Day 51 - Yellow splendor

Trip Start Sep 02, 2011
Trip End Nov 25, 2011

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Flag of India  , Rajasthan,
Saturday, October 22, 2011

We had spent all of yesterday avoiding the fort that dominates the small city, but there was no more ignoring it now. We got up early and made our way over, which again took around four minutes.

Song of the day: JuJu - Deep Sahara
The bastion is claimed to be the oldest living fort in the world. The word 'living' referring to the fact that people still inhabit the space between its walls, and daily life continues there as usual.

We made our way up the steep but short ramps, where attacking armies used to be crushed by boulders tossed from the walls above, and sat down at a restaurant overlooking the main square for breakfast. We saw the picturesque place come to life, with locals opening their shops or going out to pray, before everything was ruined by yet another tour group invasion, usurping the entire square.

In general, we’ve found Rajasthan to be a more popular tourist destination than the other places in India that we’ve visited. This is probably because of its proximity to Delhi and Agra, and the promises of ‘romantic’ India. After a week, we still haven’t gotten used to the sudden influx of tourists. Especially the groups, that can swallow a place up completely, are working on our nerves.

Where it was easy to escape them yesterday, it was nigh on impossible within the small fort: we first walked to a couple of Jain temples located in the southwest, only to bump into another group that claimed an entire street for themselves.
The temples were less ornate than the ones we had seen at Ranakpur, though still beautiful. But with the amount of people going in and around, we decided to simply walk along their exteriors, that through mismanagement were often obscured by installed floodlights and their power lines.

One thing that stood out is that instead of white marble, these temples were made out of yellow sandstone, just as the rest of the fort and every building inside of it. In fact almost all of Jaisalmer is made from this material. This gives the area a much more traditional feel than the blue and pink cities, which are mostly new cinder block houses with a slab of paint over them. Out of the primary colors (afraid we coined that one), it has remained most genuine.

After walking around the temples for a bit we continued on the path heading southwest. One crossing later we were at the fort’s wall and a dead end. Backtracking and turning the first possible corner led to yet another dead end (this place is ti-NEE), but as we came closer, we noticed a small staircase behind a house that led down to a path along the ramparts. Looking decidedly unvisited, we felt very much invited.

The path seemed to have been restored a bit half-heartedly some years ago and was constantly interrupted by piles of rock or rubbish, the latter of which took on disgusting amounts at times, and included some elements that strongly resembled human feces. We had no idea where the path would take us and were hoping we wouldn’t have to turn back in the end, but the quietness and mild sense of adventure kept us going. For once there was not another soul in sight.

Some climbing, crouching and jumping later we suddenly emerged above one of the gates leading into the fort. Here the overgrown path came to an end, with an old wooden doorway further down the side being firmly shut. Not wanting to turn back, and at seven meters above the regular footpath, we were in a bit of a pickle.
Looking around for other options we eventually saw an old half-remaining staircase hidden behind some unkempt bushes, at the bottom of which it was only three more meters to street level. So we gingerly made our way down, hoping the slabs of stone protruding from the wall were still as solid as they seemed, and from there jumped down to the path below.

Now that we had more or less walked the entire fort, the long way round, it was time to visit the palace museum at the main square. The stream of tourists returned immediately.

After our pleasant experience in Jodhpur we opted for the free audioguide again, but were a bit disappointed from the start: our bodyless guide was a woman who spoke in typical BBC announcer fashion, which was alright, but certainly no Sinbad Baba. About halfway through we got enough of her and broke up.

The palace itself was as small as anything in Jaisalmer, it held some nice collections and beautiful architecture, but is mostly worth visiting for the highest view in town from its rooftop. Sadly, although this point was impressive in terms of height, Jaisalmer’s charm doesn’t quite translate from above, and all you really see is a generic flurry of streets and buildings. Accompanied, however, by a delightful breeze.

The palace marked our last plans in Jaisalmer, and with that signified the beginning of the end for our travels in India. We were taking the overnight train to Delhi later today, where we’ll be spending our last two days in the country. And since we have repeatedly started seeing the same people at the places we visit, it's not a day too soon to us to get off the crowded Rajasthani circuit way. Even though we really enjoyed the ride.

We returned to our favorite local snacks and fruit juice stores, stocked up on ultra cheap delectable treats and headed back to the hotel to chill out the last hours.
Just as we were about to leave, we heard a jeep was heading out to the station, so we caught a ride and arrived within ten minutes. As usual.

For our last train journey in India, we had to bump ourselves up to AC tier two, when both tier three and sleeper class were already booked up a month ago. Which means we have been forced into increased luxury. It’s probably for the best, since this 17 hour beast of a journey is longer than any other trip we’ll be making on our little big adventure, including our flights.

Tier two turned out to be not too different from tier three: beds are mostly the same, but the compartments are a bit less crowded, because they have double instead of triple bunks.
We tied our bags together, used some diplomacy to get switch to adjacent bunks and laughed heartily as the sand stayed comfortably outside the windows. Poor sleeper class.

Before too long, we were dreaming of all the things we'd done in the last two months. The day is almost done.
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