Jaisalmer, India 7/27-7/30

Jaisalmer Travel Blog

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Friday 7/27/07

Well, despite my efforts to not drink water, I have to pee. I've been dreading this moment. I can't take my bags with me and I don't want to leave them here. So I switch positions a lot over the next 2 hours. Now the snoring man is awake. I ask him if he will watch my bags when I got to the restroom. Nothing too important is in them, but I'd feel violated if anyone took anything. I find the RR and of course, it's a "squatter".  And it's disgusting!  Thank God there's no seat, or I may have accidentally touched it as the train bounced along. Nope, just a hole with the train tracks racing along beneath it. It was ok, except that it was necessary to grab the grubby pole so I didn't lose my balance and fall into the er – toilette? SO, very glad for my hand sanitizer, bc there was a sink, but an army guy was using it to brush his teeth and I'm sure there was no soap. Coming back to my bed I now realize I've got to take off my shoes, which are wet from the RR floor. So I stow them under my backpack and ascend my bunk. Now it's time to check and see if mom or liz texted me back. I also decided I need to text them and let them know the train isn't as bad as I'd first thought. BUT my cell isn't working here, it says "unregistered sim".  Maybe I'll get service in Jaisalmer. I sure hope so, bc I don't want anyone to worry about me, although mom probably is already worried since I'm not able to respond to any texts she may have sent me. Well, there's nothing I can do except to check the signal from every town we stop at – hmm, I think we're at Jodhpur and no service here either. It's not looking good! I'll have to write emails when I get in.

Ok, I'm having the best time on this train! I feel very silly for being so scared earlier. I've met some great people traveling to Jaisalmer – there's Ilona from Holland who has the most fantastic red dreads I have ever seen. There's Susanna and Petra from Croatia, and Sandeep, who grew up in Cali but is fluent in Hindi, is traveling with his cousin from India. We had a great time discussing hotels and watching the scenery change and become more sandy. We stopped at Pokaran for a bit and there were vendors serving chai and fried spicy vegetables which were very good. Me, Susan, Petra, Sandeep and his cousin decided to look for rooms in the same hotel (Petra is terrified of snakes and concerned about them in the desert). We all took a jeep to the Paradis hotel which is inside Jaisalmer Fort – and the girls from Croatia really know how to haggle! (mom would've been so proud!) I'm paying only Rs200 ($5) per night for my room – it has no AC, but it really cools down at night here. We got dinner and the girls went to take a nap and I visited Salim Singh's Havelli with Sandeep and his cousin. It was beautiful – built of interlocking stones, completely made of sandstone. But the guide really took a disliking to Sandeep and was very rude to him the whole time. We all laughed about it quite a bit, later – but it was very difficult not to laugh when the old man was giving him such a hard time. He was very cynical and the situation was quite comical, especially when Sandeep tried to tip him at the end, and the old man refused his money. Afterwards I went to my havelli-hotel's rooftop deck and watched the sunset on the city. It was really beautiful! I went to grab a snack and look at the fort from just outside the walls w/Sandeep and his cousin (the croatia girls were STILL sleeping!) Then, exhausted, went back to the room and rinsed off before jumping into bed and passing out.


