Sand Dunes and Camel Fumes
Trip Start Oct 13, 2010
58Trip End Jun 20, 2011
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Where I stayed
Tuesday started with a rude awakening…a 4:45AM alarm jarring us out of our sleep. It was time to leave Jodhpur and head over to the train station for our trip to Jaisalmer. Our train is scheduled for 6AM, so after finishing our packing and showering, we walked the short distance down the block to the station. We hadn't yet been out on the streets this early in the morning in India, while it’s still dark, and it was a real eye-opener. So many people just lying on the side of the road, some with blankets and some without….trying somehow to sleep, with vehicles sputtering by, dogs barking, and breathing in the horribly polluted air. (These people actually made cement look quite comfortable, as they all looked to be sound asleep. Some men even enjoyed a good cuddle while spooning each other in the middle of train station platform.) All homeless and nowhere else to go
Our train was surprisingly on time and we tried to lie back in our bunks to get a bit of shut-eye despite the stopping and starting. Arriving at 11:15, we were met by a driver from our guest house and coincidentally, shared the car with the couple from Repentigny, Quebec who we had met earlier on our trip. We got to the guest house and were shown 3 different rooms again, though this time, I shed my prima donna tiara and we chose the cheapest of the 3. (Don't get the wrong idea...this cheap room still had an attached bathroom, beautiful double bed and air conditioning.) We unpacked our gear and headed up to the rooftop for some lunch and to make a plan for the camel safari that we wanna do.
As we’re getting ready to walk over to the camel safari booking office, I happen to take a look inside my wallet and notice a problem. Where did my credit card go? I start doing the old mental rewind thing that we’ve all done before after losing something important. Where was I when I last used it? Did I ever get it back? Did I put it somewhere other than my wallet? A deflating realization then occurred to me….the last place I used it was at the restaurant last night….in Jodhpur. DOH!!! I manage to find their phone number and call them
Walking into town, we notice a couple of things. One….it’s VERY hot here, but I guess we should’ve expected that, being in the middle of the desert and all. Two…the fort just dominates this town, a central and imposing figure, rising high out of the desert in an otherwise non-descript town. It’s definitely much quieter here than most other places we’ve been to in India. (Well, quiet other than the woman that has been following us for the past 15 min shoving silver braclets in my face: "Very good price, very good price, how much would you like to pay?") We eventually find the booking office and agree on a 2-day, 1-night camel safari starting tomorrow morning. Sweet! We’re pretty psyched about it and were almost convinced to do 3 days but I managed to talk Jill out of that idea. We take the long way back home, walking around the perimeter of the fort, and then back to our guest house.
Now, back to my credit card fiasco. As you may recall, the owner of the hotel we stayed at in Jodhpur and his son were extremely helpful to us while we stayed there
Meanwhile, we’re still trying to solve the mystery of why our cell phone suddenly stopped working a week ago. After exhausting all options, I finally break down and use skype to call the Indian cell phone company that we bought our SIM card from. After several attempts, I finally get a help desk attendant on the line and he asks me what phone number I’m calling from
Jill’s conversation goes entirely differently than mine does. She doesn’t make great progress with repairing the phone, but she at least is told that we’re calling the wrong help desk and that we need to be speaking to the support guys in the province that we actually bought the SIM card from. OK cool…we at least have a lead. So now Jill calls the number she’s given, and after another lengthy delay and being stuck on hold, she’s told by the male support technician that our cell phone number does not exist. Excuse me? How can it not exist? We just topped it up last week and had been using it for a couple of calls when, all of a sudden, it stopped working. Can you please check your records again? He does…there is no record of that number
"Well, this is too bad. You do not want to be my personal friend and there is nothing I can do about your phone. Good-bye." Seriously, did THAT just happen?! I sure hope that phone call was being recorded to monitored customer service satisfaction. Unbelievable!)
