Friday, 20 January 2012


4th - 11th Jan 2012

Day 4. Jaisalmer. The Golden City.

We awoke the next morning in the desert country of west Rajasthan, the Thar desert, within 90 miles of Pakistan, and were welcomed off the train by the usual reception committee of guards, ladies doling out flowers and red splodges and the local band. The military guards wore the fashionable 'mohican' style turban. Jaisalmer, founded in 1156 by a Rajput leader called, unsurprisingly, Jaisal, is a bit of a lonely outpost and initially relied on looting the camel-train routes from India to Central Asia for it's income. Now it just legitimately loots the tourists.

Right: The band

Left: Amit and Rebecca having been flowered and painted. Amit's father, Bill, was also in GG and because he and I were two 'singlies' we were often paired up for things ( like the elephant ride at Jaipur ). Bill is another doctor, a GP, from Michigan, USA. There was no shortage of medical assistance on this train should it be needed.

Our guide today was a remarkably smooth and affable chap who wore diamond ear-studs. We were taken initially to a lake ( or reservoir ) with a 'chatri' ( summerhouse ) just off-shore and I can't remember the significance of it. There were numerous hawkers following us around like this chap ( right ) selling necklaces. Who on earth would want to buy a necklace? I had often wondered what had become of my old mate Dave Woods! I thought he was in the south of France.

Left: The fort at Jaisalmer is quite an imposing sight.
It towers over the town and actually has a thriving community living inside it. It is a popular venue for the more 'hippyish' travellers and so there are also many low price hostels and cafes advertising western style food and strange herbal teas. The drug 'bangh' ( not sure of the spelling ), our guide told us, is legally sold in shops here, which might appeal to the 'travellers'. I believe it has hallucinogenic properties and although we were all egging each other on to buy some and try it, I don't think anyone risked it. There was talk of slipping some into Mr Mouse's 'tea or caffee'.

Right: One of the entrances to the fort. There were four narrow gates to pass through up a winding path; a good ploy to make it difficult for invaders. Inside is  a maze of narrow streets and loads of small shops, rather like a Moroccan 'souk'. The tiny narrow streets have many blasted cows loitering around in them and the concomitant piles of manure to trap the unwary pedestrian. The place was a regular bovine minefield and one saw several people ( not the locals of course ) hopping about on one leg trying to scrape off the offending muck. Of course there were little boys with rags and brushes, strategically placed, who raced up and offered to clean the soiled shoes for a few rupees within nano-seconds. It was all a carefully choreographed and well rehearsed scam. I saw three of our GG hopping up and down and then forking out for this service.

Left: The central square inside the fort. This is the palace where the ruler held forth. It has been long since abandoned but is kept in good enough nick with much financial support from world heritage bodies, we were told.
I noticed many massage parlours, fast food shops and internet cafes, so there is obviously a big demand from the passing 'traveller' trade staying in the fort.

Right: As was becoming the norm, these two gents, Barry and Trevor Singh, doing the 'season' in Jaisalmer, sat in their colourful traditional robes and made-up to the nines expecting their photo to be taken, as it duly was, and then getting some rupees stuffed into their copper pots. Its a foolproof way of making a living ( with enough tourists around ). This pair of bandidos rather overdid it by appearing in different places ahead of our group as we moved through the fort! It was a classic example of the law of diminishing returns.

We were shown into a couple of 'shoes off' Jain Temples ( as per left ). It was explained but I didn't fully grasp what a 'Jain' is; some form of Hindu I think. However their temples are magnificent examples of quite incredibly complex stone carving. Every square inch of yellow sandstone is subjected to intricately engraved patterns. Maybe Jains spend a lot of time sitting inside with a hammer and chisel and bugger all else to do. A bit like auto-compulsive masonic doodling.

Right: A view over the golden city from the fort. Actually this was taken from the roof terrace of a very smart hotel in the fort. They must cater for some very wealthy hippies.

 Left: An example of one of several 'havelies'. These were the homes of wealthy merchants and are highly decorated with intricately carved sandstone walls, both outside and in. They took many years to construct and, I presume, were a way of showing off your wealth if you had it. We were 'guided' into one of these for another 'shopping opportunity'; this time for silk tablecloths, pashmina shawls, bedspreads, scarves etc., all very beautiful I'm sure and they told us that they had contracts with places like Hermes in Paris, but we could get them here much cheaper, of course. I know that several of GG were keen to buy. I suspect that some of GG are compulsive shoppers. I did a runner. Then returned because I quickly realised I didn't know my way back to the bus! To get out of that fort unaided would be like trying to find your way out of Hampton Court maze, and anyway someone said they had moved the buses. They were devilish cunning.

Right: A girl spent ages walking, running, sliding, skipping and hopping up and down this tight-rope with some brass dishes on her head. She certainly had stamina. I suppose one was meant to contribute, but I stayed too far away. I'm sure that bloke standing in front is the same guy ( Jagdesh, ex-AAC ) I photographed outside the smart hotel ( doorman ) and at the railway station ( bongos ) in Delhi. Is he following me?

From the fort in Jaisalmer we drove off for about an hour westwards into the desert. This was to some encampments where we were to embark on a camel ride. We paired up again; me with my mate Dr Bill and mounted up, or rather sat on the sitting down camel and it stood up. I think they are particularly unattractive creatures. Left: Amit and  Rebecca on their 'Ship of the Desert'.
It turned out to be quite a long ( 40 minute ) ride across the sand dunes in a sort of loosely formed camel train. There were hundreds of other punters around us, so not quite Lawrence of Arabia. More like donkeys on Blackpool beach. Ours was a particularly slow model, or it may have been due to the load factor. I asked the lad leading our camel what it was called. He replied "Fidel Castro". What an extraordinary name for a camel, we thought, and asked him why. He said "because all the others are called Michael Jackson". ???! On asking others when we got back it was true, their's were all called Michael Jackson! I discovered also that 40 minutes on a camel is long enough to give you a sore arse.
After dismounting we were treated to some more music around a campfire, plus refreshments of 'tea, caffee, biscuits and cookies'.

Later that evening we were taken to a smart hotel for dinner which included traditional local Indian music and dancing. Of course we were 'encouraged' to participate. Bill ( the GP from Michigan ) had said previously that he categorically can't sing and can't dance. It took a few people to quieten him down and drag him off the dance floor at the end of the evening! The food was fine.
These are quite long action packed days of touristing.


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