Saturday 7/28/07


Woke up early, the room is nice and cool still. Took a quick rinse in the shower, did some laundry by hand, charging my phone. Off to breakfast! Knocked on Croatia girls' door, no answer. Breakfast on rooftop was water, fresh juice, and toast w/butter and jam. It catches a very nice breeze up here. Knocked on girls' room again, no answer still, so I slipped a note under the door letting them know the sites I was seeing if they wanted to meet.  And I headed for the City Palace, which was just around the corner from my room. The charge was a whopping Rs250 – more than my room! But it included the camera fee and an audio guide with a loose wire in the headset. The palace was aqwesome, made completely of sandstone (of course) some of it is so intricately carved, it looks like lacework. The craftsmanship is stunning. From a palace rooftop, I can see the lake and the desert stretching as far as the eye can see. On the edge of the palace walls are pitted sandstone balls, bigger than my head. They would be rolled onto attacking armies.  2 ½ Johar5s took place here – rather than surrender, they would ride out and fight to the death. And the women would perform rituals beautifying themselves to meet their husbands in heaven, before walking onto the fires. (the ½ Johar occurred when defeat came so suddenly that the rituals could not be performed, the fire couldn't be prepared, and the men slit the throats of their wives and daughters before riding out to their deaths.  After the palace, I went shopping and bought 2 pairs of pants, a shirt, and a scarf for Rs350 ($8.75) – the Jain Temple was closed already. Then I went back to the hotel where I ran into Petra and Susanna. WE relaxed on the pillowed couches on the rooftop. It's under a pavilion to offer shade and lined with decorative cloth on one side. There's a very good breeze here and we relax while drinking ice-cold bottles of water. We then go to Little Tibet for  lunch/dinner. I had a great veg noodle soup. Next, we headed for the Folk Museum. It was a very small private museum, we had a tour given by the owner's son. He told us the tragic love story or Moumal (sp?) and her prince. There was a fanciful replica of her palace, made of mud and horse dung and decorated with mirrors. There were many household items that were common 50 years ago, but not used much anymore. I bought a small Kama Sutra  book, and we took some photos. There was a stage with the back wall painted with a god. The theater is mainly religious, and performed here for small neighborhood festivals. There was a gorgeous view of the fort and we stopped for a moment to admire it. There was a street corner musician across the street selling instruments, and we walked over to look at what he had. It was hard to rationalize lugging an instrument all around India, but the music is so beautiful! I buy the CD, I just wish I could listen to it now, but I'll have to wait awhile. We're right by Gadi Sagar Tank, what used to be Jaisalmer's main water supply. Now there are a few people out on paddle boats, but the sun is setting and it's more fun to walk along the banks. An older man brings his granddaughter over to see us, and I take their picture. The whole family came over to see the photo I took. Many people hold the belief that having their picture taken is a way of achieving a little bit of immortality. But you can't be too naïve, many will ask for money after you take a picture. We take a rickshaw back to the fort gates and remember we wanted to buy a pineapple – we'd been talking earlier about how nice that would be. There's a small market just outside the golden sandstone wall with 7 or 8 vendors selling fresh fruit, veggies, spices, beans, and grains, but no pineapple. Someone tells us there's another fruit seller a few blaocks away, in town. So we set off in search of the elusive pineapple. People keep pointing the way further into the town and each place we come to is pineapple-less, but each time someone recommends another store, just a little further into the maze of dusty streets and cow patties. Finally, we find a juice store with a single pineapple, but he doesn't want to sell it, he'd prefer to sell only half. We don't want him to cut the fruit there, and would prefer to do it ourselves at the hotel. Then his bozz or father comes out and says Rs50 for the pineapple. Being the hagglers that they are, the Croatian girls immediately exclaim the price is too expensive and attempt to get hi9m to lower it, but it's his only pineapple and he'll have none of it. The Croatians have a stubborn look on their faces and I realize they're about to walk away from our furtive fruit after all this searching! I quickly say Rs45 for it so it's even – 15 rupees each. After a short pause, he agrees. The Croatians are happy simply bc they weren't paying the juice-man's first price, and we all happily head back towards the sand castle gates, pineapple in tow. We sliced that pineapple up on top of Hotel Paradis's rooftop and relaxed on their pillowed couches. Soon, Susanna started craving chocolate pancakes, so we set off for Midtown Café, which was closed, but a restaurant right inside the gate called "little Italy" was open, so we popped in. It was the most beautiful restaurant, with gray stucko wallsinlaid with rought mirror designs of peacocks and lotus flowers. We removed our shoes at the door and sat on pillows around a table in front of a large, open windeow showing a magnificent view of the fort. We all had pancakes (which were almost crepes) as a late-night snack). Mine had nutella chocolate spread over it before being rolled up like a burrito. We all fell in love with the restaurant and decided to eat breakfast here in the morning. We headed back for Paradise and I was quickly asleep in my bed – as soon as we rang the bell and they opened the gates for us! (I forgot to mention that they asked me to change rooms bc I wasn't using the AC and someone else wanted t oand it was a pain bc they wanted to put me in a crappier room, or one with a walk-up balcony, which I didn't feel comfortable with. After a little complaining , a similar room with a good breeze, regular toilette, and few lizards miraculously became available!