We needed a bit of a chill-out session after more India got stuck under our skin, so after laughing at some amusing youtube clips, we headed up to the rooftop and had a few drinks before washing it down with some dinner. With some cool music playing, we found a cushy corner on the rooftop and enjoyed the views of the fort lit up a night. Ahhhhhhhh…this is better. At the same time, the owners of our previous and current hotels (who are friends), were making arrangements to get my credit card sent with someone on the bus from Jodhpur tonight, and then picked up from the bus station tomorrow morning. Wow….this will be amazing if it works. We called it a night and headed back to our room to prepare for the start of our camel safari tomorrow.
Ouch….the sound of a 5:30AM alarm is never good, is it? The staff told us to leave our bags in our room, with the doors unlocked and the keys inside, and that they would move them into storage for the night later in the morning
After an hour long ride, we stop at the edge of the desert, where we see 2 guys sitting on blankets in the sand with camels tied up beside them. We’re told to sit down and are served a breakfast of bananas with toast & jam. Not exactly the porridge that we expected and were banking on, but we filled up on the half-toasted bread and then got ready to be introduced to our camels.
Well, there wasn’t much of an introduction. No briefing by the guides on how to ride a camel, how to mount one, do’s and don’t’s, what our itinerary will be. Absolutely nothing at all. One by one, they instruct the camels to get down and then call over each of us to mount it
Riding a camel, we quickly learned, is not very friendly to your inner thighs and groin. After about a half-hour trotting along, we were all shifting around and trying to find a more comfortable position. There were no stirrups to rest your feet in, so your legs would just hang there, bearing all your weight astride this huge creature. Of course, we were never given any tips on the proper way to ride them in the first place. Thanks for all the helpful instructions, guys! We continued on for about 2 hours, riding mostly through desert scrubland, and seeing goats, deer, cattle, horses, other camels, and lots of big birds. We took a much-needed break at about 11 and cowboy-walked it over to a blanket set out for us, where our guides served us some chai tea and snacks before making us lunch. Lying around afterwards wondering when we would be heading off again, it was now 3:30 and we still had no idea what was going on. Finally, at 3:45, we got the signal that it was time to head off again. A nice reprieve for me though, as during the long break, our guides were able to find a less grouchy camel for me to ride…sweet! My ex-camel was now the 5th wheel, following along beside us with no one to carry and not even any supplies to lug! I guess the squeaky wheel gets the grease…even in India. (Definitely bad camel parenting... can I suggest a timeout next time?)
We sat painfully upon our camels for another 2 hours, though halfway through, Adrian asked if he could walk to relieve some of the groinal pressure
Shuttling back down the sand dunes and onto the blanket set up for us, I remarked that the only thing that I needed at this point was a cold drink. And then…out of the distance, like a mirage in the desert…a camel-riding desert man appeared, holding a burlap sack. It’s the beer-man!! Seriously folks. This guy lives in a nearby village and, using the Indian entrepreneurial spirit, he chills these beers in his fridge until they’re almost frozen, and then rides his camel to this spot to sell them to tourists like ourselves who are doing a camel safari
We hung out on our blankets, just chatting and enjoying the serenity around us, the sparkling stars up above, and the reflection of the moon off the sand dunes. At about 9PM, our guides came around again and set up our “beds” – a comforter, a pillow, and a blanket – all lying directly on the sand…no tents needed. We lied there taking in the surreal feeling of sleeping in the desert…the sounds of camels chewing, birds calling, and cats mewling. Romantic? Yes. But two other things that we learned firsthand that night. One, it gets very cold in the desert at night! By midnight, I had my sweatshirt and wool hat on and was trying to tuck into the blanket for warmth. Also, sand isn’t as soft as it appears to be. When you’re trying to sleep on it, it feels pretty hard! So, if anyone feels sorry for us, please raise your hands……..Anyone?........Hello?......(crickets chirping)….. (By now you may have picked up on the fact that our guides were somewhat lacking in the actual "guiding" department throughout the entire day, and this continued into the night
Waking up with the sun rising over the desert in the morning is pretty wicked as well, so we sat up in our makeshift beds, rubbed the sleep out of our eyes, and enjoyed the chai tea brought to us by our guides. They served us breakfast shortly afterwards, where we all learned how difficult it is to eat porridge with your fingers. I mean…it was pretty dry porridge….but still, we haven’t yet ascended to that level of finger-eating talent. By about 8AM, the camels were loaded and we were all ready to say goodbye to the sand dunes, so we hopped back on and away we trotted. Initially, we were supposed to have a full day of riding today, but Adrian has to make it back to Jaisalmer early to catch his train, so we’ll be cutting it short…which no one disputed since we’re already anticipating the pain from another day in the saddle.
