Shooting Stars and Beetlejuice

Trip Start Aug 07, 2011
Trip End Jul 14, 2012

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Flag of India  , Rajasthan,
Monday, August 29, 2011

Andy here again....

After the 12 hour overnight train and the 6 hour bus journey we were thankful to reach Jaisalmer on Friday 26th August.  It was definitely a drier heat than elsewhere in India but to be expected as Jaisalmer is in the middle of the Thar desert - i.e. completely dry, flat terrain with literally no towns around for miles and miles.  We booked into Hotel Shahi Palace, situated just outside the fort of Jaisalmer, with great views of ramparts from it's lovely rooftop terrace (which we ended up spending a lot of time in it's air-conned cafe!).

One of the main reasons that tourists come to Jaisalmer is to go on a camel trek into the desert to see the famous sand dunes and spend a night under the stars.  Marie & Jamie bought this for their wedding gift to us and so we hoped that we wouldn't run into any problems like we did in Varanasi!  We prayed for good weather!

The next day (Saturday) we needn't have worried because it ended up being an absolutely glorious day.  We got up early at 7:30am (yes that is early for me even on a work day) to catch a light breakfast before catching a jeep to head out for the start of our Jaisalmer Camel safari adventure.

The first stop in the jeep was the fertile area of Bada Bagh, a cluster of Cenotaphs or shrines built in memory of Jaisalmer's rulers.  We'd seen something similar when in Jaipur the last time we were in India in 2009.  One of the things you notice when here is just how many child deaths there were (and probably still are) even in relatively well off families.

Moving on from the Cenotaphs we headed well into the desert in our jeep to meet up with our guide, Madden, and the three camels that would be ours for the next day or so.  

We began the trek and were struck by the sheer wilderness of the desert, although it was nice to wander around the desert in silence with no other sounds but those from mother nature herself!  It was ridiculously hot though!  There is no getting away from that!

After a couple of hours on the camels we stopped for lunch by a well known watering hole (well known to the guides and not a pub for those who were wondering).  It was about 11:30am and the sun was just about peaking in the sky and so it was definitely time to get out of the sun before it got too hot.  Within 10 minutes Madden had got a campfire going to cook on (who needs fire-lighters!).  First up was a lovely mug of Chai, in the heat it was surprisingly nice and cooling.  We grabbed some lunch (cooked by Madden on the campfire), rehydrated with litres of water and laid down to have a siesta.  Well it was more like a sleep than a siesta as I'm pretty sure that 4.5 hours doesn't count as a siesta.  We were definitely pleased to be out of the sun mind - it would have definitely been too hot to travel in the heat of the day!  I even managed to get burnt sitting under the shadow of the tree - but at least the burning meant I got rid of my truckers arms.

During this 4.5 hour siesta it was great to watch the desert life carry on as normal.  Many herds passed this watering hole - goats, cows, sheep, camels & humans.  Our camels rehydrated by the watering hole and then wandered off to eat.  Madden  bound their front legs together with rope so that they couldn't walk fast (and therefore very far).  There was also a group of local Indian men chilling out by the watering hole, in the end they just jumped in to cool off.  They invited me to join them but I didn't like the look of the wasn't the clearest/cleanest pool I'd seen!  Fran chilled out and tried to sleep off her cold and I decided to read Michael McIntyre's autobiography which I found interesting enough to pass the time.

Anyway, after a 4 hour 'siesta' we got back on the camels to trek towards the sand dune where we'd be spending the night!

We'd managed to pick up some other guides after the watering hole so that there were now around 10 camels in the 'herd' (only half being ridden mind).  We were on our way to Aria Dune, which only our hotel could go visit - which was great because it meant we weren't going to the more touristy dunes at 'Sam' and 'Khuri'.  Unfortunately for the sweaty one (me) it was even hotter than the morning copious amounts of water were drunk in this period of the day (by this time the water had effectively boiled in the bottle and so was not that cooling!) in between times I periodically had to wipe my brow with a wet-soaked baseball cap!  Nice!

Once we caught sight of Aria dune it was like an Oasis.....beautiful!  Much of it was un-trodden, with no footprints, as you can see from the pictures, so it felt like we were the first to explore it.  We arrived at about 5:30pm - clearly I could tell what time it was from the height of the sun in the sky.....not!  Madden tied the camel's legs together and made a fire to make us some more chai but not before they broke out the cool box of ice cold water.......honestly this was the tastiest thing we'd ever tasted!!  Amazing!

