I was on a two-month, carry-on-only expedition with my drone through Kyoto (unexpected stop-over in 35 degree weather, which I only survived because of my Patagonia jacket), Thailand (diving), Maldives (for a week=long savetheice.org boat trip), and finally to India, where I visited four states in seven days to make five episodes of In the Making focused on social innovation projects. (Check out the playlist here.)
I was just wrapping up my trip when my good friend Carson Linforth Bowley contacted me on Facebook. He was in India too, doing some sort of design immersion with MIT and VR.
We got each other on the phone and realized we were both pretty geared up: He with his Sony A7S with some nice lensing, and me with my GH4, DJI Phantom Drone, and handful of GoPros.
Obviously, we had to meet up and play with our gear.
So we decided to extend our trip by a week and head up into Rajasthan, a large Western state on the border of Pakistan that comprises most of the Thar Desert.
I met Carson in Ahmedabad, where we rented a car and driver and began our road trip.
We stopped at Kumbhalgarh, a 15th century fortress known as the Great Wall of India. It’s nothing like China’s, but still pretty epic. After meandering to the top with the other tourists, I was wondering how I’d get a good drone shot, with all those tourists in the picture and the potential for getting busted. Then, all of a sudden, everyone scattered in anticipation of the nightly sound and laser light show, leaving Carson and me alone on the rooftop, to enjoy the sunset and get the shot you see in the video.
Jaisalmer is a completely functioning fort city, completely walled in and with people still living inside. It’s also on the edge of the Thar Desert, more than 120,000-square-miles of sand dunes that separate India from Pakistan.
We stayed at Hotel Suraj, which we found the old-fashioned way – by going to town and asking around. Somehow, we got the most epic room, which apparently is often used for movie shoots. It was epically gorgeous inside.
It was also the perfect place to fly the drone from. It had an open roof courtyard where I was able to take off and land, and then a window I could look out to fly, which is how I got the epic pull-away shot of myself leaning out the window.
And then the desert called.
We rented a couple of camels and guides in town. The next morning, a car took us down a highway that extends towards Pakistan, and our big joke was that we were going to Pakistan: absurd because Jaisalmer’s the last Indian fort city before the border, and there’s 200 miles of desolate desert between the two.
The car stopped at a seemingly random spot on the side of the road, we were met by our guides: a 19-year-old boy and his 13-year-old brother. They shared one camel, Carson got the big docile camel, and I got what I found-out later was a testy, male teenager.
As the guides helped load my drone duffel bag, I told them to be careful.
“Why?” they asked.
I couldn’t figure out how to explain a drone to them, so I told them it was a helicopter, which, apparently, they’d also never seen. The look on their faces at the end of the trip when I let them fly it was priceless.
We spent three entire days moving through the Thar Desert on camel back. Epic virgin sand dunes. Meals cooked from scratch, featuring lots of Indian breads that weren’t naan. Singing by campfires. And, of course, Carson and me filming. A lot. The highlight for me was filming ourselves by drone, riding camels through untouched sand, a dozen kilometers from Pakistan. Epic! Thank god Carson was there to capture me too.
At one point I was filming with the drone, and out of nowhere, a camel herder walked up to us. I flew the drone in closer so he could see, and he called his friend over. It was like a mirage. Where did these guys come from? I flew the drone in, caught it, and then showed it to them. The highlight of the video is when he patted me on the arm in approval.
Another note about friends on the road… Carson and I spent a lot of time with the driver we hired in Ahmedabad, and we all became friends. We even invited the driver to stay with us in our room for a few nights. At the end of the trip, he gave me a hug, and said, “I love you.” It felt like more than the quick connection you make while traveling – there was something about hanging out with us that affected him profoundly. And that affected me profoundly. Now, we’re worlds away, but we’re still friends on Whatsapp.