Wandering In The Desert

06 Nov 2007, by Brian in Culture, Locale

After our last post and a good night’s sleep we set out to see Jaisalmer for the day. The fort is expansive, full of winding alleys where you can easily get lost, but every street seemed to lead back to our hotel anyway. The shop keepers are persistent, “please look at my shoes, buy one get one free” (as in, get the left when you buy the right), “namaste, nice tattoo, come into my shop”, etc… but it’s still more peaceful than Delhi and they are easy to tune out or just smile and move on. We left the fort in search of some temples and what looked like a football (soccer) stadium I had seen from our room, but we didn’t go quite far enough around the fort and when we headed out in what we thought was the right direction we ended up heading towards Gadi Sagar Lake instead. Since we got there in a roundabout fashion, we came around from behind through some pasture land instead of coming through the front gate. It was really a detour and not what we had set out to find, but it ended up being a fun adventure anyway. It was very scenic and nice to just be amongst the cows and water buffaloes instead of other tourists or shop keepers.

Leaving the lake, we headed back towards the fort for a quick haircut to fix the halfway job I received in Pokhara. He did a much better job and I finally feel free of some hair and much more stylish. After some lunch we returned to our hotel to depart for our camel safari.

We were driven out into the desert, about 60 kilometers from the Pakistani border, and boarded our camel, Rocket, for a plodding walk towards the sand dunes. Don’t worry, we weren’t close enough to the border to worry about the state of emergency that we’ve been following on the news, just close enough to be a little exciting! Technically Rocket was not a camel, but a dromedary, because our “camels” only had one hump. But he looked like a camel, smelled like a camel, and spit like a camel (ok, we didn’t really see him spit), so we’re going to keep calling this a camel. We were joined at the sand dunes by some local nomads who sing and dance for a few rupees as we enjoyed the sunset. Rocket took us back to our “campground” which was really a hotel room (double bed, flushing western toilet, lights, a phone jack) on a concrete platform with a tent thrown up around it. This wasn’t camping like the trek we had just finished in Nepal, but it was a welcome comfort in the middle of the desert. Dinner was accompanied by more singing and dancing with an amazing fire show.

The next morning we made our way back to Jaisalmer for one last day in the fort, where we did some shopping and I picked up one of the local stringed instruments with a quick lesson from the guy who was selling them near the fort entrance. They look so easy to play and it’s actually not too hard to get a decent sound out of it, but it’s going to take a lot of practice to get the scale intervals down.

We woke up early before the crack of dawn the following morning to board the bus to Jodhpur and left charming Jaisalmer behind. Before leaving the hotel we were greeted by the hotel’s dog, a golden retriever puppy who was very happy to see everybody and wiggles a lot, just like Sophie. The canine companionship was nice, but it made us really miss Sophie and we can’t wait to get home to her wiggles. The bus ride was actually faster than advertised and we arrived at about 11am at our new hotel, the Devi Bhawan. The hotel was really nice, but Jodhpur itself doesn’t have a lot to offer. It’s the second largest city in Rajasthan, and very polluted again like Delhi. All of the garbage is routinely burned, and you feel it with every breath. We set out to see the Umaid Bhawan, an enormous palace built in the 1930’s by one of the last Rajput Maharajas. It was beautiful, but you couldn’t see much as half of it is a luxury hotel where only guests are allowed, and the other half is still the home of the royal descendants, with only a small museum open to the public. The real treat of Jodhpur is Mehrangarh Fort which we visited the next day. It is also huge, much bigger than any European castle we have visited, with several rings of thick walls for defense, entered through huge spike covered doors (to protect from elephants ramming). The fort is now owned by a trust set up by the last Maharaja of Jodhpur after he become a commoner following independence. It’s a great museum with lots of history and heritage. From the fort we walked to the Jaswant Thada, the “little taj”, another palace a short distance away. The white marble is so transparent that you can see the sun shining through it from the outside when you are walking inside. We were somewhat determined to walk to the Sadar Bazaar, but as we became more hungry and tired the persistent auto-rickshaw drivers seemed like an increasingly good idea, so we took a windy ride down the hill to the clock tower and the Bazaar where Kim bought a silk saree and some glass bangles. We searched in vain for somewhere to eat and ended up taking another rickshaw back to a restaurant nearer to our hotel. Worn out from the day, we were glad to have seen what we had, but also happy to be spending our last night in Jodhpur.

This morning was another for getting up at dawn for an early trip to the bus station… only we made up today for the few extra hours we earned on our previous trip, and just got into Udaipur after 2:30pm. Both bus rides have been through the barren landscape of Rajasthan which looks a lot like Eastern Washington… flat, rocky desert with trees scattered throughout the dry landscape… only you are joined by the sweet, dirty smell of exhaust and burning garbage that reminds you of an overheating engine. This seems like a compromise between the big, polluted, Indian cities we’ve seen and the charm of Jaisalmer. We are heading out shortly to Lake Pichola for a sunset boat ride before dinner, and tomorrow we will visit more Rajput palaces.

The moon is getting slimmer and our trip timer is running shorter… we’ll be home two weeks from today, ready to see all of our friends again, and get big sloppy kisses from Sophie when we arrive.

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