Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Jaisalmer and Sam
The desert swallows some of the roads, if you are not on the highway
Sunset at Fort Rajwada
After a full day of driving and taking the wrong roads, we ended up at Fort Rajwada. The day was not crummy by any means, but we were pretty tired. I suppose timing is everything: we arrived at the fort just as the sun was considering setting, giving us time to check in and clean up before she fell from the sky. The hotel had set up tables and chairs on the terrace for a sunset view and the weather was perfect: cool air with zero bugs and a gentle breeze.
The Sun setting over Jaisalmer
We left the hotel and headed into the city to check out the market and to fetch some supper. I forget where we even had a meal: it was not remarkable. The market was about the same. Perhaps we were tired from the day in the car, but nothing stood out as great as we ordered a meal and afterward wandered the alleyways. We did see the bhang shop which appeared on an episode of Anthony Bourdain's television show, No Reservations. Bhang is prepared from cannabis and can be found in cookies, drinks and candies. It is legal for sale and consumption in some areas of India, including Jaisalmer.
Bhang shop in Jaisalmer
Jaisalmer, The Golden City
The next day, we ventured back into the city, making our way up to Jaisalmer Fort. The 12th century fort sits at the top of a hill. The interesting thing about this fort is the fact that approximately twenty thousand people still live within its walls, so it is as functional as it is a tourist attraction. We did get some shopping accomplished, although the sale was more from the store owner's persistence than anything else. Anjali really wanted an ornate metal bell, but the price was a bit high. We got the price down from the original asking, but it was still not a bargain, so we walked. Before exiting the fort, we sat to enjoy some tea, and here comes the owner on his moped, looking for us. He would not meet our price, but he came close, so we agreed to buy it if he went back into the fort to retrieve it for us. I still wonder if the time and petrol made the sale worth it for him.
The fort walls surround one quarter of Jaisalmer's population
Jaisalmer means "The fort on the hill of Jaisal", after the city founder, Rawal Jaisal Singh. The area was originally populated by a Rajput warrior clan from Punjab. Part of this group moved to this area to begin taxing a trade route, and chose Trikuta Hill as the best place to build a fort. Jaisalmer is also known as The Golden City because of the coloring of the sand, which is all you see from the hill in all directions; surrounded by the Thar Desert.
Sam: A Night in the Thar Desert
Dunes in the Thar Desert
Less than fifty kilometers west of Jaisalmer is a place called Sam, and there are tent camps where you can sleep in the desert. This was a great place to relax, ride a camel, dance around a campfire with some nomads and listen to local musicians perform. Well, I did not dance, but Anjali joined a group of Kalbeliya women that were putting on a show after supper.
Anjali dancing with some Rajasthani performers
But, before all the festivities, we rode a camel named Michael out to the dunes to watch the Sun go down.
About to head out from camp to watch the sunset
This was a true vacation moment: no honking horns, nobody bugging you, all alone in the desert. Just me, Anjali, Ali and Ali's camel, Michael. Oh, and about one trillion dung beetles! These guys were everywhere. A little freaky at first, just because of the sheer number of them which crawl about you if you sit down, but they were harmless and, at times, fun to watch. They would start climbing a dune and roll down, only to try again. They would walk around my beer, touching it, then walking away. And, if some sand was undisturbed, they would take it upon themselves to leave their tracks.
A dung beetle messing up the sand
We watched the sunset, then got back on Michael, and headed back to the camp. Supper was filling, the dancing was fun to watch and the music was interesting.
Sunset over the Thar Desert
After a good night's rest and some breakfast, it was once again time to hit the road. Next stop, Phalodi.
All of our photos from Jaisalmer can be viewed here. And, the ones from Sam, here.