01 – 04 February 2018 Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India
We left Jaipur at midnight to Jaisalmer taking a 2nd class sleeper. First class was filled when we booked three months earlier. Narda took the upper bunk and seemed to sleep more than me. A woman in the bunk across from me snored louder than anyone I have ever heard before keeping me awake for most of the night. Somewhere in the night she was replaced by two women covered head to toe in black with no face showing sitting on the bunk opposite and looking at me. That kept me awake most of the rest of the night. We got to Jaisalmer around noon and took a tuk tuk to Hotel Helsinki.
Jaisalmer is a former medieval trading center in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, in the heart of the Thar Desert. Dominating the skyline is Jaisalmer Fort, a sprawling hilltop citadel buttressed by 99 bastions. Behind its massive walls stand the ornate Maharaja’s Palace and intricately carved Jain temples.
Helsinki House (http://www.helsinkihouse.in/) is built as a Haveli, (rooms surround a central courtyard) and for a budget hotel is very comfortable, meaning the beds were soft, the shower had hot water, and the room was large. View below is walking outside our room into the centre of the haveli.They advertise as being at the edge of the Gadisar Lake, however, we found the lake a bit of a trek away. This is because of a long-term drought. The photo of the walled city is at the top of this blog, from their rooftop. We ate most of our meals here and they were affordable and tasty. Affordable meaning a complete feed for two with drinks (not beer) for about 600 rupees which is about $9 USD. Breakfast was included. The people running it are really helpful, friendly and with the line ‘this is your home we are just here to make it good’, and they did. The one who built it lives in Melbourne now and his brother is running the place. Getting there is not worth the ride, walk those last few blocks. The single lane road is so rough that body parts begin to fall off by the time one gets to the hotel.
In one ride Narda held onto the driver’s child as we roared around the old city streets:Our first trek was to the fort which is viewable from our hotel. It looks like a gigantic sandcastle. It is one of the few ‘living forts’ in the world, if not the only one; filled with temples, shops, and thousands of people living within the walls. Built in 1156 AD, the streets and houses are a journey into the past with the present everywhere (people with cell phones and free WIFI throughout the city and satellite television dishes sticking out of five-hundred-year-old homes). See our slideshow for a bunch of groovy pics showing this wonderful place at
On our second day we hired a tour guide. Going into the walled city there are dozens of men offering their services as guides. We were hounded by them yesterday and today when someone said for two-hundred rupees ($3 USD) they would spend a few hours showing us around and explaining stuff. I recorded some of what he said (see clip above) though at the end of the day the only thing I remember was him telling us how the fort was not attacked because the enemy’s elephants and camels could not make it up the steep stone climb into the city; the fort-folks “poured oil over the long ascending road” – what a good idea. The image of elephants, camels, and horses sliding down the mountain on oil stayed with me for days. I think I even had a dream about it. Very Freudian.We did a tour of temples in the walled city, such as the main Jain Temple with such incredible carvings, Paraswanath Temple, built in the 1100s. Narda bought some clothing, pants I think, I got a fridge magnet and toilet paper. For anyone who has never travelled to Asia before (any country) carry toilet paper with you as they never provide it. There are those water spray thingies like they have in Europe, details not included, but still toilet paper for those of you like me is a necessity. We bought hats for the high tourist price of 150 rupees each (almost $2) for our camel ride. In this city of narrow winding roads cows, tuk tuks, people, goats, pigs, dogs, and cats vie for navigational prominence. Here is a short clip of our tour of the fort etc.
Jaisalmer is a very hustling town. At every step someone or their child is trying to sell something or ask for money. I was hoping this dude would give me some groovy mantra or tell me I had the most magnificent aura ever but instead he put his hand out for money then was disappointed with the amount we gave. Even the animals, as in every city, go for handouts, with cows nuzzling up to you if food is in your hand, the same with goats, dogs, and some places monkeys.
