On arriving at our accommodation, ‘Jasmin Haveli’, we were pleasantly surprised to see that our choice of base for the next few days was borderline palatial and in keeping with the theme of our Indian experience. The traditional Haveli (term used for ‘private mansion’) was gorgeous and lush, with typically Indian furnishings and textiles draping the walls and windows, mirror bead-spreads and sandstone walls keeping the cool air trapped within its chambers!
On the rooftop was a breezy restaurant that overlooked the Fort in all its glory. Unfortunately for J it was a vegetarian menu, which meant that we usually ventured elsewhere to satisfy his carnivorous appetite (and my relentless butter chicken cravings).
Built in 1156, Jaisalmer Fort is the only fort in India that still supports the day to day life of a living city. It is built out of sandstone, rising from the dust of the surrounding Thar desert like a huge stand storm. As the Lonely Planet warns, the destruction of the Fort is being hastened by the hotels and restaurants inside the Fort that compete to profit off the tourist dollar. Without a modern sewer system, the restaurants and hotels pump the used water into the ground causing the foundations to dissolve and destruct, which will inevitably result in the Fort collapsing. For this reason we decided to stay at a hotel located outside the Fort and in a quieter part of town.
As mentioned earlier, Jaisalmer was one of my favourite parts of our Indian adventure, for many reasons. Not only was it out of the way and off the beaten down tourist track, the journey there was a challenge, allowing for us to appreciate the destination all the more. The hotel was so enchanting (minus the electricity fading in and out as it pleased) and made you feel as though you had gone back a 1000 years, to a time when a wealthy Indian family resided in the majestic honeycomb walls of the mansion.
The weather was dry and carried a certain electricity, the people were intriguing and intrigued just the same. The hospitality was overwhelming, the tandoori was mouthwatering, the markets and produce, the colours, the smells…Jaisalmer was above all – the best kind of assault on our senses that we had encountered yet in India.
We decided to take an overnight Camel Safari out in the desert, to try and experience the true life of an Indian nomad. We had mentally prepared for this part of the journey for weeks after hearing horror stories from those that had gone before; chaffing and being deserted, little food and water and nasties chasring your bed. Packing our mosquito spray, sunscreen, deep heat (camel trekking is a painful business for a rookie) and wet wipes, we ventured off in our open-air jeep for the first part of the expedition.
On the way to our camels we visited ‘Bada Bagh’, a cluster of once-grand marble memorials built to honor the former rulers of Jaisalmer. Sadly, the government has let the memorials crumble and they now stand in a barren field of dirt and surrounded by huge wind turbines. Like everywhere in India, the ground was covered in trash. It began to be a bit disheartening; the level of litter and rubbish that we experienced all over India, not just in Jaisalmer. It is quite depressing to see that people who live amongst so many astounding and jaw dropping monuments and architecture, have such little regard for their preservation and maintaining their aesthetics. I suppose this can be attributed to the dire poverty all over India, it must be difficult to worry about the luxury of appearances, when you can’t even satisfy the basic necessities of life.
After the Bada Bagh (which could have been skipped, in my opinion) we then went on to an abandoned village. J and I were wondering around looking at the deserted and forsaken homes of those gone before when I strolled into a darker little cottage like home. Screeching and skidding out of the depths came a bat – hell for leather – clipping my hair before disappearing into the sunset. My hands went up, my heart stopped, my mouth opened and I screamed. I screamed and screamed until I was blue in the face. J? He laughed and laughed until he was blue in the face.
After a few hours en route to our camels, we finally arrived at what can only be described as ‘the middle of bum-fluff nowhere’. An incredible vastness of nothing, sandy planes and dunes, tufts of weathered foliage so tough it could cut your foot off, strange objects moving so quickly across the desert landscape, it was difficult to decipher what in fact it was.
After a good 2+ hours on ‘Mr India’, I was about ready to call it quits. No amount of padding on your ‘saddle’ is ever going to suffice. I looked across at J who was seriously struggling with his camel, wriggling and rolling around trying to get comfortable, a looking of chronic constipation on his face and a plead; “please…get me off this”. We finally came to a stop on the top of a sand dune, where we watched the sunset – which was truly worth all the bruised butt in the world. The stillness of the desert is indescribable, other than the occasional grunt or sneeze from a camel, it was something else!
We saddled up once more as dusk feel over the Thar and we ‘mozied on down’ to our camp site, unbeknownst to us, a mother of a storm was brewing in the midst. We gathered for banquet style dinner and a local desert family danced for us and played heart thumping traditional music, coaxing the storm to move closer and closer. With a clap of thunder and gust of the icy wind we had felt in days, the skies literally opened and emptied itself over the giant sand pit. Within seconds, we were packed up and back in the Jeep with the guide claiming that we had to go back to town due to the severity of power of the storm overhead.
Driving back across the desert, we were inventing roads along the way, I’m sure of it. It was electrifying. We were fuzzy with a few brown milkshakes from earlier on and the excitement of jetting through puddles that were more like rivers, filling the Jeep to our knees, was overwhelming. Not knowing if you were going to make it through the next dam, with the sky black and gray and lightening licking the vehicles thin roof, an hour later we were back at the hotel…saturated like sewer rats.
So no overnight camel safari…the disappointment wore off after a hot shower and clean sheets.
The next day we decided to treat ourselves with a traditional Indian Ayervedic Massage. Now this was interesting… in India nudity is so taboo that natives don’t even shower naked. When the two masseuses (one male one female) arrived at our hotel room and told us to stripe down I was a little surprised. When the masseuse pulled back my sheet and started massaging my chest in front of Mr. Masseuse, I was REALLY surprised. In retrospect, I am pretty sure that this was what you may want to call a ‘g-up’. On further investigation, I’m convinced that I was taken for a ride and was a vehicle for Mr Masseuse to check out a pair of Western knockers in the flesh. If I had known sooner, I would have asked for a discount…little creep. Anyway…the whole time J was lying next to me laughing, so it took the edge off…a little.
After a few days of blissful rooftops evenings and majestic surroundings it was time to farewell our beloved Jaisalmer and embark on the next part of our dusty journey…next stop Jodhpur.