“I am Audi and this is Ferrari!” A Bedouin lad with kohl-rimmed eyes announced, introducing himself and his mule. I said I preferred to walk but he knew better. He tagged along behind me until we came close to the start of the Monastery trail. I capitulated and agreed to ride his Ferrari.
If you don’t have the motivation or stamina to climb 850 steps to the Monastery, the mules certainly can teach you a thing or too. They do the climb several times a day and their Bedouin owners do it mostly on foot. No joke!
The mule I picked for my ride was a fair, vigorous animal, and it obviously hated stopping along the way for rest. I was the one who needed the breaks! It looked at me with sheer contempt – or was I imagining things?
My travel buddy, Tanuja Reddy, I soon discovered, had the agility of a mountain goat and the tenacity of a mule. She was determined to make it to the top without the help of Lamborghinis or Porshes – and she did reach the Monastery with remarkable poise. I never noticed her panting or heaving. And she hadn’t even stopped to rest along the way! Wow!
The Monastery is similar in appearance to the Treasury but in a way it’s more impressive. We had reached the place at 10 a.m. so the sun was up, though not too hot. There were some chairs and benches for tourists to rest and also a small coffee cum souvenir shop. Soon a team of donkeys came along laden with provisions for the store. One of them wanted to investigate my shoulder bag so I hurriedly moved away.
I rested for while on the bench and the sun got hotter and hotter. There were only a handful of other tourists so we had the place virtually to ourselves. We chatted briefly with an Indian couple from the US.
Tanuja went for yet another walk-climb-walk! I’d have loved to organize a competition between my buddy and the donkeys and I’m sure Tanuja would have taken up the challenge but I’d no clue how to explain the rules of the contest to the animals.
On the way down from the Monastery the mule wanted to go tripping along and I thought I would dislocate my shoulder just trying to hold on. Thankfully the Bedouin held on to the reins and gently walked the impatient beast down the steps. OMG, wasn’t I relieved!
I ventured to ask the Bedouin why he had lined his eyes with kohl. With his poor knowledge of English and my paucity of Arabic, the communication was somewhat distorted – and the reply I got was that it was long-lasting and would hold good for 2-3 days even if the face is washed with soap and water. I would have liked to know why he was wearing it in the first place. But they all were.