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The Swirling Sands of Time

Into The Desert to Jodhpur and Jaisalmer

sunny 32 °C
View Asia '08 on Bwinky's travel map.

My apologies to anyone who considers our last post a case of over-sharing. I thought it was a pretty humorous situation, even at the time it was happening. But now, back to our regular travel blog with its astute observations and pithy thoughts on India, rather than disgusting diarrhoeaic details...

There is no easy train connection between Udaipur and our next stop, Jodhpur. Rather than risk a public bus when we were still not at 100%, we decided to splurge on hiring a car and driver to make the six-hour trip. Let me tell you, the roads in India are a real experience. Some time in the future (probably when we are back and have a more reliable and speedy internet connection) there will be a post of photos of stuff we saw on the road to Jodhpur. And I mean, ON the road to Jodhpur. Driving in India is not for the faint of heart. Even being a passenger requires some guts -- or a blindfold and Valium.

Jodhpur is magnificent. Lying on the edge of western India’s Great Thar Desert, it seems torn from the pages of a history book. With the huge and imposing Meherangarh Fort guarding bright blue houses tumbling down a rocky red cliff, it is Rajasthan’s most dramatic city...

Jodhpur: you can almost hear the echoes of the Maharajas’ horns

...and also one of India’s noisiest and most chaotic. The tangle of narrow bazaars in the old city accommodates a ridiculous amount of autorickshaw, motorbike, bicycle, human, and bovine traffic, and the cramped alleyways reflect and even seem to magnify the incessant horns.

Watch your step -- “cow chocolate” everywhere

In search of a little quiet, we took a jeep ride out into the countryside with Deepak Choudri, a local guide. Deepak is from a region that is home to a sect called the Bishnoi, and he runs tours that raise money for economic and social development, and support local artisan cooperatives.

That’s a vintage 1959 U.S. Army Jeep that he’s restored

The Bishnoi are farmers and herders who traditionally live in grass-roofed mud huts and are very conservation-minded, protecting the endangered trees and antelope with their lives if necessary. We took a drive out among the villages.

Bishnoi village, now complete with solar electricity

Traditionally, Bishnoi women wear elaborate jewellery as a symbol of marriage

We stopped and had chai (sweet, milky Indian tea) with a local family Deepak knew. They spoke almost no English, but the teenage daughters, Sharda and Neema, had a great time getting Lynn all dolled up in local fashion -- Indians really seem to find fair skin fascinating.

Bishnoi fashion plates -- the latest in desert couture

From Jodhpur, we took an overnight train to the end of the line: the remote outpost of Jaisalmer (JYE-sahl-meer). Rising like a desert dream from the dusty Rajasthani landscape, Jaisalmer really feels like another world.

”Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore...”

Only 100km from the Pakistan border, Jaisalmer is ancient. Within its massive sandstone fortress, the oldest inhabited fort in the world, lie dozens of golden havelis (traditional merchant mansions built around courtyards).

Echoes of the silk road caravansarais of the past

As one might expect from its proximity to Pakistan (a fact you cannot forget due to the frequent roar of Indian Air Force jets on patrol), the city has a distinctly middle-eastern flavor. There is a definite frontier-town feel in the air; the streets are a little dustier, the saris a bit brighter, and the turbans a touch whiter than anywhere else. This feels like India’s wild, wild west.

Everything you need for outfitting your expedition over the dunes

However, Jaisalmer is anything but undiscovered; the whole fort seems to exist for three things: selling food and beds to tourists, selling jewellery and textiles to tourists, and especially, selling camel safaris to tourists.

The main square of the old city: autorickshaws, cows, and carpets

No one comes to Jaisalmer without going off on a camel safari (ranging from an afternoon to a week), and we were no exception. Choosing a local outfit called Ganesh Travels that is owned by its camel drivers, we joined a small group that drove out into the desert to meet up with our new humpy pals.

Sweet ride, dude -- tricked out with the cool nose spikes and all

You ain’t lived ‘til you’ve mounted a camel

I am here to tell you that riding a camel for two days is excruciating -- there are no stirrups, so it’s just you, your *ss, and the camel bumpin’ along the sands. My thigh muscles will never be the same. But it was great fun. Our drivers, Mr. Khan and Mr. Ramadan, were hystically funny. Both of them grew up in the area and have been camel drivers with Ganesh for years (“Camel College -- plenty knowledge!”). One camel in our group had serious need of some Tums, frequently letting loud and particularly sour farts...

“OH my GOD! Camel naughty -- make desert perfume!”

They had a rhyme for everything... “No chapati, no chai, no woman, no cry.” “No hurry, no worry, no chicken, no curry.” I have no clue what the point was, but they cracked us up, bantering as they sat around the fire making vegetable curry and chapatis (whole wheat unleavened bread).

Chapatis, fried over an open fire then finished in the ashes -- gritty goodness

The Great Thar Desert is desolate but not barren -- in fact, it is the most densely populated desert in the world. There are many villages inhabited by goat and sheep herders among the scrub brush and acacia trees. During the annual monsoon, the desert blooms and they grow wheat where only a few short months later it is just rocks.

Waning daylight in a Thar desert metropolis

We slept among sand dunes under a pile of blankets -- it gets really cold in the desert. But sunrise over the desert with a cup of hot chai brewed by a turbaned camel driver over an open fire is a pretty darn special morning.


Posted by Bwinky 00:14 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites

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