The camels seemed to love the dune too, they spent most of the next hour rolling around in the sand - they are sand-dwelling mammals after all so I suppose it's not a surprise they like rolling around in the stuff!!

After chai, Madden cracked on with making dinner.  A few other tourists were joining us for dinner but weren't staying the night.....we thought to ourselves that they knew something we didn't. 

Before dinner we got a chance to wander around the dune, which fittingly was the time the sun was setting which meant for some fantastic photos (there's more but we're restricted to 5 photos per blog - believe me I took loads).  One thing we did notice on our exploration was the number of dung beetles and crickets flying/crawling around.  We hoped that at the top of the dune (where we'd be sleeping) there wouldn't be any and Madden assured us that there wouldn't be...

Needless to say that the sunset was absolutely stunning!  It was quite surreal for me, as this trip was very similar to the one I had planned for when I asked Fran to marry me in Egypt some 9 months earlier in the Sinai Desert.  I thought that at least I could finally pull this one off with no quad bikes around (I'll tell you the full engagement story if you've got 1/2 hour to spend one day).....although there was no engagement this time.....or so we thought.....

After sunset we headed back to camp to eat.  Home-cooked food on the campfire was lovely and we stuffed ourselves with chapati.

By the time we'd finished dinner it was pretty much pitch black which meant that it was time to take our place on the dune and spend the night under the starry sky.  We were taken to the top of the dune where we'd spend the night....alone with just a mattress, a pillow and a thin blanket!  Once Madden had made his way from the top of the dune we laid back to watch the starry sky......what a magnificent sight.....we've never seen so many stars and so bright to boot!  It truly was magical!

Now, we were assured by Madden that the insects wouldn't be around, however what he failed to tell us was that they were attracted to literally any source of light - even if it was only on for a split second!  We thought we'd just pop the torch on to get some ear plugs out of my bag (Fran had convinced me that bugs were going to crawl into my ears and lay eggs!) boy error!  As soon as the light had come on you could literally see dung beetles crawling in towards the mattress from all directions......they literally looked like shadows on the light coloured sand which you could only just about make out.  So this was a bit disconcerting.  We used the torch again to check we didn't lie back on any of the boy error number 2!  This obviously attracted more insects, but this time crickets!  They literally were flying into our faces, on our clothes.  As much as we tried to lay down we just couldn't get comfortable....imagine laying your head on the pillow, rolling to lie on your side and opening your eyes to see a dark shadow crawling towards your face in the sand!  It was at this point I decided I could never do 'I'm a Celebrity'.....well that and the fact I'm not a celebrity (apart from my stint as 'Mr December' in the Galaxy Radio Manhunt 2007 calendar - which Fran found when we moved house before coming traveling). 

We were busy talking ourselves into staying on the mattress and batting off the insects but it all got a bit too much for us when Fran felt a dung beetle on her chest, who then proceeded to try and bat it off but instead managed to squash it, (and the dung it had digested earlier), on her chest!  That smell of dung beetle didn't leave us all night!  Yum!  FYI beetle juice absolutely stinks!

That was the last straw, so we shouted to Madden (much like my little bro Jon used to shout to Mum when he had finished on the toilet for her to come and wipe his bum), who briskly strode up the dune with a torch of all things!  This only served to attract more insects again!  Not good for a couple who've had enough of insects!

Luckily, Madden had just the thing to help......the inner part to a two man sleeper tent.  This was perfect as it was like a giant mosquito net.  Nothing could get in - Madden guaranteed it, much like he guaranteed there'd be no insects on top of the dune!  After a full 10 mins of Madden putting up the tent in the dark, (skillfully done my son), and Fran managing to see her first ever shooting stars, we were in the tent zipped up, on top of the dune, staring at the starry sky through our mosquito net!  Beautiful (kind of)!

And we thought we wouldn't be camping the week of V-fest!!!

I duly missed all the shooting stars that Fran saw, which was annoying, so my aim was to try and stay awake to see them, I failed and passed out!  Although it was very much broken sleep....particularly when you could here insects flying straight into the tent, it was like they didn't expect to be confronted and stopped in mid-flight with a 2-man sleeper tent on the top of a sand dune in the middle of the Thar desert!

Anyway, we were woken up at about 11:15pm (it felt like 3:15am) to something moving by our first thought was.....IT'S A DUNG BEETLE (in my best "Andrew David George Mahoney" wedding vows voice!)  Then we quickly realised it was actually Fran's phone vibrating!  It was Tash...unfortunately we didn't get to the call in-time and were greeted with a message saying "Call me ASAP".  Fran couldn't call from her phone which was pretty annoying because we both knew what the call was Fran decided to plea with the Aria dune Gods for Tash to ring her back again!  5 minutes later to our astonishment she did! 

