Jaisalmer is a beautiful medieval city, famous for its golden sandstone buildings and its opium trade (from the 12th to the 18th century) – and no, I haven’t been near a hookah!!
Checking into the hotel was a cinch because we had no luggage, so we were able to take off right away. We had no bus so we took taxis – little tuk-tuks – and how we all got crammed into just two of them I’ll never know, but we did.
We hit the temple first, saw a spectacular sunset and then we had a long walk through town. Fabulous! I love strolling through the towns and villages. It is so interesting to see the locals and how they live – we get such an insulated view at the hotels – especially the hotels we’re staying in. And the people are so marvelous. If you want to understand ‘kindness’ all you have to do is look at the faces of the people who live here. Seriously.
There is a lack of stress … no tension … just contentment … and compassion written all over their faces. When they smile, which they do so spontaneously, it just makes you feel warm and happy; and their eyes – tolerance, patience, wisdom, generosity, honesty, love. It is a remarkable.
And they’re the same wherever you go in this country. We’re well into our trip now – just about at the half way point. We’ve been in big cities and small towns. And no matter where we have been one thing remains constant: The people.
Rashmi didn’t join us on our walk – my last vision of her was seeing her sitting on the back of a motorcycle with a big grin on her face. Our guide told us she’d meet us at the restaurant. Our excursion through town probably took an hour and a half or so. Between dodging the cars and motorcyclists and trying to avoid stepping in cow dung you MUST concentrate when walking in India. You really do need eyes in the back of your head.
We’ve had a lot of meals in the hotels because we’ve usually arrived late and by the time we’ve checked in and gone on a tour it’s too late and we’re too tired to figure out where to eat. The food has been spectacular but tonight Rashmi put her foot down: “Enough hotel food”, she said and took us to one of her favourite restaurants – Trio.
Perched on a rooftop, we were greeted by some local musicians, who entertained us throughout our fantastic multi-course dinner. I am now totally spoiled and may never be able to eat Indian food at home again. It is much lighter here – you’re never stuffed and uncomfortable after a meal – even if you’ve had beer – and the seasoning is so subtle – there is definitely ‘heat’ but it comes on gradually so you can actually taste the food. And I am completely addicted to masala tea – made with milk, ginger, cardamom and, depending on where you are, a selection of other spices.
Trio has a lovely view of Jaisalmer’s ‘living fort’ which was all lit up and looked like it was carved out of gold. It just glowed in the distance – and it was so nice to sit and relax and enjoy a magnificent view and talk and laugh and enjoy each other’s company.
Our taxi’s were waiting for us and we went back to the hotel – expecting to find our luggage – but no such luck. Poor Rashmi – she got no sleep at all. She was worried about our bags because she hadn’t heard from the drivers – and then got called at 3:30 when the luggage finally arrived.
When we awoke in the morning our bags were outside our rooms, but there was no time to unpack or change our clothes. We were off to ‘the living fort’ and the market.
What makes this fort so unique is the fact that about 5,000 people live there. Inside the structure you find both Jain and Hindu Temples, palaces and charming havelis. It’s like a small, buttressed community. Just before the palace entrance is The Satiyon ka Pagthiya (steps of the Satis) – it’s where the royal ladies committed ‘sati’ when their husbands were slain – they sat on top of the funeral pyres and burned along with their husband’s corpses. Thank God this practice is now against the law.
The market was truly outstanding!! Here you can buy anything and everything from carpets to bed coverings to table linens to leather goods to shoes to handbags to books to CDs to jewelry to clothing of every description – pants, tops, skirts, sweaters, caps, shawls, scarves, saris, salwar kameez, trousers, jackets, coats – you name it, they’ve got it!
Bargaining is the name of the game and if you leave a ‘store’ empty-handed the merchant will follow you throughout the market with a bag full of the merchandise you were looking at until you agree to buy it.
We had a blast!! And one merchant – a charming, charming young man named Sahid made out like a bandit. I cannot tell you how many shawls we all bought – I think close to a dozen each – for about $1 a piece. You cannot imagine what fun we had. He made us all come to the back of the store where we sat wherever we could – perched on stools, on the floor, wherever.
He sent out for tea – you will never know how hospitable these people are. And then it just became a free-for-all! Shawls and scarves thrown everywhere!! An explosion of colour and patterns piled and piled and piled – one on top of another!! I pity them trying to get them all re-folded and put back neatly on the shelves they’d come from.
But he was the one doing all the tossing – and it’s a toss-up as to who was having the most fun – him or us.
And, when we were finally done – exhausted but happy – he gave each of us a beautiful carrying sack made of silk to store our purchases in. Fab-u-lous!!!
Quickly back to the hotel to get ready for our camel ride. I wasn’t too sure about this, to be honest, but I came here for an adventure and an adventure I was getting:
Climbing up on the camel wasn’t so bad, although they are much taller than you might think. And that was what I was afraid of – I inherited my mother’s fear of heights. But once I was up on it I was committed.
I was terrified when the camel got up – it happens in two stages and you feel like you’re going to fly right over their head. But you have a camel driver behind you and he talked me off the ledge in the same soft voice he used with the camel.
But I was still scared. Suddenly we took off with a gallop and I shrieked – so he slowed down to a more sedate pace. I was barely breathing, cursing myself for agreeing to it.
About ten or fifteen minutes into the ride, though, I suddenly relaxed. My body was no longer tense and I found myself moving in tune with the camel – Lalou – who was eight years old (camels live until about 25). More confident by then I told my driver Vihjeh, that he could go faster.
He was thrilled to say the least and it was just as well – because at the pace we’d been doing our one-hour safari would have turned into an overnight excursion.
Galloping through the desert on the back of this noble beast with absolutely nothing around except sand dunes and brush was simply outstanding – I was sorry when it was over. Everything is left behind – no worries, no tension, no problems, no hassles. You are just ‘in the moment’.
Now that’s freedom.
We disembarked a short walk to the camp where were were having dinner. As we approached we could see a brazier – and the light from the flames revealed some local entertainers in the centre of an open courtyard. That is where we had drinks and starters – under the stars – listening to the talented musicians and watching two beautiful young girls dance. When it got too chilly we went indoors for a delicious buffet.
Tired but happy we made our way back to the hotel where we are went promptly to sleep. Another journey tomorrow …