Jaisalmer, the Desert City

Trip Start Jan 18, 2008
Trip End Feb 02, 2008

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Flag of India  ,
Sunday, April 13, 2008

26/1/2008 - 28/1/2008

Jaisalmer Hospitality...
We departed the train and were instantly exposed to a very wintry 4 degrees C. It was still dark outside, though dawn was approaching, and we looked around for our complimentary ride to our accommodation - Hotel Killa Bhawan, waiting 15 mins, but no one came (lots of offers with various prices to take us there though).  So we shared a 5 min. ride (in a 4WD taxi) with a Japanese traveler as the driver was going to a Guest House very close to the Killa Bhawan (KB as we fondly called it) for only $1.50 AUD. for both of us.
The historic 12th Century, Killa Bhawan - 2 adjoining townhouses converted to a hotel, is built in/and part of the Jaisalmer Fort walls and turrets, and is handy to the Fort entrance; with ambient rooms; rustic, furnished terraces and courtyards; and lounge areas furnished with antique furniture and handcrafted textile wall hangings. The owners/Managers are also taking initiatives to help with restoration (to help avoid displacement of the Fort's foundations and walls from crumbling) because of the demand on it's sewerage system and have their own large grey water tank.  We were warmly welcomed and invited to sit in the Caretaker's heated room next to Reception, even though he just awoke, and he appologised sincerely when we mentioned that our courtesy lift to the KB didn't eventuate. He ordered 2 teas for us (complimentary) and, after chatting (he likes to practice his English whenever he has the chance) and letting us know that our room would be ready late morning and his cousin, the Manager would arrive soon, he asked the kitchen staff to make us a breakfast (a big, cooked one at that and complimentary), which we enjoyed in 1 of the lounges, as there's no dining room or restaurant.  The view from the rooftop and courtyards looking out to Jaisalmer city and part of the fort complex as the sun was rising, is beautiful with the sandstone city showing it's peachy, golden colour.  I was able to have a hot shower before the daily morning power cut (8:30 am - 10:30 am ) and there's also 1 daily from 2:30pm - 4:30pm. Today was different though, as it was a public holiday (and no power cuts) because it was India Independence Day!
Our room was soon ready, and it's located inside a turret of the Fort's walls!, with rustic and antique furniture, silk curtains, and hand woven rugs.  The bay window opened up to a wonderful view of Jaisalmer city, market stalls, and the fort entrance.  We also witnessed 2 young performers (buskers) balancing and doing tricks on a 'high' wire, and even a couple of night time wedding parades, complete with bright lights, musicians and fireworks!
We also had use of a lounge/sitting area which was en-route (a few steps down) to the spacious bathroom and toilet (all to ourselves!) 
Later that morning, we explored the market stalls, and bought a few items.  I was shopping for men's shirts for gifts, and if you don't find the right designed fabric in a style of shirt you like, you can have it made (sewn and hemmed in the style of your choice within a few hours) in the fabric on display of your choice, from (depending how well you barter) 280 INR (only $9. AUD)!  We walked up narrow streets displaying intricately hand carved havelis (including the Nathmaljiki Haveli) and met some of the local people, including a genuinely friendly and pleasant artist, who chatted with us not only about India, but was curious to know more about Australia, our culture and art.  I mentioned that I am an artist and he asked us if we wanted to see his artwork and gallery (leased in a slightly run down, but beautifully carved haveli), which he proudly showed us with no pressure to buy. His artwork depicts Indian way of life, Hindu Gods and Goddesses, and Indian animals, all painted in fine detail, using a 'one hair'/fine brush and either uses acrylic paints or traditionally natural plant and mineral powdered 'dyes' mixed (in shells) with 'glue' (sap from a babul tree), which sets or 'fixes' the colours so they last without fading for commissioned or 'ordered' artworks. After more chatting (his English was quite good) and pouring us a lovely cup of tea, we did buy a few of his art works (well priced) knowing that at least he would keep the money we paid him and not have to go through the 'middle man' or suppliers, who pay the artists very little for their time and beautiful work.  He earns more (pays for his lease) by teaching, and holding workshops for up to a few interested international tourists and artists at a time so that they can learn the techniques and appreciate this style of art.
We had lunch at the Amit Ras Cafe - good food at good prices, and I had Idle (fermented rice cakes with a texture like a bread) and a vegetable 'pancake'.
We returned to the KB in the evening, and phoned Sanjeev (who'd left a message to say he'd arrived) and he'd meet us later in the morning.
At dusk, we experienced a Prayer Service at a Hindu Temple within the Fort with local Hindu people, who rang the bell; sang, chanted and clapped Mantras to the Lord of all Creation while a drum was played, and the lamp (lights) lit, offered and moved in a circular motion by the priest.  Food (Halwa) was blessed and given out and you accept this in your right hand only (this is the same when eating any food/putting food into your mouth in India), as using your left hand would be an insult, as it's custom to use your left hand to clean yourself after you've done your business in the toilet.
We later had dinner at the Shanti Restaurant (Indian, American, Italian, and Napalese meals) close to the KB, which had it's kitchen downstairs. It caters for tourists apparently and we found the meals bland and service very ordinary for the price.