During our 2-hour ride, we made 2 stops – once to visit a local village set in the desert and another to have a look at a school. Both times, our guides gave us no guidance whatsoever and basically left us to fend for ourselves, awkwardly walking around the village while all of the women and children were persistently asking us for rupees, jewelry, pictures of them (that they want you to pay for), and our sunglasses. (At one point, the little girls were actually just taking the one and only silver ring right off of my finger, grabbing for anything that wasn't firmly attached to my body.) The “culture stop” offered zero culture whatsoever and the only interaction we were able to muster was to turn down requests for handouts. When we stopped in front of the school, there was more begging, but we also met 2 giggling schoolgirls who were having a great laugh high-fiving Jill, so that was fun. Side note about begging in India…it’s not only those who are destitute that do it. Basically, they think of all Westerners as “rich” and feel as though we should be helping out our relatively poorer Indian cousins. Sometimes we would be approached by children who are clean-cut and wearing nicer clothing than we are, but are just conditioned to walk up to Westerners, put out their hands, and ask: “Rupees???”. That’s just the way things are here…ingrained in the culture I guess.
The morning camel ride brought more camel farts and more desert scenery. We saw a couple of goat herders, a few stray dogs, and some crops being grown right there in the middle of the desert – although we didn’t bother asking our guides what they were. We stopped at 10:30 for a break and after we were sitting down for over a half-hour, I felt the need to ask the guides exactly what the plan was. Are we getting back on the camels? Is this just a break? Are we finished? They responded and told me that this would be it…we’re just supposed to relax now, eat lunch, and then the jeep would be coming by to pick us up this afternoon. Great…thanks for the regular updates guys. So we found a nice spot under a shady tree, watched the camels fighting with each other, and ate our lunch while trying to figure out how much (if any) we should actually tip these guys when we leave. As usual, guilt reared its ugly head and we decided to tip them a reasonable amount…just not as much as we would have given had they actually done some guiding.
Overall, the camel safari was a great experience – riding camels in the desert, sand dunes straight out of The Arabian Nights, and sleeping in the open air – on the sand and under the stars. It could've been much better, but still a memory that we’ll never forget
That night, after we washed off the camel fumes and scrubbed off the sand, we met Megan for dinner on the rooftop of our guest house and watched India take on the defending champions, Australia, in the quarterfinals of the World Cricket Cup. To the delight of all the men gathered around the TV, India knocked off Australia, setting up a semi-final match-up with their arch-rival….Pakistan. Never thought cricket could be so riveting! Oh and also, my credit card was safely presented to me…delivered as promised on an overnight bus from Jodhpur. Have I mentioned how much I “heart” India???
