am pretty confident they used an Indian version of Bostik clag paste to glue my mustache on; it’s already fallen off. It has been about 2 hours and we are still standing in the same position, talking amongst ourselves and slowly caring less and less about the coordinators' orders.

“Everyone in position,” the directors assistant yells.

Once the shot is taken, everyone lays down on the cobblestone, resting their feet on their rifles, their heads on their top-hats and start chain smoking cigarettes to try to mend the boredom. We repeat this process until 1:00 am. Our spirits are low.

how to become a bollywood stuntman - rarlo magazine
Standing in position (left) and chain-smoking to pass time (right). *Apologies for the poor quality photos, we weren't allowed to take photos on set.

Why don’t we go on strike? I mutter deliriously to myself as the sleep deprivation sets in. If we all demand 20000 rupees or else we will leave, they will have to pay us. If they don’t, then their whole night of filming would be ruined. A deity interrupts my daydream offering hot chai. Giving me some reason to continue and not go on strike. The smell of hash smoke lingeries as a group of Israeli backpackers return from the back of the set.


Attention stuntman.

The coordinator of the set asks for all of the stuntmen to follow her. I lock eyes with my friends and start moving with the professional stuntmen. The set team looks suspicious as we start walking with the group but some of the actual stuntmen from South Africa back us up, telling them that we are indeed professional stuntmen.

A group of Indian rebels with swords, covered in dark makeup, start walking towards us. We are directed to pick a partner and choreograph a fight scene. Everyone who knows what they are doing except us backpackers. The actual stuntmen, start yelling out numbers and moves; “4, 8, 4, 2, low, 6, jump…”. I partner up with one of the Indian rebels and attempt my fight choreography. I can see the frustration in the eyes of the rebel when he realises I have no idea what I am doing. He raises his sword slowly into position with one hand and uses his other hand to explain what I should do with my sword. One overhead block and then I get stabbed. That’s it. While the other stuntmen are spinning, doing parkour and blocking swords like their in a scene from Kill Bill. I lay on the ground and get repeatedly stabbed until the scene is over.

how to become a bollywood stuntman - rarlo magazine
Rebels (left) and sunrise (right)

The final scene.

It’s 5 am and we have all had enough. The relaxed set and glamorous food that the backpacker-scout-recruiter promised was far from what actually happened. Weary-eyed, we undress from our costumes and line up in single file. The number of extras has dwindled since the start, there is about 13 remaining. I guess not everyone is cut out for the Bollywood stuntman life. We are handed our 1000 rupees and begin walking down the hill from the fortress. We smoke a spliff and walk down the hill as the blue city slowly gradates from a dark night to warm pastel colours of dawn. Rickshaws drive past packed full of kids with backpacks heading to school. We arrive back at our hostel. I set my alarm for 9:00 am and pass out on the floor in the common area.

how to become a bollywood stuntman - rarlo magazine
Walking down from the fort.

I wake up with a foggy brain and a chronic appetite. I grab my bags and jump on a 6hr bus to Jaisalmer, a desert city close to the Pakistan border. A doctor sits next to me on the bus and we talk about Amir Kahn. He asks me what I am doing in India. I tell him I’m a stuntman.

how to become a bollywood stuntman - rarlo magazine
A stuntman rides a bus to the desert.

Traveling through India belongs to the individual


Traveling through India belongs to the individual

 by Aaron Chapman


I was snap happy in India but it took me the better part of a year to get the film developed and realise what the images represented – India’s ability to transform a person. It changed me. I know it seems cliché but India is and always will be a place associated with finding oneself.

My Holga 135 was perfect for travelling through India. In comparison to other film cameras, the Holga has little to no settings. Its functions encourage a point-and-shoot approach, which sometimes results in happy accidents. Cultural interactions are assimilated the same way an image is exposed onto film. We’re provoked to press the shutter, to compress the memory to the size of our palms and remember it forever through evidence. We place everything we learned while travelling against the grain of our own cultures – a cross-process.


No friends had been before. An Indian man I was working with prior to departure suggested refunding our tickets. “But if you must go, don’t drink. They slip things in your drinks and then who knows,” he’d said. He was from Rajasthan and his lacking patriotism was a concern.

My knowledge of India was based on Gregory David Robert’s Shantaram or Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited. Both portrayed a landscape where spiritual journeys take place in those willing to engage and accept that fate is wild. My other knowledge of India was disconcerting

My girlfriend and I were about to pack for a three-month trip around the sub-continent, with the decision unfortunately coinciding with the gang raping and subsequent death of a British tourist in Delhi and the hospitalisation of her boyfriend. Preconceptions were being shaped to that of mainstream media. India was a dark shadow we were chasing. “We’ll be careful,” we reassured our mothers before leaving. Bad things happen everywhere.

