I love the lush verdant greenery of plants, trees and flowers, as evidenced by my choice to live in Portland, Oregon; but, despite my admiration for emerald vegetation, the desert landscape has the ability to touch some deep part of me, the essence of who I am, like no jungle or forest ever has. The closer we got to Jaisalmer, the more I feel sucked into its’ sandy depths. When we finally enter this golden and remote town, we are awed by the massive sandcastle of a fort, rising up in the center. This is not a perfect city, evidenced by the ubiquitous rubbish and poor sanitation of all densely populated Indian cities, but I immediately feel the romance. This is a place that has survived the highs and lows of history, once being a stop on the camel-route between Central Asia and India, then ignored with the expansion of sea routes, later shrinking with drought, finally to be a strategic location again during the Pakistan – India wars. With the eventual modernization of the city, by specifically building key canals to transport water and thus revitalize this ancient desert city on the fringe, tourism could flourish and Jaisalmer rose from the dust. Now, its’ proximity to open desert, historic havelis, and breathtaking fort and castle are exploited for the tourist dollar.
Our accommodation faces one of the few grassy parks, which is dominated by packs of children playing ball or chase, during the cooler evening temperatures, presumably after a long school day. Gabriel wastes no time in joining their games, planning further rendezvous for play, during our brief stay.
Jaisalmer’s historic landmarks have intricately carved facades in a golden-hued sandstone, which have a burnished glow in the sunset. Of course, we visit the hilltop fort and palace, which are the centerpiece of this mythical city. Before entering the gates, we stop to watch the feats of a young girl walking a high tightrope with pots upon her head. There is a circus-like atmosphere with colorful textiles hanging from shops and walls, orange-turbaned, mustachioed, leather-skinned men, and camels and cows wearing bright accessories. In the evenings we are entertained by our first puppet show with accompanying live music, which delights the child in us all, and another night with more singing and Rajasthani dancing.
Jaisalmer Fort, Palace and surrounds:
Colorful streets, lake(manmade) and people of Jaisalmer:
These painted signs signify a recent marriage and new home for the couple:
Jaisalmer puppet show and dancing:
Jaisalmer War Museum:
Here we find our first government-licensed “bhang” lassi shop. Essentially a place that sells flavored yogurt shakes which you can add a medium or strong dose of cannabis to. We enter the small drinking den, almost filled with mellow backpackers. The kids are given unadulterated lassis , while Dan experiences a delicious coconut lassi spiked with grass. I remain sober to tend to the flock, and also because I cannot stomach the slightly sour and tart yogurt taste of a lassi, regardless of the fresh fruit or “happy-making” potential. Some of the stoners in our mix initially think that our kids are also drinking “special” lassis, which really messes with their trip. We are quick to calm their bulging eyes.
Jaisalmer city is certainly fascinating, but the desert is calling us with seductive invitations. It is here that we plan an overnight camping excursion to ride camels west and into the sand dunes. We start our trek by jeep, visiting deserted and inhabited farming and shepherding villages on the way. We stop at a small lake, a green oasis of reeds and birds, before alighting on our second camel ride of the trip. Over an hour into our trek, and Dan is sure it will be his last. We arrive at the silky dunes as the sun is setting, and are presented with hot chai and a cot to perch on. The kids are off on a beetle hunt, and twig collecting for our campfire. As the sun goes down, we huddle around a bonfire eating vegetable curry and rice, later to be entertained with the singing and drumming of our guide, before bedding down under a very thick comforter under the stars. I am cozy the whole night, despite the plummeting temperatures and other than a necessary pee break in the wee morning hours. With the sunrise, our eyes open, not daring to get up, as we are served steaming hot tea in bed. The silence is bliss. Being in a place that requires nothing of you, but your observation and contemplation is serene. This feeling of calm continues with me as we wrap up breakfast and climb atop the camels for our return trek. Of course, Dan opts to ride in the jeep instead!