Sandcastles and Dessert Caravans

Jaisalmer Travel Blog

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Jaisalmer Fort

The lore of camel trekking in India's Great Tsar dessert brought us to the medieval town of Jaisalmer.  Jaisalmer is located on the far west coast of India, where the dessert separates it from Pakistan.  

We arrived early in the morning by train from Jodhpur (12 hours train + 6 hours bus from Udaipur).  After a quick hassle by the many hotel touts outside the station, we jumped in some guys jeep and were off to the city centre.  Now what's spectacular about Jaisalmer is that it, like all other Rajasthani cities, has a fort, BUT the fort here is like no other.
Me on Kulu the Camel!
 

The fort here literally rises up from the desert like a giant sandcastle! After being in Rajasthan for a while, you think you've seen all they can do with forts! Lol. But this one outdues all of them and then some.  Its over 900 years old, has 99 bastions (or towers) and is India's oldest inhabited fort, people have lived here since it was built and its one of the world's largest forts. Lucky for us our guesthouse was right beside the fort, so we always had a good view. I should note that because of tourism and poor drainage the fort is slowly sinking. So if you do plan to visit, it is recommended that you don't support the local guesthouses and restaurants inside the fort.

Other than the fort, the main reason for coming to Jaisalmer was to go camel trekking.  We were able to organize a trek that started about 60km outside of town, far away from all the tourist treks that usually leave from town.
Dessert Beauty
  The day before we left, we met two French girls from Lamond, Anais and Florie, while exploring the fort, they too were interested in trekking, so after hanging out with them a bit they decided to join us on our dessert adventure.

The next day we all woke up EARLY in the morning to catch the jeep out.  Now those that think India is always hot are totally wrong. I had to wear 3 layers, a toque, and my jacket in the morning and at night. Luckily the rest of the day at this time of year isn’t too bad.  Once breakfast was done, we drove out basically till where the road ended and then turned off into the dessert for about 10 minutes to where the camelmen and camels were waiting for us!

Over the next 2 days we rode about 60-70km on camelback through the dessert. The whole time we didn’t see a single tourist, once in a while we’d see a goat herder or come upon some remote village, but other than that no one! Just me, Emile, Anais, Florie, 4 camelmen, and 5 camels and the dessert.
Villagers memorized by Flore's Blonde Hair
  Very cool.  

Now the Tsar dessert isn’t like the Sahara, there aren’t any great sand dunes, its just mainly scrubland and with some farmland (rainy season only) scattered around.  The only wildlife I saw were goats, the odd crow (they are everywhere!), eagles and hawks, and a few wild camels.

This wasn’t the first time I rode a camel, that was about 8 years ago when I road one up to the Great Pyramids at Giza in Egypt.  As lovely as that sounds, I totally forgot how much riding a camel hurts!! Two days of riding, made me wonder if I would ever be able to have kids! The constant motion up and down definitely takes its toll on your legs and your…well you know. Originally we intended to do three days, so glad we only did two! :)

After about 10 hours of riding, that night we set up camp at a sand dune.
On the sandunes at night
  Like they did for lunch, the camelmen cooked dinner for us by open fire, saffron rice, dhal, and chapattis. I’m not one really for vegetarian food, but dinner that night was great.  Maybe it had something to do with sitting by a campfire in the middle of the dessert under millions of stars with some great company.  After dinner, we all sat by the campfire and chatted, had a few drinks (thanks to Emile who brought a bottle of apple vodka with him!) and basically just sat around soaking it all in. Our camelmen, Savan, Karim, Manitar and the little one, who’s name I forgot, I just called him little blue boy because of his blue kurta that he wore, were also great company.  They all have always lived in the dessert, Savan the oldest had been a camelman since he was about 12, about the age of little blue boy.
Our Camelmen
  Such a simple life, but they seem to enjoy it. They all of learnt English and a bit of French by just conversing with travellers that have come trek with them.

The other highlight of the camel trek was the opportunity we had to visit some very remote dessert villages.  As always I have my camera in hand, and I have to say I think some of my best portraits came those two days out in the dessert.  Rajasthani culture is full of vibrant colours, the women in saris, the men in their colourful turbans, its just beautiful.  Once I got back into town I actually printed off about 100 pictures to give back to the camelmen to bring back out to the villagers as a gift to them.

Other than all the photos its it was really nice to see how people lived out in the dessert. We were invited into one of the homes for some chai.  While we were there everyone seemed to gather around us to just take a look at us.  Think about it, how often do they see a big Swede, a big brown guy and two blonde-haired women! So we were as interesting to them as they were to us.  In fact the women of the village were so taken by Florie’s hair, they wanted to cut some of it. Now that didn’t happen, but just imagine what a sight that was to see these women just in awe of someone’s hair :)

All in all, my trip to Jaisalmer was awesome. I got to ride camels in the dessert for two days, sleep under the stars, explore a 900 year old fort and meet some great people along the way! Now me and Emile are off to Amritsar in Punjab and Anais and Florie are off to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Its too bad we all have to depart, we had a great time getting to know the girls, but at least now I’ve got some friends to visit in France!

Cheers,

Ru

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Jaisalmer Fort
Jaisalmer Fort
Me on Kulu the Camel!
Me on Kulu the Camel!
Dessert Beauty
Dessert Beauty
Villagers memorized by Flores Blo…
Villagers memorized by Flore's Bl…
On the sandunes at night
On the sandunes at night
Our Camelmen
Our Camelmen
Jaisalmer
photo by: lrecht