Camels I freaked out about the idea of riding camels in the hot blazing sun. It was not the ride, but the sun that scared me. Terrell REALLY had his heart set on it. He is usually very laid back about everything (with the exception of all things computer related), but the camels had captured his imagination. So here we were. I bought a white scarf and a hat to hold it in place, Arabian style.
Our camels were one-humped boys, called dromedaries. They have nice big eyes, and lovely long lashes. My camel, named Rocket (a little alarming) stood over 7’ at the top of the hump, putting my head 9 to 10 feet up! They also have soft mushy feet divided into 2 toes. The feet splay out to the size of a large dinner place I recon, protecting them from sinking sand. They walk with a gentle roll, like being on the ocean. It was surprisingly pleasant. Mind you, getting on and off…you have to lean forwards, then lean right back. All good.
We got picked up at the hotel. The driver stopped at a few villages on the way, the first one was full of kids, the second one was ruins from 350 years ago, abandoned because of a mixed marriage. A boy falls in love with a girl from the wrong caste, and all hell breaks loose. That’s the short version.
Actually, speaking of caste, the system is still alive and well in India. Our tuk tuk driver Shambu, a lovely guy, told us about his upcoming arranged (by his brother) marriage. She was from the shoe-maker caste, as he was, and so he told us that this makes life so much easier, especially when there are children. They would meet at MacDonalds to get to know each other better. He just completed building his one roomed house, and now he is ready to receive his bride. Bless them!!
I am surprised everyday in India. It is such a fascinating country. And the food……don’t get me started…..is fabulous; you don’t need to go to a fancy restaurant. The dodgiest looking little places serve the most wonderful food. Though last night I nearly had to call the fire brigade when I bit into a serve of Momos..HOT dumplings. The waiter came rushing to me with a spoon full of sugar…bless him…it helped. Back to the camels. We rode for some 2 hours, then sat in the sand and waited while the camel guys cooked us a meal over a fire. From scratch, kneading the dough; the whole thing! The ride home in the 4Wheel drive was the scariest thing. He had to ‘gun it’ to get past the sandy area, otherwise we kept getting bogged. That was definitely a ‘white knuckle’ ride. I recommend camel riding; another surprise.
Our video, not to be missed, of camels’ adventures with us
I loved the camel ride and could have gone for longer. Narda’s camel seemed friendlier, I know this because mine spit at me when Itried to pet him, and Narda’s didn’t. While our guide(s) cooked, our rides were tied to bags of something to keep them from wandering off; not sure how many or who belonged to us but there were at least five blocks around the campfire cooking, frying, laughing, a couple holding hands. We were told that the camels had to be tied up as they were males and females were in a wanting mood, and if let loose, our camels ‘would go off and party and not return for days’. The idea of camels humping one another (get the humping joke?) whilst we sat in our meditative moods on their humps did not seem so picturesque. Until sunset we sat on our own little sand dune with no one else in sight. After dark we wandered toward the fire and got our meal which was very good, though, as one would expect, there was some sand in it. Most people we met at our hotel did this for days. Narda’s son, Brendan and a gal, did an overnighter but we were not quite up to it and got back about ten pm.
Below some happy city residents of Jaisalmer that Narda caught smiling at us. We have four sources of photos: our Nikon with wide angle, regular and zoom lenses, Narda’s Samsung phone, and tablet, and my iPhone. From our room we would watch incredible sunrises every morning – see the clip below…
For a great way to end the day there is always tea at the Tibet Café inside the walls. Then we took an overnight, eighteen-hour, train to Jodhpur, the incredible Blue City, in an AC1 carriage – we had our own room. That will be the post next.
I also do this blog at our India site which is located at http://neuage.org/india and is often more up to date than this as we are too busy exploring where we are or reading. Currently Narda is reading, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” and I am reading “Homo Deus A Brief History of Tomorrow” both by Yuval Noah Harari. I have already read the book Narda is reading. We love these books and recommend them to everyone. Any time left, which is little I post my photo textual work at https://plus.google.com/u/0/collection/E_6JaB
I post my daily thoughts at http://neuage.org/2018/
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