Bhang Cookies, The Miracle Boy & A Sandcastle
Trip Start Sep 29, 2007
215Trip End Dec 20, 2010
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Where I stayed
The 4am arrival of the bus to Jaisalmer was greeted by about 30 touts all trying for their share of the 'camel safari' dollar. We had set up an autorickshaw pick up with the Himalaya Guesthouse that Mooki from Moon Dance had told us about. Many hotels offer cheap rooms in the hope that you'll take their camel safari tour and some have been known to throw you out if you don't take a tour. Our hotel was not cheap for this reason, it was cheap because it was, to put in nicely, an utter shithole
Jaisalmer has that exotic former trade route feel. Formerly it had a good position on the camel-train route between India and Central Asia. The merchants and townspeople built magnificent mansions and grand palaces here that were carved from wood and sandstone. The fort is an oldy, built in 1156 by a Rajput ruler. There are 5000 residents that still live inside the fort but tourism seems to be very intrusive to their lives with hordes of tourists, some in packs roaming around and there is quite alot on hassle going on. Touts tried to act as our guide and became quite annoying as we wandered around. The lines kept coming like "Hey Ricky Ponting!", "Hey Aussie far out brussel sprout hahaha". Yes, very funny lads
We visited the Maharaja's palace and the beautiful Jain temples of Chandraprabhu, Rikhabdev, Parasnath, Shitalnath and Sambhavanth which are carved from yellow sandstone and date from the 12th to 16th centuries. The rules for visiting were plentiful and included things like no leather products or menstruating women allowed inside. The carvings were very intricate. The temples are still in use by the locals so a priest blessed us with rosewater probably only because he wanted a donation fee. The shoe shine street urchin boys brigade is back in action here and i was also chased around by a young, gay, mute, shoe repairer who told me during a game of charades and using sign language the terrible news that my right foot Birkenstock will break in half and angels will carry it away if he doesn't fix it with his thread and needle. At least that's what i got from the hand movements. I refused the service and now believe he's put a curse on my beloved Birko. Guy and Alby say you can have them re-soled in Thailand with tyre treads but i don't think they will last for a re-sole. Whatever the case, they are the Birkos that have walked around the world and i fully intend to frame them or the remaining half of them when the journey comes to an end.
We met the owner of the local, government-owned Bhang shop
We shared a chocolate banana cake from the German Bakery with a whole lot of flies whilst we fought off anklets sold by women who kept throwing their babies on us
Outside the museums we were asked by two street boys if we wanted to see their magik show for a ridiculous fee of course. They were dressed the part in turbans, toeless clown shoes and carrying a mysterious bag of tricks. I'm always keen to support up and coming magicians, so we agreed to see the show. It was not too bad and featured some old Indian magic tricks with rope and cups. The cheeky boys were most charming and had the theatrical performance presence happening so we parted with a few rupees in appreciation.
Next, we passed a musician playing an indian, stringed, violin type instrument and went through the Tilon-ki-Pol to the Gadi Sagar lake where we watched the budding magicians play action hide and seek in the temples surrounding the water. The shrieks of joy we heard were probably because we had just paid them their equivalent of a king's ransom for their show. The Tilon-ki-Pol is a gate said to have been built by a famous prostitute. When she offered to pay to have the gate built, the Maharaja refused permission on the grounds that he would have to pass under it to get to the lake and he felt that this would be beneath his dignity. While he was away, she built the gate anyway, adding a Krishna temple on top so the king could not tear it down
We did a good walk through the bazaar where people were working away in little workshops making wood carvings or sewing. I watched a lady have her old, chunky silver bangles removed from her wrists using plyers. The arm seemed quite deformed from her wearing the tight metal for so long. She also had her plastic ones removed and i think she was replacing them all with new ones. The bangles are very common and many women wear them around their ankles too. Jewellery and adornment is very important to the appearance of the women in India and each region seems to have it's own traditions. In Jaisalmer they wear a very large round or floral design gold nose piercing disk. We also went to the Dhanraj Bhatia traditional sweets shop in the market to try some local specialties. These blokes have been in the business for 10 generations and the treats were of a divine recipe. We tried the very more-ish ghotua ladoos and panchadahri ladoos which are sweet meat balls made with gram or wheat flour
There was a local election today in town and the supporters of the winning party stormed through town throwing water and red powder on everybody, ya-hooing and surprisingly, some took off their shirts and danced on the back of trucks to happy hardcore trance music. All we need was our sunnies and some glowsticks and we were in for the all night rave. The street scene could have easily turned into a riot and we probably shouldn't have stuck around to rubber neck for as long as we did.
We visited Patwa-ki-Haveli, a mansion that was built between 1800 and 1860 by five Jain brothers who were brocade and jewellery merchants. There was a good view of the fort and a huge flock of pigeons and we found the interior decorating showing 19th century life in the private home to be interesting whenever we could get away from the sleazy guide to actually have a look.
Whilst walking in the fort, we came across a few young boys playing cricket underneath a temple monument. Nadine took to the bat pretending to be Ricky Ponting and hit such a big ball that it flew up and over the rooftops and into the Jain temple area that is out of bounds.
Jaisalmer is famous for it's beautiful mirrorwork wall hangings and embroidery and alot of it is the antique work i prefer. I sat in the backroom of one of the little shops down the narrow sandstone streets in the fort and rummaged around for some pieces to use in my new fashion design work. I ended up buying myself a beautiful, unique antique belt that is hand embroidered and decorated with silver, chains, old rupee coins, shells and mirrors, a jester's dream accessory. You have to do alot of work to get the good gear in India. I had to bargain hard for this one because the owner didn't want to let it go.
At night time we ventured across to Ghandi Chowk and went in search of an authentic Rajastani style thali. What we got was a whole lot more. Thali means "plate" and is an Indian meal with contents varying from one regional cuisine to another. It's a selection of different dishes, usually served in small bowls on a round tray. The round tray is generally made with steel with multiple compartments. Typical dishes include rice, dhal, vegetables, chapati, papad, curd (yoghurt), small amounts of chutney or pickle, and a cute little sweet dish to top it off. Depending on the restaurant or the region you are in, the thali consists of delicacies native to that region. In some restaurants, a thali may include unlimited refills on all components of food and the idea is that one eats until fully satisfied. Basically it's an all-you-can-eat spice flavour extravaganza which is perfect for us budget travellers. The whole thing is nutritious too and fills us up, perfect when it's your only real meal of the day
The kitchen was family run and i noticed the son, a very handsome and beautiful child of about 8 years old dressed in white and wearing a shawl and kohl around his eyes have a good look at us when we entered the room. The boy was helping in the kitchen. There was something different about him, not only was he beautiful like Lord Krishna or the Buddha but he had a huge illuminated presence that filled the whole restaurant and my heart as though he had the power of an enlightened saint and i felt a weird urge to fall at his feet and touch them. Strange. I guess this is what people feel around their gurus or around a spiritual saint like Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi), the hugging mother who lives down the backwaters of Kerala. This was the first time i had felt the presence of such a being so young. We've seen the look of a fully awake person before in India but this one was a special one. India makes you confront yourself because people see the truth. This boy had it in his eyes. He stole knowing glances at us throughout our dinner as though he knew we could see it in him. Then, some magical event happened that is difficult to explain
Also in Jaisalmer i thought it very odd to see a group of three women in veils and saris smoking cigarettes on the street because Indian women don't smoke at least not in public, on closer inspection it turns out that they were men hijras
Oh, the Rajasthani thali and cheese pakora was good too.
Now, to Udaipur