Sunday 7/29/07

I wake up early, which is good, bc the morning is the most comfortable part of the day.  It's still cool from last night, but I can already tell it's going to be hot - hotter than I've experienced yet. I've decided against hand-washing another set of clothing, bc I would like to start a camel trek today, which means I'd have to checkout  of my hotel at 9am. So I start charging my phone and begin unpacking then re-packing my bag. I talk to the manager about a camel safari, and there's a group of 5 going out at 8am today - too early, since I'd planned for breakfast with the Croatian girls. So, I decide to leave at 3:30 and meet up with them for an afternoon through morning trip, aslo, there's more I want t osee in town. That settled, I hurry back to my room to shower before it gets too hot. I've waited too long. The shower feels great, but when I get out, it's impossible to dry off. As soon as my top half is dry, and I begin to dry my legs, my upper body is covered in a layer of sweat. I don't feel like I'm sweating, and my sweat doesn't feel dirty. It's very weird, but a little uncomfortable because I don't like to get dressed when I'm wet, but there's not much I can do about it, except drink more water and welcome my body's cooling mechanism of (now) clean sweat. I've never sweated so much in my entire life! In the evenings, when it gets "cool", I'll remark how good it feels in the refreshing night breeze. Then I'll itch my shoulder and realize that I'm soaking wet and water is still jumping out of my pores like slip 'n slide holes, and it must not be as cool as it feels. I'm drinking so much water! First thing in the mornings, I wake up and buy an ice cold liter of water from Paradise and drink it in a single sitting. I follow that with another 3-4 liters throughout the day - though I still must not be drinking enough, because I urinate VERY infrequently, and not much at all when I do (TMI, I know, sorry!)  I think all the water's coming out of my pores! After 4 days of this with no AC, I think my body will be as detoxed as if I'd spent a month in a western spa! I check out of my room, talk to Captain about arranging a train ticket for tomorrow night to Bikaner, store my luggage, and head off to Little Italy with Petra and Susanna. The power has been out in Jaisalmer for over an hour. Little Italy is able to cook an omelette and make toast (a fire out back, or right on the black top? - wait, no black top here). But they can't do coffee until the power comes back on. It's very hot without the fans on, but then, it's hot with the fans on, too. It's almost unbearably hot, and it's not even 10am yet! After breakfast, I say goodbye to my Croatian friends. They'll be in Goa at the end of August. I told them I'd email them if I was there, too. Walking back, a woman selling cheap jewelry is asking me to take a picture of her and her 2 girls, she said she doesn't charge, she just likes to be in photos, she's been in "hundreds." I showed her the picture and sat down on the side of the road and talked to her for a while. She was selling very old, cheap jewelry that was beat up and missing stones and very much overpriced. She gave me her discolored white metal bracelet and said we were "sisters". I tried to give it back, but she wouldn't let me. She showed me her jewelry while her baby stuck every piece she could get her hands on right in her mouth.  She showed me a headpiece that was missing more stones than it retained. It's worn during a Hindi marriage, and I'm sure it was beautiful when it was shiny and new, and the pink glass stones were all present and the little metal pieces that would dangle just above the forehead were still capable of catching light from the sun and the oil lamps and sending it dancing across the faces of the friends and relatives gathered for the ceremony. But it's tarnished and its beads are broken now. As she fixes it into my hair, a passing group of Indians get quite a laugh out of this and stop to look at me. A few girls come stand behind me as someone takes their picture and then 2 guys sit next to me. There's a flurry of flashes, and I start to imagine myself a bit like a Bollywood star surrounded by paparazzi as one man's wife pushes my head right next to his and a few more photos are captured.  