City in the desert

Trip Start Dec 25, 2011
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Trip End May 10, 2013


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Flag of India  , Rajasthan,
Friday, April 19, 2013

An early morning to catch a train. We left at 6am for the 20minute drive to the train station, crammed in the back of mini jeeps.

Outside the train station was an Indian family with several babies who were delighted to see a group of white people. The babies were passed person to person while the Indians snapped away with their camera phones (and the babies cried). Oh dear.

Our train wasn't due to leave for another hour, but we're here early to get seats! After walking the length of the train we finally found a carriage that was pretty much empty! The seats are long benches running horizontal through the carriage like small booths. The 'windows' are just open with bars across, although you can bring a shutter down but that makes it very dark inside!

Over the next hour people crossed the rails and leaned in through the window to stare at us like zoo animals. Dogs ran riot across the platforms and surprisingly noone else joined us in our mini pods!

We left just after 7.15am and started making our way through the desert towards Jaisalmer which is further West. As there are no windows all the desert dust comes straight into the carriage. Everything was covered in dust!

We're on a local stopping train, so made many frequent stops. The signs on the platforms are funny - they are London Underground signs with Indian writing!! And surprisingly no one joined us for the whole journey. So we actually had quite a lot of room to ourselves. It really wasn't as bad as I had imagined.

I was surprised there weren't more people moving through the train selling food. We only had a couple. One selling chai and another selling stuffed, fried donut type things. I don't normally make a habit of buying snacks on trains. But apparently these are really good, so I tried one of the savoury donuts. It was so good! It had a thin layer of curried lentils inside. All for just 12p!

At one station, a train heading in the other direction was stopping. There were hundreds of people ready to get on. Some were even standing on the tracks (ie not on the concrete platform, but in the middle of the tracks) to get through the doors on the other side of the carriage. People were pushing and shoving before the train had even stopped and shoving each other up the steps and out of the way. They all just wanted a seat. There was even violent pushing inside the carriage. I wouldn't have coped with that! I'm glad our train was nothing like that.

We finally pulled into Jaisalmer around 1pm. The huge yellow coloured fort looms over the city and was immediately visible from the station. The city looks very much like its in the desert. Buildings look like they are made out of sand, there is dust everywhere and it's so so hot!

We caught tuk tuks to our hotel. And wow. This one is just as grand as the last - and has a pool!! After dumping my bags in the huge room, time for swimming! The pool felt freezing compared with the 40 plus degrees air temperature.

Later in the afternoon, a thunderstorm passed by. My first Indian rain. It lasted just over an hour. But apparently today is a very bad day to rain. Tomorrow is traditionally the crop farming day, so any rain today will ruin the crops. Luckily it didn't last too long. But by the time we finally went out, the streets were full of huge puddles!

We walked down the dusty roads, as per usual, scattered with cows and ended up at Gadi Sagar lake. Also known as a 'tank'. The tank was built in 1367 by Maharawal Gadsi Singh, taking advantage of a natural dip in the ground that already retained some water. This lake acted as Jaisalmer's vital water supply until 1965 and due to its importance, is surrounded by many small temples and shrines.

The entrance was a large ornate gate, called Tilon-ki-Pol. This gate is said to have been built by a famous prostitute. The maharawal refused for her to build the gate as passing through it would be beneath him. So she did it anyway, then added a Krishna temple (one of the gods) on top, so the king was unable to remove the gate.

It was pretty - the many small shrines full of colourfully dressed Indians! The lake is full of cat fish - and they were pretty big ones! Many people were feeing them with bread. I don't agree with it, so didn't join in. Considering the lake was, until recently, the main water supply to the city, it's incredibly dirty. I certainly wouldn't like to be drinking from that. But apparently it once was crystal clear. Not today!

For dinner we went to a fancy roof top restaurant with views out across the city, towards the fort. It was really pretty. And as usual, the food was really good. I tried paneer - it's described as cottage cheese, but it comes in large lumps. I liked it.

Saturday 20 April 2013

Jaisalmer is known as the 'Golden City' as everything is made from sandstone, which is sand coloured! Looming over the city is the Jaisalmer Fort which was built in the 12th century. The fort is also known as the Sonar Quila.

This fort is different from most others in India as its a 'living' fort. People still live inside it. And there are many hotels and restaurants. The narrow streets are crammed full of small houses and shops. There are a few lookout points, out into the city - loads of small square box houses, all yellow! Just surrounded by desert. It looked really pretty.

There are a couple of temples inside the fort - called the Jain temples. These are Hindu temples, but we didn't go inside due to the entrance fee! But they were pretty from the outside.

On the walls of most of the houses, there is a painted Ganesha image with writing and dates around it. This is painted onto the side of the house when there is a wedding to take place in the house. The family paint it, with the dates, as an invitation to everyone else to come along to the wedding!

In the doorway of most houses there is a small collection of chillis and limes hanging on a string. This is apparently to keep away all the evil spirits.

Leaving the fort we went in tuk tuks. Racing through the tiny, narrow streets. Almost bumping into people, walls and cows. These streets were apparently used for the filming of the James Bond octopussy film.

This town is just so pretty. Many of the buildings have incredibly ornate doors, balconies, windows and corridors. Walking around, it's like a maze, but each turn and it looks so different. The Haveli houses, of which there are five, are the most grand ornate houses. Each one was built for the sons of a wealthy trader.

We went inside one of them. The inside is just as ornate as the outside! Carved stonework covering the walls. Apparently UNESCO offered to preserve the houses, but the families did not want to give up ownership of the buildings. So they are doing the up keeping themselves - as a result, all that is inside is one large shop. Typical!

As per a typical day out, we went shopping. The fabric shop was amazing. We all sat round while the guy kept pulling beautiful wall hangings, bed spreads, scarfs and throws out. They came in every colour under the rainbow, were so pretty and so soft. I really wanted some. But they were quite expensive and I have no idea how much these things should cost here. I wish I had bought them now.

Last shop, a silver shop. Upon first sight there's not a lot there. But it turned into Aladdins cave when the guy brought out bags and bowls of bracelets, rings, necklaces and earrings. It was fun to look through. But again seemed rather expensive. I have no idea how much these things should cost.

For lunch I had a thali. This meal comes on a silver tray and you get little bits of loads of different things - the usual chapati and popadoms with lentil curry, cooked potatoes and a paneer curry. It was good and you could keep getting free refills! So I ate way too much.

Chocolate is surprisingly good here. I was shocked when I was in a small shop and the guy opened the freezer which turned out to be a treasure chest of treats! I had a choc ice which was so good. And he had kit kats (6p per finger) and real cadbury dairy milk (6p per bar). Wow.

For the rest of the afternoon I was knackered and just did nothing. I was still too full from lunch to even bother with dinner.
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