Day 2...
A little less chilly that morning, so after a brekkie, Janice and I toured the Fort's Palace and Museum, another informative 'Audio' tour, and though it isn't quite as impressive as Jodhpur's Mehrangarh Fort, it is still interesting and very decorative. There are great views of Jaisalmer city, the surrounding desert, and of the windmills (turbines) that actually power up Jodhpur (not Jaisalmer) on the city's outskirts.
Sanjeev later joined us and drove us to Gadsisar Lake, which was excavated in 1367 by Rawal Gadsi Singh, and is a rainwater lake surrounded by small temples and shrines, with the Fort as a scenic backdrop.  There were peddle boats and rowing boats you could hire, so we hired a (twin) peddle boat and peddled our way around the lake, stopping a few times to take photos, and as we rounded the bank, turning, still staying close to the middle of the narrower section of the lake, we stopped abruptly and couldn't go forward or reverse (not realizing how shallow it was there). Whoops! We cracked up laughing, and I was prepared to roll up my long pants and push us off the hidden 'sand' bank, since I was steering at the time), when a kindly, local guy, who had been watching us on the bank, came towards us, obviously amused by our predicament, and pushed us out and we all waved and we were very grateful.
After our 30 mins boat peddling 'tour' of the lake, Sanjeev told us a story about the lake's beautifully carved, yellow sandstone arched gateway - the Tilon-ki-Pol. It is said to have been built by a famous prostitute, Tilon. When she offered to pay to have this gateway constructed, the Maharaja refused permission as he felt that this would be beneath his dignity. While he was away, she built the gate, adding a Krishna temple on top so that King could not tear it down.
We then had a good lunch at Jaisalmer Junction (out door touristy restaurant, though with ambience and we were inside the large decorated 'tent' area) and the meals were good value!
Sanjeev then took us to meet his friend, Dharmu, a silversmith, who also integrates gems and stones with his silver work to make exquisite jewelry and trinket boxes.  Dharmu's factory is also part of this home, and he is a genuinely pleasant man, who, after a couple of hours of us looking and Janice buying items for her shop, he invited us all to have dinner with his family, a lovely thought, and we mentioned that we'd thought of returning to the Jaisalmer Junction for dinner as around 7 pm, each night, local young dancers and muscos entertain free at the restaurant.  So, at around 7 pm we all (including Dharmu) had a delicious dinner there and he insisted on paying for our dinners, as a way to say thank you for us visiting his 'shop' and doing business with him. I, along with a few other diners (invitation from the dancer) joined in a couple of energetic folk dances - allot of fun, good exercise and a way to keep warm! My dinner consisted of 'Navratan' Curry - mixed veggies in a spicy, sweet sauce with added pineapple and cherries.
Just before dinner, while the sun was setting, Sanjeev drove us to his favorite lookout to see an awesome 'back' view the Jaisalmer Fort.
We returned to the KB around 9:30 pm ish.


Goodbye Jaisalmer!
In the morning, before leaving our 'home', the KB, and saying our goodbyes to Manu and Bhanu and the wonderful staff, who all looked after us well, (without being intrusive), we had a look at the intricately carved sandstone interiors of the Jain Temple complex, where only 2 out of 5 were opened to the tourists at that time, and a smiling man came up to us chatting about the temples, their history and pointing out relevant, interesting things (without asking if we wanted a 'guide'). Of course, nearing the exit of the temple, he wanted us to pay him for his knowledge and time. I gave him a small amount, smiled and thanked him for his interesting talk, to which he argued, in a loud whisper that he should be paid more, to which I then mentioned that this payment is a gift of thanks and we hadn't asked for him to be our guide, I courteously said 'Namaste', and then turned away.  I had noticed the Temples' Donation Box, to which I added a larger amount to.
In some temples, palaces and historic buildings, there are signs in English allerting people not to pay unauthorised  'Guides', and donation boxes are supplied, and your money helps to enable the neccessary restoration work to continue for these magnificent buildings.
Sanjeev met us in the Fort's courtyard, and we hired a tuk-tuk to where the car was parked, put our bags/luggage in the boot and drove out of Jaisalmer City. We really enjoyed our days there, and weren't hassled or had any unpleasant experiences as other travellers (particularly women) had mentioned in their blogs/travellers forums or from what had been told to us prior to coming to India.


Price Guide:
* Accommodation at the Killa Bhawan - from $85. AUD a room per night, including a cooked breakfast (as much as you can eat).
* Fort Palace & Museum Entry (incl. audio tour) - $8. AUD
* Laundry Service (washing, drying and folding) for 2 days of clothes (5 items) - $3. AUD.  Most of the time I washed my own tops/cotton long pants/underwear every 2 days, towel dried them and hung them over chairs or on hangers to dry.

Useful Links:
http://www.killabhawan.com/history/jaislamer-hotel-killa-bhawan.htm  For all info, and a reservaton form for Hotel Killa Bhawan.
http://www.nwahindutemple.org/hinduism.html  Lots of info about Hinduism, the beliefs, practices, and terminology.
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