Even though I felt a bit like the punchline of a joke (...a rich American woman makes a "poor" Hindi wife, perhaps?) I was still enjoying myself. In the end, I was suckered into buying the raggedy old piece of junk. Not for Rs 1050, like she'd originally tried for, but for Rs150, which was still a rip, but I didn't mind. The piece had character, and it spoke to me. I thanked her for sharing her shade under the umbrella with me, and hurried off to see the Jain Temples inside the fort. I missed them yesterday, and didn't want to miss them today. I asked a man for directions and he walked me to them. He explained to me that he was a yoga instructor and a tour guide for the maharajah's family. His name was Laxman, and he claimed his picture was hanging just inside the palace, where you purchase the audio guides. He waid he was very rich, and didn't want money, but would just explain the temples and if I wanted to give him something, I could. It WAS nice to have someone explain the symbolism to me and tell me that this is god 8, and he's responsible for... He showed me little carvings of monkeys done by artisans from eastern Rajasthani places like Mt Abu - that's where the marble came from used to create a few statues. There were little dragon or demon heads that served as accupressure for the feet. You were supposed to stand on these and meditate as you stared into the peafecul god in front of you. The little demon accupressure was fantastic, but a few minutes later, I felt like I'd pinched a newrve in my back as I stepped down off the temple stairs. I have a feeling it may have been related to the accupressure. It hurt to turn my head to either side. I tried loosening my neck and shoulder muscles and slowly moving my head, but it was no use. I finished the Jain Temples in a bit of pain, walked to see the cannon on the wall, and then thanks Laxman for his knowledge. As I walked away he called after me, asking if I had forgotten to give him something.Oh Jeeze! My naivette is really going to fade fast at this rate! I asked him why it was that he suddenly changed his mind about wanting my money. He responded that even he needs some money. In my neck-wallet i found some smaller bills, said "I hope this is good" and walked away torwads my hotel where I would relax until my camel trek. As I lay on the couch on the rooftop, I realized a massage would be very nice, so I set off in search. Ten minutes later, I have found a massage parlor inside the fort. It's across the street from a store where a tourist is being fitted for a turban. The shopkeeper is at lunch, but a newighbor shopkeeper shows me the price list - Rs400 for a back massage, very pricey! But, I want to be back at the hotel and ready to go in 1 hour, and I've got to do something about my back and before the camel trek!  The masseuse arrves on the back of a motorbike, sari silks flapping in the breeze. I don't have much time and agree to pay Rs300 out of a time necessity rather than going for the best price. Oh, and it was good! My whole back was covered in oil, and she pressed heated cloths onto the point in my right shoulder where the pain was coming from. She spoke little-to-no english, but did a fantastic job figuring out where I hurt. I felt like I was sautee-ing in a big Indian frying pan. I'm sure I smelled peanut oil! She really went for 35-40 minutes, and when it was over, my shoulder hurt still, but much less. I ran back to the hotel to quickly use the common shower and decided I needed ibuprofen - you can't buy it at the regular shops, but must go to one marked with a red t cross. On the way out to the camel trek, my driver stopped so I could pick some up. We drove about 40 minutes into the desert, where we met up with the group that started at 8am. They were watering their camels at a village trough. They saddled up my camel and off we went! It seemed similar to riding a horse, but not quite. There were no stirrups and there was a left-right sway to the walk. We rode for about an hour and a half before making camp on some beautiful sand dunes. There were 5 other tourists in the group: a couple from South Africa, 2 women from Boston, and a girl from Germany. As we were making camp, one of the women from Boston fainted as she was climbing up the sand dune. She was fine, just dehydrated and exhausted. The guides cooked up a nice indian mean and chai tea for us. We watched the sun set ( which seemed to happen in dramatic sections) and then we ate dinner before heading back up the sand dune to look at the FULL MOON and stars. The moon was beautiful, and so clear! You could really see the "face". The stars weren' quite as visible as I'd hoped, but still beautiful. Someone pointed out a satellite moving steadily across the night sky. We were hoping to see meteors, and I really thought we would. I remember an old vivid dream I had about sitting in a desert as stars fell all around me. If only there was a meteor shower! lol! The guides brought us our bedrolls and we all got ready for bed. I put on my bug face-mesh bag to keep the dung beetles out of my mouth and ears, and tied it tight using my scarf (yes, it was hot, but my face was safe!) Then, I faded off to sleep.

