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Published: April 10th 2012
Our train clatters forwards along the sand strewn iron, further and deeper into the heart and heat of the Great Thar Desert, a scorched, barren wasteland of scrub, slate and sand along India’s North West boarders. The increasing morning heat is already ominous; sand drifts in through the open windows of the train, creating a coarse covering on the leather seats of our carriage, a frustration intensified by the unpleasant mixture of sand and sweat forming in the creases behind my knees. Even the breeze generated by an open window is mitigated by the fact that the only supply of air has been heated beyond comprehension since day break, such that now, a heated rush of air continuously circulated through our cabin, as if some merciless tormentor sought to reinforce the fact that there is simply no escape. I look out through the open window, take an eyeful of our surroundings whilst hoping to not get an eyeful of our surroundings; there is nothing. Infinitely nothing.
It is a twelve hour journey from Jaipur, and in such distances in a land like India, that usually means vast changes await those tentative, disembarking steps from the train. It is
one of the draws to this particular state of India, that of Rajasthan, that it contains so much variety and variance from place to place, from the local customs and cuisine to the colour of the city itself (indeed, two destinations on our agenda are fondly referred to as the ‘Pink’ and ‘Blue’ cities respectively). What may have been experienced a few days prior can be left behind all too quickly in many respects, though admittedly, I doubt that the eyes or mind can ever fully adjust to, accept or comprehend much of what is seen in this country, images so unforgivingly seared into our minds eye, refusing to disappear into the subconscious where at least one can subliminally pretend ‘it didn’t really take place.’
‘The Land of Kings,’ as the state of Rajasthan is proudly named, is a land of true magnificence, where unbelievably impressive and well preserved remnants of former glories loom high over bustling alleys awash with the colours of jewels, saris, spices and, as previously mentioned, even the architecture; palatial palaces of former Maharaja kingdoms awe, soaring high into the desert sky. It is the India that many dream of. Amy is one
of them. Although the Great Thar Desert is endlessly bleak, the towns and villages it engulfs are anything but.
Perhaps more so than most towns in this state, Jaisalmer allows this wonderful display of riches and colour to be played out in the most spectacular of settings. Seemingly from nowhere, like a desert oasis, the town rises from the sands of the Great Thar, a vast golden fort at its centre where modern life still takes place and thrives amongst the ancient architecture of this beautiful citadel, whose narrow cobbled alleys and tall, intricately crafted buildings provide cool respite from the searing desert sun. It is amongst these alleys that life calmly goes about its daily business, colourful as ever but at a pace quite different to elsewhere in this country.
To mention colour when speaking of Rajasthan is unavoidable. The people of this state wordlessly convey all manner of information about their life from the colour and makeup of their ensemble, be it sari or turban, often supplemented by great numbers of coloured arm bangles decreasing in size from the shoulder and of course, all manner of gold and silver jewellery (both the
men and the women); a beautiful cipher unknown to foreign eyes but visually astonishing set against the singular gold of the city and the sand. As you can imagine, we spent much of our time in Jaisalmer transfixed with this hypnotic mix of colour, attempting to do it justice with the photographs you see here.
Aside from taking lots of photographs, we spent the vast majority of our time in Jaisalmer finding ways to escape the heat, draining as it was. When we first arrived in India, when some of the locals who bothered to strike up genuine conversation enquired as to our itinerary for our stay, there seemed a unanimous raising of the eyebrows and creasing of the foreheads as we informed our increasingly concerned interrogators that we would be venturing into Rajasthan in April. Apparently, so we were told, Rajasthan can get as hot as 50 degrees Celsius prior to and during the monsoon period, but whilst we do not possess a sadistic urge to place ourselves in such tortuous conditions, we really wanted to see the place!
As such, when exploring the fort and its streets, we happened upon a conveniently
placed restaurant high on the citadel walls with ranging western views over the Thar, ideal for sunset. Though, any notions of us rushing over here to watch the descending sun would be misplaced and should be dispelled immediately – we literally spent all our time in this relaxing place where we found ample shade and cushioned floors to laze on. Pleasingly, we also happened to find good food and even better company, including one of our old teaching friends from Korea whose path we have crossed numerous times on our travels. Much to Amy’s delight, we also found ourselves sitting and enjoying conversation with the man who began the now famous “World Book Day,” not his only impressive accomplishment (let’s just say we enjoyed his company so much, we’ll be buying our books from Blackwells from now on!).
As people who follow these accounts will be aware, we are not lazy travellers; granted we don’t always make each day count as such but we rarely visit places and do nothing, but in Jaisalmer, this was the story of our stay. One of the obvious things to do for tourists in a desert location is to go out
on camel safari over a two or three day period, however we decided against it for a number of reasons. Firstly, the heat during the afternoons was incredible, often holding us prisoner in the aforementioned rooftop restaurant, afraid to venture far from the shade. Secondly, during the day there was a thick haze out on the desert sands followed in the evenings by an almost full moon, meaning that during dark in the desert, we would see little of the famous night skies that help make these excursions so popular. And so, we took the approach that we will one day travel Africa, and since seeing Bedouin Nomads is high on both our ‘bucket lists’ together with visiting northern African states such as Morocco, we decided to leave the desert safari for another adventure.
For now, Amy settled herself under my arm (her favourite place to be I should think!) and with the rooftop to ourselves, we enjoyed another desert sunset...
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