We had a chill-out day on Friday, though it didn’t feel too relaxing battling the horrible wifi connection while trying to post a blog entry and do some planning for Hong Kong. Even chill-out days in India are stressful! We also became aware yesterday of a potential problem that required some discussion today. Apparently, there’s been a problem with one of the railway lines for about 2 weeks now. Some villagers are protesting for some reason and they’ve been sitting on the tracks, preventing the train from actually going through. We’re supposed to be on a train to Delhi tomorrow night, but if the protest is still going on, we’ll have to get off the train in Jaipur and then find our own way to Delhi, which would likely involve a bone-jarring bus ride at about 5AM
Seriously now…what kind of hotel asks you to check out by 9AM? Anyway, we drag ourselves out of bed around 8, store our bags in the basement, and then head out after breakfast on the rooftop. Our train is not until late afternoon, so we figured we’d go take a look inside the fort. Jaisalmer is called the “Golden City”, possibly referring to the color of the fort’s walls, which loom over the city. It’s actually a “living fort”, as 25% of the city’s population live within its walls…a mini-city of its own. We enter through the gates and are chatting away with the usual array of tuk-tuk drivers, shop owners, hawkers, and random people. We learn that the fort is crumbling little by little due to overdevelopment and that all the hotels, guest houses, restaurants, and shops are slowly sinking. Deciding that we just wanted a mental break, we skipped the museum and temples and instead, just walked around the interior, taking in the great views of the city and desert below. We discovered a cool, little guest house with nobody else in it, walked up to the dining area, and plopped ourselves down onto the cushions in front of a window, where we enjoyed the views from our nice, little perch.
Arriving back at our guest house, we receive awesome news. We’re told that the railway protest has been resolved and that our train tonight will be continuing on straight to Delhi! WOO-HOO!! I was really dreading the idea of waking up at 5AM on a train and then having to find our way to the bus station for a killer bus ride
Time to pick up our packs and head out to the train station. We pass by reception to say goodbye and thank them again for picking up my credit card. We mention how happy we are that our train will now be going straight to Delhi and they look at us funny. Uh-oh. Put those horses back in the stable. They tell us that the issue is only being “discussed” and has not yet been resolved. That hissing sound you’re hearing is from the air rudely escaping from our respective balloons. I guess it’s too late to return the celebratory beers? Whatever….we just got India’d again. Dishearteningly, I lift our packs onto the roof of the vehicle and we’re shuttled off to the train station and onto our waiting train.
Entering our car, we learn that the seats/beds we’ve been assigned are actually in different berths…across the aisle from each other. Nobody was actually in either of the two berths, so we just grabbed one of them and were happy to have it all to ourselves, despite the fact that it was right at the end of the car and next to the door
Passing the time by watching episode 1, season 1 of Mad Men, Jill notices some movement on the floor below us. Oh boy. Seems like we have some company. We turn the lights on and see a tiny, little brown mouse scurrying around amongst our bags on the floor below. I guess he wanted to keep company with the cockroach we saw earlier. Jill thought it was cute, but I’m not the biggest fan of rodents. My biggest concern was that he’d find a nice, cozy nook inside one of my shoes and then when I went to put them on in the morning….crunch! (Hey, that's how my pet gerbil died... RIP Tiny Tim!) Secondary concern…that he’d be crawling all over our faces while we sleep later tonight
We eventually drift off to sleep, until we wake up with a commotion outside our berth in the middle of the night. Someone opens our curtain and I get up to see what’s happening. Rubbing sleep from my eyes, I see 2 guys in full military uniform and carrying rifles. What the hell??? I ask what the problem is and find out that I’m sleeping in one of their bunks….oh…right….forgot about that. During a brief discussion, I explain that my “wife” and I were assigned different berths by mistake. I offer him the bed across the aisle, which was supposed to be mine. He decides not to shoot me, kindly accepts my offer, and we all try to get back to sleep.
At 5AM, there’s another disturbance and we quickly find out that we’ve arrived in Jaipur…the end of the protest-shortened line. We jump out of our bunks, try to wake up quickly, pack up and start heading off the train. As we’re walking out, we notice that there are still a considerable amount of people staying on the train
Have we been lucky enough to benefit from the protest being resolved today or are we on a train to nowhere? You’ll find out in our next entry. Bye for now…