Monday 7/30/07

I woke up several times and when I opened my eyes, the moon was large and white, glowing right in front of my eyes... (well, just beyond the green mesh of my head-bag!)  It was beautiful, and lonely. I woke up earliest and found the makeshift bathroom on the other side of a sand dune. I watched the desert in the early morning light. It was so quiet and peaceful. It was also niceand fool for the moment. The sun wasn't quite up yet, and there was a greyish light on the place. The guides were awake and cooking. I walked down the sand dune to join them for some chai tea and breakfast. The tea was very hot. But that's something that surprised me- I thought hot food (and spicy) would be uncomfortable in the extreme heat, but I was wrong. On the contrary, you're already incredibly and often uncomfortab;y hot, so when you eat/drink food that's very hot, you almost feel a little cool when the heat leaves you. I've found that it's very nice to drink hot tea or eat soup in the heat of Jaisalmer. As I was drinking my tea, I asked my guides about riding the camel when it was running, and they said someone would have to ride with me, but it never happend :(   Breakfast was toast and jam, hard boiled eggs, and gresh fruit.After eating, we were back on our camels for an hour ride bak to where we would meet up with a jeep to take us back to the city. We exchanged email addresses on the ride back s othat we could share our camel trek photos. We got back to the hotel and they let me take a room to relax in for a couple of hours. I quickly jumped into the common shower to get the sand off of me. After sleeping in the Thar Desert, I was covered from head to toe! I was talking to Sule, the German girl from the camel trek, and invited her to walk around town with me after we'd rested a bit. I packed my suitcase as tightly as possible, in case I bought something and needed to pack it, charged my electronics, and rested for a bit. I moved my things into storage and then Sule and I set off for town. We planned to get to the lake, but did some shopping first. We stopped to look at wall hangings and jewelry, both were overpriced. At a camel leather shop, I found good prices. They wanted Rs350 for a fantastic leather hat that reminded me of Indiana Jones. I was able to get it for RS270. We browsed some more and were wandering aimlessly through the dirt streets of the town and found ourselves in a residential area. There were some children playing cricket up ahead and when they saw us they really mobbed us, shouting for pens and chocolate, touching our arms, bags, backs, whatever, even spaking us on the butt and laughing hysterically. It was a little bit unnerving for me, but Sule has been traveling Asia solo for the past 7 months and has been in India for the last 2-3 months. In a squeaky voice she was saying "pens! chocolate! pens! chocolate!" in her German accent, and laughing as we waded through the kids.  She said it was easy to tell I hadn't been in India long because I still said "hello" to everyone who tried to talk to me. She was a little disenchanted with India and ready to move on to Nepal. We stopped at Little Italy, talking, and then we were going to have our palms read by the owner's brother, but after my reading he was too tired to do Sule's, which was too bad, because she'd never done it before. We finally left Little Italy and realized that we only had juice and fruit there, and we had an hour to kill, so we stopped at a restaurant near our hotel and grabbed a pizza. After dinner, we said goodbye and I headed off to the train station. This time it was very easy to find my way around. Not many people were traveling to Bikaner. I found my bed, talked to one of the workers and a man who was in the flooring business and wrote a bit before falling asleep. 

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photo by: lrecht