JAILSALMER IS A FEAST FOR YOUR SENSES. It is a land of camels, jewels, lavish havelis (ancient mansions) and vibrant culture. After another long train ride we tumbled out of the locomotive at the break of day with wrinkled clothes and puffy eyes into the arms of this ‘Golden City’, named so for its glowing sandstone fort. We may as well have stepped onto the set of Arabian Nights. A huge golden fort, like a sand castle built by giants, towered over the historic town. On all sides of it desert life passes idly by: camels sat lazily in the streets drooling on the pavement, women in heavy brass jewelry and neon colored saris walked by and bright woven carpets hung from every window sill.In short, it is the India of my dreams
Travis and I both really loved our time in Jaisalmer. We stayed at an amazing little hotel, the Shahi Palace, which really added to our experience. This place wrapped all of the magic and mystery of Jaisalmer into one tidy, accessible package. The walls were covered in Rajasthani antiques and bright, mirrored embroideries were sprinkled liberally throughout the hotel. Best of all, there was an amazing rooftop
restaurant which served delicious, spicy Indian curries and offered breathtaking views of the fort. We spent several long afternoons here lounging on the bright cushions; reading books, sharing tales with travelers and soaking up the rich culture of Jaisalmer.
We spent one afternoon walking through the fort and exploring several havelis, ornate old mansions, that are scattered throughout Jaisalmer. Inside the walls of the fort an entire city operates - there are shops, restaurants, hotels and hundreds of personal residences. As you can imagine it has become quite a tourist magnet so there is no shortage of things to buy. And buy we did. The shopping in Rajasthan is incredibly unique – it’s where Princess Jasmine would go shopping today if she were real. There are small camel bone boxes, jingling ankle bracelets, antique puppets with long, pointy noses and dark eyeliner, bright pointy toed shoes, mirrored wall hangings, and beautiful paintings depicting scenes from the Indian epic, the Ramayana.
The most memorable experience of our time here was definitely the overnight camel safari that we went on. A jeep picked us up from our hotel around noon and drove us a few kilometers to the small town
of Lodhruva to see the deserted Jain temples there. Lodhruva was the capitol prior to Jaisalmer, however, little of the city is still standing. What is left, however, is truly spectacular. The well preserved temples are carved from the same golden sandstone as the fort. The golden archways and columns are covered in delicate, intricate carvings that really accentuate the artisans’ handiwork.
After visiting the temples we ventured on to a small, local village which was comprised of only a handful of mud and straw huts. As soon as we pulled up in the jeep a swarm of dirty, wild children surrounded us and began touching us and pulling on our clothing. These were not the well behaved, polite children of Nepal; they were more like untamed animals. They yanked at my watch (old, scratched and cheap as it was), my belt, and tugged at my purse almost breaking the cord. Hoping to gain a couple inches of space from them I reached out and tickled one of the smallest boys who had begun to climb up me. This tactic usually sends kids squealing in retreat, but not these kids. Instead they took this as an invite for all
of them to start tickling me
simultaneously. I struggled to get away from them but they had me surrounded. While it sounds funny, I was actually a bit scared for my life and practically sprinted back to the jeep to escape them.
From the village we drove farther out into the arid scrubland to where our safari would begin. The jeep pulled over and let us off and we were greeted by our camel driver Maden as well as our camels, Lalou and Kalou. Maden helped us climb aboard the goofy creatures (there was a lot of giggling involved) and then we were off! It was a bumpy ride. We ambled along across the plains for a couple of hours, passing small thatch huts, herds of sheep and cattle, women coming home for the day carrying large bundles on their heads, and even a herd of camels wandering around in the scrubland. Just before sunset we reached a sea of soft, undulating sand dunes. Here we were met by Malou, another camel driver, and a small group of Canadian ladies who had been teaching English in Dharmasala. Our camels wandered off to munch on grass and we commenced taking
silly pictures in the dunes. Meanwhile Maden and Malou were busy making us homemade chapatti, rice, lentils and curry over the fire. After sharing several cups of chai by the fire the Canadian girls returned to the hotel via jeep and the night and the desert was ours and ours alone. We spent the evening getting to know Maden and Malou (who both stayed with us) – learning their stories and sharing ours. Our camp was only 25 km from the Pakistani border. Eventually we pulled out the cards and played an epic game of Rummy 500 (which I won, of course). Afterwards, Maden and Malou made us a bed under the stars, which was actually quite comfortable. The moon was so bright it lit up the entire night sky. As the night went on it got colder so we retired to our bed under the stars. We curled up under the blankets and had a very restful sleep knowing that we were being watched over the moon and stars. We were awoken by the pink and orange hues of the sun rising over the dunes. Maden and Malou went to round up the camels who had spent the
night grazing in the dunes, but they couldn’t find two of them so Malou stayed behind to continue the search. It was quite surreal to see Maden appear over the peak of the dunes at the break of day leading a string of camels behind him. The ride back to the main road was possibly my favorite part. The day was still young and quiet and the sun covered us in a warm glow. We sat in silence for quite awhile absorbing the sun’s rays, until Maden’s phone rang. It was Malou - he had found the two missing camels.
It was hard to pull ourselves away from the sun imbued rooftop of the Shahi Palace but we eventually did. On our last day we returned home from a nice dinner in town just in time to see the moon slip in front of the sun thus creating a full lunar eclipse. Since we don’t have consistent internet access we had no idea that this was going to occur – it was a complete surprise. It was a really special ending to our time in this magical city.
For more pictures from Jaisalmer see my husband’s flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thejarvisproject
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