Picture courtesy of Judy Bandy
So where had we got to in writing about my Rajasthan vacation? Oh yes, we’d got as far as Jodhpur. Ah so next stop was Jaisalmer, on the edge of the Thar Desert.
This was the part of the state I had wanted to come to. India itself was never on my tourist map of places to visit, so getting a placement here was never about being a tourist but if I was to be here then I couldn’t possibly miss out on India’s only desert! OK it was never going to be my beloved Sahara, but I definitely wanted to come and see Rajasthan and the longer I am here in India the more I am missing sleeping out under the stars.
So, unable to persuade my travelling companions to come for a camel trek, I borrowed ever piece of warm clothing we had between us – my thermal top, Judy’s hat, Catherine’s leggings, wrapped up well with my fleece and scarves and headed out for a night under the stars. What can I say! Peaceful. Still. Clear. No light pollution. No sound pollution. And luckily not too cold!
Nowhere near as remote as my usual desert experiences. Here you could just about forget you were only a few hours away from town and really quite close to the nearest village, and could see windmills on the horizon, as Rajasthan tries to capture its local energy source!
No, the dunes were no replacement at all for the majesty that is Moul’Naga, but it was sand! And it felt good to be there, but it didn’t feel like home, not like the Sahara feels.
The Thar is altogether a smaller desert, and it feels it. There are more people in it for a start. Where we camped was only about 30 ride away from a village. When I was there the whole area was actually quite green, with lots of shrubs. There is some range of textures, from soft toe massaging sand, to rocky outcrops and gravelly beds, but it lacks the range of colour, texture and form one finds in the Algerian Sahara – none of the bright burnt oranges and reds, none of the massive rock formations. A geologist would probably know why! ( Dave, are you reading this?)
We drove out of town in the jeep and met our camels. Then rode for the rest of the afternoon, before making camp. I was with a young German-Swiss couple and we were entertained in true desert style to good food cooked on the open fire, lots of tea, and to music and songs by the cameleur and his young assistant. On our way back we past some old Rajput graves.
My camel was great, calm and friendly – it went by the name of Lucky-ji – albeit a large Jaisalmeri standing over 7 feet in height. I admit with my short legs I had trouble getting on! But he was a perfect ride, albeit they ride horse style here. Definitely not as comfortable as cross legged Tuareg style I am used to, but needs must. And with the help of the cameleur I trotted for the first time! One day I will race!
An anecdote: This area is way out in the very west of India, getting close to Pakistan. In French speaking in North Africa when one leaves the camp fire to go into the dunes to go to the toilet one says “ je fais une telephone” - there is no signal unless you have a satellite phone , so it is clear what you mean :) You also have all the associated toilet humour – une telephone national ou international etc . Here in India, yes you guest it, there is something very similar. Here one is Going to Pakistan again since the border is officially closed, there can be no doubt what you mean!
Jaisalmer town is actually a very attractive small town, and we found a great place to stay, The Shahi Palace. I’d definitely stay again if I manage to get back before I leave. Family run, very attentive and nice people, just on the edge of the old city. I didn’t get much of a chance to look round the fort or the havelis but from Judy and Catherine’s account they are well worth a visit – the fort before it crumbles away, and the havelis before they are taken over by the big conglomerate hotels and transformed out of all recognition. For now the architectural styles we’ve been seeing throughout Rajasthan continue – the windows, the balconies, the fine carving and latticework.