svetlana baghawan maverickbirdZahak sand dunes had seemed like endless mounds of sugar. They had been located near Dogub cave and had stretched on an arid patch near the ocean. Soft, rippled and nearly glowing in the mellowing sun, they had started in sprinkles. We had stopped the car right at the edge of the dunes and the sand had felt like soft powder beneath my feet. Although, I couldn’t see the ocean which had lain right behind them, I could hear its sighing waves and the breeze had smelled strongly of salt. Anwar eyes had lit up at the sight of the dunes and he had scampered up the nearly vertical sand masses like a rabbit. With his long limbs streaking against the afternoon sun and his futa (Socotran version of sarong/lungi) fluttering in the breeze, he had made it look so effortless that I had jumped out of the car, to run after him.

But what had been made to look awfully easy by Anwar, had been deceptively tough and I had soon struggled against the shifting sand on all fours, like a monkey. It had been quite hard to climb the dune, especially since every step had required digging and retrieving each foot, one at a time and the soft, squishy sand had sunk deeper with every ounce of pressure. The wind which had felt nicely mild on my face, until then, had blasted thousands of grains all over my body and my ears and nose had soon got sand coated. I had felt neither remotely happy nor adventurous, as I had scrambled up the dune and the constant veil of fine sugary wind had nearly made me blind. It had been as annoying as possible and I had nearly turned to get back to the safety of the car, when thankfully, Anwar had come to hoist me up the sand dune. It had been a nice gesture and the view from the top had been absolutely breathtaking.

Soft, rolling sugary dunes had stretched right till the turquoise blue ocean and the sun had created beautiful shadows in midst of their sensuous grooves and cuts. The whistling wind had created rippling patterns on the sand in front our eyes and the translucent lovely ocean waves had complimented them perfectly. Personally I find the Indian Ocean to be the most beautiful among the 7 seas and that day, against a dazzling white coastline, it had looked magical. The shifting, nearly alive Zahak sand dunes had been an amazing sight and I had gawked as long as it was possible to squint against a constant sand loaded wind. It had gotten windier with each setting sun ray and suddenly I had started getting goose bumps under my clothes. The setting sky although not glorious, had been beautifully sublime and the region had seemed to be drenched in fresh honey. The arid landscape had been awash with gold, white and blue and a huge empty sky had stretched overhead.

In the not so far distance, amber coloured stark mountains had looked down upon orange plains and the 3 or 4 newly constructed houses had looked awfully lonesome on the vast arid land. A few camels had stirred among the solitude and in the evening sun, the thorny foothill forests had mingled into 1 continuous violet patch. The sea breeze had gotten stronger by the minute and soon I had to shout into Anwar’s ears to be heard. Anwar, in spite of all the sand and breeze had seemed to have had a great time and it had been quite a struggle to get him going from there. We had planned to camp on the nearby Omak Beach for the night and being road weary, I had looked forward to resting for a while. Omak had been promised to be very beautiful and quiet with gentle, swimmable waves and I had badly wanted to get away from Zahak.

With the abrasive sand constantly blasting on my face, I had rushed back to the car and needless to say, had dragged Anwar too. It had been a very glum Socotra man who had reluctantly driven out from amongst the sugary sand dunes and he had raced past deepening plantations of feathery date palms silently. The Bollywood songs on the car music system had thankfully remained silent and strange birds had called out from the date groves. Socotra is famous for sinfully sweet and small pitted dates and every July sees the tough islanders hoard these precious fruits in masses. Every monsoon, the island remains closed to the world for the entire season and during those months the islanders depend solely on dates and other local products for food. Sources of livelihood on the harsh sun swept island is pretty limited and till today the residents like to stick to ancestral traditions, which have been handed down through generations.

The ancient Socotrans throughout ages have developed a complex and intricate knowledge of natural medicine, sustenance and conservation using the locally available products and for an island, so unique and endemic, continuing those traditions make sense. Thus Socotra traditional medicines use many interesting land ingredients like honey, herbs, dates, snails, head lice etc, while from the sea, they derive dolphin fat, shark liver oil, dried shark meat etc. Fishing, date palm plantations, wild bee keeping, animal husbandry and primitive kitchen gardens constitute of their livelihood sources and in some hilly villages, people still store water and sour milk in animal skin bags. Donkeys and camels continue to bear both goods and humans and life in Socotra revolve around such precious, yet scanty materialistic possessions. Thus it had come as no surprise that every stone house in Socotra had a few fiercely enclosed date trees and fishermen walking along coastal highway, peddling fresh catch off the sea had been a common sight.

That day however, the only items being peddled on the highway, had been struggling little fuzzy goats and although, they have been laughably cheap, I did not have the heart to buy one for food. Thus our dinner that night had once again been pretty forgettable and add to that the continuous whispering breeze constantly filling my ears with sand, Omak Beach had been quite hard to love.

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE

Zahak had arrived

Zahak had arrived

In a most pleasing way

In a most pleasing way

And from a distance

And from a distance

They had looked like

They had looked like

Sculptured sugar mounds

Sculptured sugar mounds

But they have been

But they have been

Surprisingly difficult

Surprisingly difficult

To climb and even

To climb and even

Harder to love

Harder to love

Golden and

Golden and

Rippled Zahak's

Rippled Zahak’s

Fierce winds

Fierce winds

Had made

Had made

Walking impossible

Walking impossible

And I had slid down them

And I had slid down them

As fats as possible

As fast as possible

Omak had been on my mind

Omak had been on my mind

And I could not wait to get away

And I could not wait to get away from

The shifting dunes of Zahak

The shifting dunes of Zahak