Fran duly answered the phone......."Hello?".........

"I JUST GOT ENGAGED IN BARCELONA!" came the response from Tash!

Ahhhh......woop woop!  So 9 months later somebody did get engaged whilst we watched the sun set over a desert!!!!

Congratulations again to the happy couple - we're so thrilled for you both, and are gutted we can't be there to celebrate with you.  We are thinking about you loads and wish you all the best for the excitement of planning the best day of your lives!

So if you remember Madden had 'guaranteed' that nothing was in the tent.  Well at about 4 in the morning Fran and I could feel something wiggling in between us.  We checked but couldn't see anything so laid down again.  A few minutes later we felt it again.  We checked the mattress again and to our surprise one of the dung beetles had made it inside!!  Needless to say it didn't last long!

By this point in the night/morning we were wide awake.  I just stared at the starry sky, which meant I also saw a beautiful shooting star also.  We just dozed until the sun started to rise across the Thar desert at about 6/6:30am.  What another beautiful sight!

Once the sun was up, there was no point staying the tent as it got baking hot, so we got up to have some breakfast from the campfire again.  Needless to say by morning our backs were hurting and we had sore bums!  Note to any future camel trekers - make sure you take your own pillow to sit on!  Thank goodness we decided to get the jeep back to the hotel at 11am rather than 5:30pm (which would have meant another day in the 'saddle').  Seriously by bum could not have taken another day of it........I have the blisters in between my bum cheeks to prove it (don't worry I didn't document my bum with the camera, I'll leave that to Gareth & Matt Newbon in our wedding guest book!!!!)

After breakfast we headed towards home so we had to trek a couple of hours by camel to meet the jeep.  My bum survived.....just.  Thankfully it was cloudy and so not as warm.....I still sweated.

On the way back to the hotel in the keep we had a stop-off at one of the 'abandoned villages' - basically there used to be a number of villages in the desert and one year the inhabitants just upped sticks and left, nobody knows why so the villages just lie in ruins...'abandoned'!

We couldn't wait to get back to the hotel to have, guess what.....a long hot shower!!!  And a snooze that turned into a full on sleep of course.

The next day (Monday 29th August) we woke up relatively early - well we had been sleeping since mid afternoon the day before - to check out and also see what Jaisalmer itself had to offer.  We grabbed some breakfast and spent the morning in Jaisalmer Fort, wandering the streets and getting a feel for the place.  Again the streets were narrow but the masonry on the side of the buildings was exquisite!  Although the streets were narrow it didn't feel claustrophobic like Varanasi.  There were some great views from the fort over the city.

Yet again we were beaten by the 11:30 it was sweltering again and we were drenched.  So we headed back to the comfort (and air con) of the hotel roof-top cafe!  We chilled there for most of the day as we felt we'd seen enough of the fort and city.

Jaisalmer has been good to us.  We've had a fantastic time and it feels like we've been here a long time.  It was also extra special for us because we were able to experience our first wedding gift.  So thanks again to Marie and Jamie for getting us the Camel Trek into the desert, although I think it will be a while before the blisters on my bum disappear!

Next stop is the overnight train to Jodhpur!

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David Mahoney on

Now you know what Jon used to feel like!! Sounds a great trek, pity about the dung beetles! You're supposed to go to the loo some distance from where you're sleeping. I would have thought common sense would have told you that! Loved the photos, I can see why you decided not to have a swim. S*** brown water is n't that inviting! Lots of love and take care
M & D

Tim and Elise on

Amazing... We love reading the entries, we really felt like we were there!

Love the picture in this entry of the 2 of you, you look so relaxed and close - lovely!!

Xx we miss you

Ps: Tim shares the camel pain, it never really goes away lol!

Tim and Elise on

Ps we are jealous most of all of the sleep!

Bash x on

I love these photos, they are my favourite x

Just got my beautiful bouquet, thank you so much!

Wish you were here too (but not really)

Love you lots xXx

Annie on

Hi both of you - it looks and sounds as though you are having the most amazing time and I am really enjoying reading your blog - almost feels as though I am there! I agree, that water doesn't look good for anything. The shooting stars must have been fantastic and you're right the sky at night when there is no light pollution is so beautiful you feel as though you could hold the stars in your hand.
Looking forward to reading about your next escapades - Take care Love annie x

andyandfran on

Hi all - thanks for all your comments. Keep them coming we love reading them!!

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