Jaisalmer Tourist...I mean, Desert Festival
Trip Start Aug 25, 2003
38Trip End Jul 23, 2004
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
So at 9 am, we grabbed our bags and headed back to the train station to catch the almost totally empty day train to Jodhpur. We met a couple also headed to Jaisalmer by way of Jodhpur, and spent a lot of time with them over the next five days. Justine is English and Javier is Spanish, and they meet a lot of Spanish-speakers while travelling, so they have this incredible ability to switch between the two languages, although they were very polite and always translated for us so we wouldn't feel left out. The rest of the trip from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer was fairly uneventful, except that there were only two berths left in the heated three-tier sleepers; as we had sleepsacks and warmer clothes (and we really liked our English friends), we took second class (meaning unheated) sleeper and let them have the heated car. Although daytime winter temperatures in the Great Thar desert are around 80-85 degrees, sunset marks the onset of temperatures that often drop below freezing. In addition, the windows in second class are frequently broken, which means that any time the train is at top speed, you have the effect of being blasted by all the wind-borne sand. It was like the world's most painful facial. Phil got up in the morning, sneezed, and blew out a big cloud of sand. It was kind of like in a cartoon, except we may end up with miner's lung because of that adventure. If I sound bitter...I am. I may ask them for a kidney later in life. Or maybe a lung. (Only kidding, guys. Really.)
We had an hour stop in Jodhpur; not long enough (or light enough) to see the famous fort or blue-painted city walls, but we did have dinner
The train to Jaisalmer (don't worry, I'm not going to complain about the cold again) was, amazingly, on time for it's arrival at 5 am. We got a jeep taxi to our hotel, and settled in. The Jaisalmer fort is pretty cool; the stones are stacked without using any mortar, and the base is made up of a sloping hill of what looks like loose stone, so the whole thing looks like it's going to crash onto the lower part of town at any moment, but since our hotel wasn't on the leaning side, I slept pretty well at night.
Jaisalmer relies heavily on tourism; the inside of the fort and the streets surrounding it are full of shops selling appliqued bedspreads and camel leather shoes, and the restaurant menus, which feature muesli and pancakes, are all in English. The Desert Festival is not a local affair, like the Pushkar Camel Mele in November where people get together to buy and sell camels and related items. It is just a tourist-oriented thing, three days of turban tying competitions and camel polo and henna painting. We only stayed for the first day in order to watch the more interesting Mr Desert (for all around desert burliness and style) and Mr Moustache competitions. Even though the Desert Festival is put on to draw tourists, the Indian guys who enter these two competitions take it really seriously. The original Mr Desert, who was the Marlboro Man for an Indian brand cigarette in the 80's and is now one of the judges, seems to get quite a bit of respect from the Mr Desert hopefuls and the Jaisalmerites. He also runs the Mr Desert tour agency; awe alone doesn't pay the bills, apparently.
We had two experiences in Jaisalmer which illustrate the joy and pain of travelling in India. We bought a CD of traditional Rajasthani music from this really cool guy along the main market road
The bus was filled at least halfway with Mr Desert contestants who hadn't made it past the first round. It was kind of sad to see them file on with their gold and silver ceremonial swords wrapped in flower-printed bedsheets. Even their gloriously bushy moustaches, the cardinal sign of a real Man of the Desert, seemed droopy. I guess there can only be one true Mr Desert...
-Maru Palace Hotel: 250-300 Rs/double, but no hot shower unless the hotel is partly full (seems like a rare occurrence)
-Street food: the chickpea and potato mix is really good, so is the vegetarian sloppy joe thing they cook right outside of the main fort gate