Into the desert

Trip Start Oct 01, 2005
Trip End Jul 21, 2007

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Where I stayed
Desert Boy's Guest House

Flag of India  , Rajasthan,
Saturday, October 29, 2005

As we approached on the bus we could see the magical fort of Jaisalmer in the distance, and as the guide book says it does literally rise out of the desert like a huge golden sandcastle. It stands right on the edge of the Thar desert at the Western most point of Rajasthan, there's literally only sand and rocks in between here and Pakistan.
It was built from sandstone by the local maharana and has been here since 1156. It's position on the camel-train route is where all the wealth came from and nowadays it still thrives due to tourism and people going on camel treks into the desert, which was our intention. It's my kind of place; you drive past the towering walls entering via a massive wooden gate into the outer courtyard and then go up the steep age old road to the second gate. Cows everywhere as usual. Inside it's all narrow alleyways with well preserved havelis, ancient Hindu and Jain temples and people just getting on with everyday life. The fort was actually built on a mountain so it's all up and down but you could walk around it in twenty minutes. It's got a lot of charm and it's easy to imagine how life was hundreds of years ago as it's probably not changed much. There's no traffic apart from motorbikes and cows so it's quiet and as the festival of Diwali was fast approaching, all the houses were being freshly painted and at night people put candles on their doorsteps creating a really special atmosphere.
Our hotel was in one of the cute havelis, the room was boss, it was actually in one of the bastions on the edge of the fort, the window seat overlooked the walls and the newer city outside. As we expected, when we arrived the manager did not neglect to try to sell us his camel trek which he obviously claimed was the best, but we decided to try the Desert Boys guest house which we had heard was good value. After a hasty breakfast we checked out Desert Boys who convinced us and we parted with the readies. Spent the rest of the day strolling round the fort and watched the sunset from a quality restaurant called Little Tibet. Our table was on the top level perched on the edge overlooking the main entrance to the fort. Vertigo time.
Next morning we woke early and a guy called Lemon Soda sped us off 40km into the wilderness in a Jeep with our compadre Kathy from Philly. We met up with our camels: Mokan and Achoo and our two camel drivers Sawat and colleague who were diamond geezers and looked after us superbly. We introduced ourselves, mounted our steeds and loped off into the desert sweating under the morning sun. If I said it was relaxing I would be lying. The seats were padded sure, but the camel walking motion is less than ergonomic. Oh and their breath smells real bad. The reason for this is that as he's walking along ripping at the odd bush, he chews for awhile, swallows and then regurgitates back into the mouth and has another go. Camel bile not nice, especially as the aroma wafts back and blends with the fart smell from the camel in front. However they do have a smattering of charm as well and definitely a lot of character. When they are loaded up with seats, blankets, cooking utensils, food and people they grunt cantankerously as each item is added. Also when they are let loose, they mischievously wander off to search of a tasty bush, or willing mate, with a glint in their eyes. We stopped for lunch at 11.30 as the sun was reaching it's apex and proving too hot for the camels or us, and the guys cooked us some simple but tasty food on an open fire. We led under a tree and surveyed the surrounding bush and were in turn surveyed by two local girls who popped up and stared intently at us as we ate, unsure of what to make of the white people. When we brought the Ipod out we really blew some heads and they got into the drum and bass, flayling there arms around in rapture, and adapting some Hindi music lyrics to the tunes. We did not set off again until 2.30 and continued trekking deeper into the desert stopping off at a village and having a squiz at the people who actually eke out a living in this harsh environment. They definitely seemed as interested in us as we were in them. We stopped for the night in some sand dunes and while the guys made another fire for the evening meal we watched the sun set on the horizon, really beautiful and clear. It was at this point that we noticed the mass of Dung Beetles crawling in the sand all around us and thoughts turned to bedtime when we would be laid under the stars with a lot of crawly company. Not a nice prospect all in all. We sat down and chatted to Kathy about travelling in India amongst other things and had a lovely meal in the dark. Constantly doing beetle patrol with the headlamp around the perimeter of our mats. Hard to relax really but the music man came along from the nearest village and sang us a few little desert dittys. A few of his friends joined him and we sang along and had a go at the local dance styles, much to their hilarity. The stars were truly amazing, so clear you could see the milky way overhead and bags of shooting stars flying through the atmosphere. You could even spy satellites tracking through their orbit. There was no putting it off forever though and we made our way onto the top of the dune to settle down to sleep......or not as the case was. Every time we turned the torch on for beetle patrol there were a veritable platoon of the bastards breeching the perimeter and making their way onto our faces. To cut to the chase we paced around, tried to sleep upright back to back, and then just battened down the hatches by zipping our bags up tight and surrendering to the onslaught. Obviously sleep was a long way off and never really materialised although we both got maybe two hours. Sawan awoke us in time for sunrise and as the light fell on the sand around the blankets we could see from the tracks that indeed the critters had been tramping all around and undoubtedly over us. URRRGGGHH! The sunrise eclipsed any nasty thoughts though, it was really spectacular to watch the wilderness be illuminated in front of us and this along with the pure silence and tranquility of the place was absolutely captivating. Kathy went off running through the sand and did her yoga to salute the new days sun, and the dog that we had discovered had slept at our feet all night ran off with her, watched intently and had a good stretch himself. Altogether an idyllic setting and well worth the rigours of the night.
We resolved at this point not to sleep the second night in the desert but to do the remainder of the trek and get a jeep home at sunset. Mounting that camel was a sharp reminder of the damage done the previous day to arse muscles and proved a testing time. The ipod came into it's own again, plodding past small mud huts, wild melon farms, sand dunes and bush listening to our favourite tunes all further embellished an excellent experience we will never forget.
We drove back to the hotel and crashed for the night only to be awoken about an hour later hearing loud voices coming from the corridor. It only turned out that the roof of the hotel was on fire!! With the power out and the padlock ironically placed to keep us safe on the inside of the door, exiting the room quickly was a job of work. Not that we were evacuated or even casually informed of our impending doom. The word from the management was "It's no problem", "of course theres a fucking problem!!" Kerry thunders back as we run down the stairs past the charred remains of the roof. The fire had thankfully almost run it's course and we returned to our room. When we checked the damage the morning after it is amazing that we weren't at least warned. The whole of the roof where a restaurant had stood was gone and a waiter had been burned as he slept in an alcoholic coma. The owner thought that it had been sparked by a firework of which there were many because of Diwali. The kids let them off all night long and just dance around the sparks as the parents look on with approval.
After our brush with Indian safety measures we booked on the 3.30 out of Jaisalmer to Jaipur only to miss it due to a low grade shit watch that we bought in Udaipur. We caught the next train out and embarked upon a 24 hour journey to Agra.
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