On our first day in Jaisalmer we visited the fort that the town is famous for, built to protect the rulers of this area during the couple of hundred years before the British arrived when this area did heaps of trade up the Kyber pass with Europe. It is made out of sandstone and looks like a giant sandcastle! It is still a ‘living fort’ which means inside the walls it is packed with tacky hotels and people trying to sell you junk. It also has some old Jain and Hindu temples that attract heaps of Indian tourists.
During our tour of the fort we learned that it is actually starting to subside; it was built with very minimal porous drainage because there was so little water around at the time and any dirty water was fed to animals rather than tipped out. Since tourists started coming to the town water was piped in and hotels and restaurants began springing up inside the fort walls. The extra water in the drainage system has since caused two of the bastions to collapse and has put the whole structure and all of the temples inside in danger, everywhere there are cracks in the walls. But the government hasn’t taken the obvious step of banning building in the fort, probably because of the livelihoods at stake. As a tourist this makes you feel really conflicted- at least in other parts of India you aren’t literally destroying the cultural heritage of the place, even if other places have changed completely to suit the tourist trade.
On New Year’s Eve we began our trip into the Thar desert with a freezing pre-dawn jeep ride out to an old fort to watch the sunrise. From there we mounted our camels and wandered out into the scrubby flat desert country with half a dozen other tourists and our local guides. It was great to get away from the noise and smell of the built up areas. The people who live out here grow melons, cucumbers, lentils and millet during the monsoon season, though it was hard to imagine anyone growing anything period it was so dry. There were wells dotted about where we got water for dinner but the guide was explaining that they dry up very quickly- they are only ten feet deep due to the shallow bedrock.
After a couple of hours we stopped in some beautiful sand dunes and ate lunch. The curries, bread and tea the guides cooked on the fire were literally the best we have had so far in India, better even than the relatively expensive restaurants we have eaten at. It gives us the feeling that some of the food we are eating often isn’t fresh but re-heated. After lunch and a bit of time mucking around in the sand we got on the camels for another couple of hours, by now our bums well and truly feeling it! We both got to do our lawrence of arabia thing, with our touristy pashmina scarves, to keep the sun off. We saw some cool wildlife; eagles and gazelles that leaped away when our dogs chased them. Ben got put on the new, young, untrained camel that shifted and bucked every time he tried to make himself more comfortable, adding to his ass soreness. I got a lovely old camel called Rocket (who I nicknamed Pocket Rocket despite his giant size) although he in no way lived up to his name and was one of the slowest in the group.
After another two hours we stopped for the day where our host and manager of the camel trek, Del Boy, met us and continued to ask us if we were enjoying ourselves. Another feast was prepared on the fire of dhal, veggies, rice, sticky rice pudding and halva. (not the lebanese kind). So delicious! We had lots of chai and beer and sat around the fire wearing all 5 of our layers to keep warm. A group of musicians and dancers sang songs and we danced (or tried to). Every time we almost feel asleep we were awoken by Del Boy making us dance! There were about 20 travellers in total and 10 Indian camel guides, who all looked high on their ‘special’ bidis. At midnight they let off fireworks((no safety regulations here! They were about 2 metres from the roaring fire) (and about 30km from the Pakistani border!)). Then we slept as well as possible, we had lots of heavy warm blankets which helped.
In the morning more chai, toast and bananas and then we set off again! I had a camel called Sameer, who was blind in one eye from about years ago when he rubbed his face on a tree branch. Ben doesn’t know his camel’s name but it was very speedy!
Again, we rested for lunch, relaxed (more chai and delcious food!) and then started on our final leg. My camel was a bit speedy at this point and after getting ahead of the group and the guides found some lovely dirt it decided to take a bath in. I was a bit unsure why it was sitting down but then he tried to roll around in the dirt with me on his back so I quickly jumped off!
Finally we reached the jeep, drove back to Jaislamer, had a quick, luke-warm shower, food and sleep!
Photos to come when we can get them to upload quicker!