Into the ‘frontier’ city of Jaisalmer

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January 17th 2011
Published: February 24th 2011
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This has probably been the single location that I’ve looked forward to visiting the most, and it didn’t disappoint. It was always going to be a little different from the others, due to its proximity to the Thar Desert and the troubled Paki border. The fact that I had pre-booked the relatively opulent ‘Opium Room’ in the Garh Jaisal hotel inside the Jaisalmer Fort (which unlike most forts in India is a ‘living’ fort, with shops, hotels, restaurants etc all within the fort walls) added some extra potential interest.

The hotel was just great, situated close to all the hustle and bustle inside the fort, and with a magnificent view from my room (as well as from the rooftop restaurant) out onto the ‘golden city’, so dubbed as almost all the houses, all with flat rooves, are built of yellow sandstone (see photo). The area inside and around the fort was great – just had a nicer atmosphere than some of the earlier regions I’d visited, and seemed quite a bit cleaner too. It was however pretty touristy, but to be fair, I guess that’s how they pay the bills.

One of the highlights, and probably fairly unique for India, was the desert safari. We only had to travel around 40km west out of town to hit some pretty impressive sand dunes. On the way, we visited a couple of nomad settlements, although they were deserted at the time, and once we got out into the dunes themselves, we did the obligatory camel ride and campfire dinner also on the dunes. I was supposed to go on the tour with a contingent of foreigners, but through a typical Indian balls-up ended up with the company of just one Korean school-teacher and 5 of her primary school age kids. A couple of these attached themselves to me, and spent the day improving their English, and to a lesser degree, my Korean. The only downside was the trip back from the dunes in an open jeep later that evening, when the temperature had dropped considerably, contributed to a heavy cold that was to blight me for the rest of my trip.

I was due to return from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur the same way I got there, ie by overnight train, but after the dreadful trip out, I think I would have walked backwards rather than repeat the dose, especially now my head cold was quite severe. Fortunately, I was able to track down a guy who offered me a taxi trip for the 4 hour/300km trip for Rs2,400 (around AUD55). It was a comfortable car, he wasn’t your fast talking salesman, and he delivered door-to-door at both ends, so it had many benefits.

The scenery itself had little interest, being basically semi-desert the whole way, but once again the interaction with both other vehicles and with animals made up for that. The quality of the road itself was quite amazing – for three quarters of the trip, the road condition was great, but as we neared the major city of Jodhpur, it became absolute crap – no middle of the road (pardon the pun!) conditions here. It was wall-to-wall potholes, sometimes for up to 20-30 metres, so we slowed from 100kph to around 20kph. The only two particular items of general interest on the way were around half a dozen modern looking Resorts, all miles from anywhere (what you would do at a ‘resort’ right in the middle of the desert beats the hell out of me), and a lorry which had overturned in a ditch (more on that later).

While there was not the similar chaos of traffic as around the city areas, the trip still had its challenges. At least once every kilometre, we would encounter scattered all over the road either a herd of cows or goats, or less frequently donkeys or camels. Given these dumb beasts didn’t respond to the horn, we had to manoeuvre our way around, or more usually, through them. But more fun was the passing of other traffic, which primarily comprised overcrowded local buses, overcrowded lorries or dramatically overcrowded tractors carry a trailer often filled to the brim with rocks and other building materials, and travelling at snail’s pace. Now as you might have gathered, courtesy is not a key feature of the Indian transport code. Indians overtake on corners, on the inside, and any other way they can get around, even if it means pushing vehicles coming in the opposite direction off the road. No assistance is given by the bus or lorry driver to indicate when the oncoming path is free, and on the rare occasion this does happen, you never see that acknowledged by the other driver. The most interesting part of all was that an ambulance, which was on its way to the accident, with siren blaring, was given absolutely no preferential treatment by other motorists at all!

After about 5 hours, we finally made it back to Jodhpur. By then, my nose was running like a tap, and I’d almost exhausted a full box of Kleenex trying to stem the flow. My brief return trip to Jodhpur has already been documented in my previous blog, so from there was the final trip back to Delhi, which will be the subject of my next, and final, blog for this trip.

Additional photos below
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