Into the Desert - Jaisalmer
Trip Start May 04, 2009
13Trip End Jul 30, 2009
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Six hours later we pulled into Jaisalmer Railway station and as I stepped outside, bleary-eyed, I could see Kazuma in the back of a jeep, waving to me. We had a lift into town and checked into a local guesthouse. As there are practically no tourists here now, the rooms rates are dirt-cheap - costing a measly 1.15 pounds for a single with bathroom, ceiling fan, air cooler and balcony. I didn't have the heart to haggle.
Sipping complimentary chai on the roof, we watched the morning sun bathe the golden city and at once I was mesmerised. The grand fort raises from the ground like a giant sandcastle and looms over the maze-like streets below, and from the rooftop you can see the edges of the city, beyond which lies the vast Thar desert. As Kazuma was heading to the fort, we arranged to go together and set off to see the sights. As the day wore on I began to suspect that Kazuma didn't understand a single word I was saying, and what I took to mean nods of interest or agreement were in fact polite gestures without meaning. Nevertheless, we got on famously and proceeded to visit the fort and a couple of Havelis (houses of the rich) which were beautifully ornate. Having explored the narrow streets and passages within the fort we returned to the hotel via the lake, where a prostitue once built a Jain temple, which still stands today. After returning to the hotel, we discussed Camel Safaris with the owner. After a long chat and a lot of haggling, we managed to get a 2-day trek for 1,200 rupees. This included food, shelter, guides, camels, etc.
The next day Kazuma, Saki (Japanese girl also staying at the hotel) and I climbed into the jeep and sped off into the Thar desert at 7.30am. After half an hour's drive we pulled over and met our two guides - Abdulah and I can't remember the second guy's name. Our camels lay in wait, chewing their cud, farting and spitting whenever the feeling took them. As we mounted these amazing creatures it startled me how tall they are. Sitting a good 8 foot in the air, I struck a silent bargain with my camel; that I'd let him have the occassional graze of any nearby shrubs and go easy on the whip if he'd let me ride on his back with relative comfort and ease. We reached an agreement and set off.
The camel riding experience was far from the bum-numbing bumpy ride I had expected, and much more a slow, hip swerving movement. Having gotten comfortable with the 'controls' of the beast, I felt positively cool riding out into the desert on the back of this strange creature. We rode for 2 hours, listening to Abdulah's desert songs and admiring the views. At first, the desert was much more shrubs and rocky ground, but as time wore on we reached some beautiful dunes, where it was possible to play out your ultimate Lawrence of Arabia fantasies!
We stopped for lunch, where our two guides disappeared to collect wood. they made a fire and in no time at all had chai, a curry and some chappati bread on the go all at once. As I admired how graceful my Japanese compadres were in eating this rustic meal, I proceeded to attack my portion with all the finesse of a hungry bear. the food was delicious.
We set off again and encountered more dune seas. Before long, it was time to set up camp, and once again our guides were off in search of their materials. This time, I offered to help with the meal and was given the task of peeling the garlic and making chappati. Again, the curry was delicious, and as the sun started to set, Kazuma, Saki and I went off to find a nice spot for some pictures. We returned to camp in time for chai and a few desert songs around the fire. As the beds were drawn out, we settled down for the night by the fire. A million miles from the bustle of India, I was perfectly content to be tranquil - lying under the brightest moon with its accompaniment of stars with a light breeze to cool us down. I fell asleep instantly and woke up completely refreshed.
The next morning, there was of course chai with a breakfast of toast and fruit. We set off around 8.00 and rode for a few hours. The second day's riding was a different story. Having streched otherwise-unstretched muscles the previous day, my body ached with every step of the camel and when the guide informed us that we'd be doing some galloping, my heart sank. Nevertheless, I gritted my teeth and made it back to base camp alive. As the jeep came into view I was relieved that we'd opted for a two-day trek and not the 5-day monster we'd seen advertised. We returned to the hotel having made our thanks. I gave the guides a generous tip each, since they'd shared with me the recipe for that delicious desert curry.
We booked tickets at the train station today - Kazuma is on his way to Kolkata, Saki is on her way to Rishikesh, and both will go via Jaipur - which is my next destination.
Its nice to have company - even if they don't speak a word of the Queen's!
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