You want a Safari?

Trip Start Jan 08, 2005
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Sunday, January 15, 2006

We left the seppos chilling in Jodhpur thinking we would probably see them again soon.

Jaisalmer is only a 6 hour bus ride from Jodhpur. You can watch the sand dunes wizz by from the window of the bus. Very deserty landscape. Lots of tourists come here to do camel safaris into the desert. We didn't really know if we were interested or not, but more not. The touts at the bus stand were like flies to shit once again. They're so desparate for business. We went with this one little guy who promised us a double room for 100 rupees and a free ride into town. The room was actually pretty good and large but we discovered soon enough why we were the only guests - everyone likes to stay inside the fort walls. It's a very touristy place.

So for the first day we wandered around and ended up spending the the afternoon talking to a young Aussie muso called Isaac who we'd met during our trek in Nepal (their band is called Postcards Kaleido for anyone interested). He showed us this hotel he'd stayed in that was pretty cool so next day we moved in. Smaller and double the price but it had so much character and a little balcony with cushions where I could sit and contemplate life. It had also been the home of a 19th century prime minister. The owner said his father had slept and prayed in our room for 40 years. I think the carpet possibly hadn't been cleaned for 40 years but that just added to the character (I just wore my thongs a lot). It was painted blue and had lots of little niches where they must have put oil lamps originally that now housed various pieces of bric-a-brac. Pictures of Shiva, incense burners, peacock feathers, dog with wobbly head, and the like. There were the classic rings on the wooden ceiling where the old fashioned fans once hung and our bathroom was through some really cool little wooden doors into a teeny, tiny cupboard like space with a small window. It was so cute!

Most of the rest of the day was spent trying to purchase train tickets out. The booking guy had allocated us the wrong seats and printed the tickets which, if you want to cancel or change, incurs a 40 rupee fine per person. We tried telling him that he hadn't checked with us before printing the tickets but he just kept blaming availability on the computer. We were getting no where. People behind us were getting annoyed so we went to see the Station Manager. I spent the next hour, I think, going over and over and over that it wasn't our fault and that the teller guy had made the mistake. I put it to the Manager that if it had been him at the window and his requested seats had been full the teller would have given him an alternative before just allocating any seats and printing the ticket. I think that's what swung it for us. By this stage there was about 8 other people in the room and he had told them all. David had lost the will to live, and had gone outside. I just stuck to it, persisted with my 'not-our-fault' line and eventually, after repeating my story again to someone different, I got my requested seats. The teller had just made a mistake and tried to blame it on the computer. He would now have to wear the 80 rupee fine himself. They even said that I could pay half the fine if I wanted to and the teller would pay half, but I said it was his mistake entirely so I will not pay for his mistake. End of story. I had my tickets and I was out of there.

When we got back to our hotel the young lad there tried the hard sell on camel safaris. His price for a sunset ride was ridiculous so we said no, but after walking round for a while, I decided I did want to ride a camel after all and would settle for the sunset ride to see if I liked it. We searched for our guy and struck a deal. Jeep to a certain spot, camel ride, watch the sunset then back to town in the jeep.

The camel ride was hilarious! I absolutely loved it. It was so funny. I just laughed and laughed. It was so much fun. The guides made them trot too. I can't tell you how much I laughed! We only rode for about 30 minutes then stopped and waited around on the dunes with hundreds of others to watch the sun set. We watched dung beetles making tracks up and over what would have been mountains for them. I took my shoes off and walked around sinking softly into the very fine, lovely smooth sand. Even though we were 40km out of Jaisalmer and slightly in the desert, the pinky purple sunset was marred by pollution. The camels picked us up and we rode back to the jeep. I still laughed all the way. David found it all very uncomfortable so if I wanted to ride any more, it would be on my own.

Next day we got ourselves up to visit the Jain temples. They're only open for a few hours every day. Intricately carved, very detailed and interesting, they date from the 12th and 15th centuries. Impressive and cheap to get in! No shoes or leather allowed though. There is a certain consistency within the temples we've visited whether it be Jain or Hindu, lots of perfectly rounded boobs. Shiney too, strangely (or not ?).

The state of Rajasthan is very colourful. Jodhpur is known as the 'Blue City' because a lot of the old city buildings are painted an indigo blue, Jaisalmer is known as the 'Golden City' because the fort and surrounding town are built with the honey coloured sandstone from the area and Jaipur is known as the 'Pink City'. I haven't been to Jaipur yet so can't confirm it's pinkness but Jodhpur and Jaisalmer have definitely lived up to their names. It's quite an impressive Fort and although extremely touristy with shops lining evey street inside and outside the Fort, it's lovely to wander round the old laneways staring up at all the carved balconies. There were lots of shiney things to catch my eye too, full, long, sequined Rajasthani skirts, delicate pointy sequined camel leather shoes, mirrored bags and belts, all with so much colour! There were throws, cushion covers, silver jewellery, sequined and beaded tops dazzling me in the bright sunshine. Lucky David was with me otherwise I would have been all day looking. I didn't buy anything though. It is a pity too, that there are so many shops displaying their wears outside and so many tourist signs hung up because it hides the buildings so you never really get a good idea of what they fully look like.

Anyway, enough of shiney things. We went to see what the Palace museum had to offer. It's seven stories and does have some small elegant displays which does give you a small idea of how lavish the decor once was but not too much more. The views from the top were fantastic! The jali screens would have been great for people watching in secret (more commonly known as spying). I wanted to see the Havelis (elaborate old houses) too so we went off in search of them.

The place was called Salim Singh-ki Haveli and was quite boring. The best thing was the very top room which is in a bad state of disrepair but did have remnants of mirrors that once covered the walls and ceiling. The view from the roof was good too but the whole thing was a bit of a waste of time. All the rooms are empty. Best viewed from the outside. We wandered out to Gagi Sagar, a man made lake, which once supplied the city with water (stopped to have a tasty makhanya lassi on the way). There were a few templey things in the middle and a lovely blue swan paddle-wheeler which I thought would be fun to ride on. Silly me. Two minutes into paddling I'm exhausted and wondering how I managed 15 days trekking in the Himalayas!! It was funny though, paddling round a man-made lake, in a huge blue swan on the edge of the desert in India with temples in and around the water! The fort looked brilliant from there.

Back in our room it was nice to sit on the cushioned balcony watching the people living there going about their daily lives, colourful saris hanging out to dry, the dinging of the bells in the temples, cows wandering slowly by, shitting occasionally, a gentle breeze bringing the smells of Fort life up to me (not so pleasant with fresh cow pats about).

David had bumped into the seppos the night before so we dumped our bags in their cool room and went for a walk to the lake and to another old house, Patwon-ki-Haveli. It was built by 5 Jain brothers in the 1800's and is wonderful from the outside. The stonework carvings are amazing. It's huge place but you can only go into part of it. There are good room displays of how it once looked. Well worth the effort. I love seeing how people lived.

We waved the seppos goodbye once again and headed for our night train. It was 10.30 at night, all the shops had packed up. I finally got to see how the Fort might have looked before tourist shops lined the lanes. Jaisalmer is a great place. I could have bought loads.
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