Sick in a Jeep

You pay somebody rupees for a shared Jeep up the mountain expecting shared means a few other people. I’m a red-faced Rubik’s cube contorting to thirteen other humans and one chicken. Knees meet my ears. Lower back spasms. The chicken is next to me in a hessian sack, its wild squawks silenced by the owner’s loafer. He slides a fifth of whisky from the inside pocket of his coat and waves it around as an offering. I move in my seat inching closer to comfort while Jess is pressed against the window trying to breathe. Something is coming on. I see it in her eyes.

We reach Darjeeling and find a place. They allow us to stay for one night only. The state of Ghorkaland, fighting for independence, stages regular strikes in which the hillside station of Darjeeling becomes ghostly. No one knows how long this strike will last. One night will do before the next Jeep ride. Jess has already collapsed onto the bed with malaria symptoms. I wander the streets in search of food. Every restaurant closed. A man sells me dinner in the form of apples and bananas wrapped in newspaper.

The ghosts of Darjeeling resurface. Town centre inundated with people waving rupees at drivers. We’re ushered to a Jeep and once again are placed in the back seat. “We leave soon,” the driver says despite the gridlock ahead of us.

Four hours later we’re on the potholed road again leaving Darjeeling. Nine hours later we arrive in Gangtok, Sikkim, another hillside station. The strikes never went ahead. Jess is face down on the mattress while I again set out in search of fruit. It’s late but I find a restaurant. Fruit salad’s on the menu. I pay, then head next door to a hole in the wall, but the waitress follows me to buy fruit for the fruit salad. She buys pumpkin then hands me a plastic bag of pumpkin and yoghurt.

It must be 2:30 am and I have three seconds to get to a toilet. It’s finally happened. I’m glad I have a Western toilet in our room. Someone did tell me that no matter what you do, you will get sick in India. It’s more or less an adjustment to the abundance of red chili powder.

Kilos are lost over the course of days. Jess overcomes her malaria scare and joins me by the toilet. Any chance of sightseeing or adventure is thwarted by the need to have a toilet within reach. Even walking out into the street for breakfast results in hunched over agony, unable to continue, about to burst. We take turns. We buy more toilet paper. We listen to hours of music through noise-cancelling headphones, a fumbling panic to put them on before the other goes about their business.

Sick on a bus

We flag the bus down. It nearly left without us. We throw our rucksacks beneath and climb aboard, taking our designated seats in the last row. Two middle-aged women turn in their seats to watch us. Half an hour later they’re still watching.

The sun setting somewhere over Jaipur tells everyone to leave their seats and enter their horizontal berths above. I do so gladly, excited by the prospect of sleep and glad to remove the women’s eyes. Unfortunately the back of the bus also means copping the brunt of any potholes, which is likely on a sixteen-hour journey from Pushkar to Rishikesh. I underestimate the extent and depth of them. This bus has no suspension. Each time a wheel enters the earth I’m sent flying. A thick plume of dust releases from the thin mattress when I land. Poor Jess and her small frame go with every corrugation. I’m there to catch her elbows in my ribs. Somehow we fall asleep.

The bus stops every few hours for toilet breaks. Women wait in line at holes in the ground or simply hike up their saris in the field. Men stand like incense in sand, pissing in the wind. I get up to stretch my legs. I don’t feel so good.

It’s somewhere near midnight and we’re back on the trampoline in and out of gravity. Our slow progression toward the yoga capital continues. I drift into sleep but can’t sustain it, waking to the feeling of waste moving through my intestines. I’m exhausted. I’ve never been so afraid to close my eyes.

I spend the wolf hours waking to clenched butt cheeks and suppressed childhood memories.

These are only two of the more embarrassing memories from India. Much like developing film, happiness takes time. Through India I saw different shades of frustration, anger and sadness, now filtered through a lens of laughter. It’s those unhappy moments that are remembered for what they become.


No one warned us these things would happen. I may have brought a spare change of underwear if they had, but would’ve ultimately let destiny run its course. Unfortunately destiny also meant the death of my grandfather and cancer diagnosis of Jess’s father. We were ordered not to come home despite our best efforts. But looking back, we were exactly where we needed to be. India was embracing us, teaching us a little more about ourselves which enabled us to better handle our tragedies. Perhaps our parents knew this was the case.

Travelling through India belongs to the individual – moments and memories forged between country and self. There were of course happier times, life changing even. But I wrote about the embarrassing ones to warn about some of the fine print and inspire people to travel India and live a little closer to the earth. I’m concerned with First World problems as I write this. My laptop has distressingly little charge and Jess’s Himalayan salt lamp is increasing our power bill, somewhat.

Life is far less complicated with a rucksack and minimal possessions. Life is far more thrilling chasing shadows through India. You’ll never know what lies between the borders unless you let the light in. It far outweighs the darkness.