10.04.2012 - 16.04.2012
Jaisalmer is a relatively quieter city in the Western part of Rajasthan. It is about 70 km away from Pakistan, is surrounded by desert, and is home to the largest sand fortress in the world. The fortress is literally made out of sand stone that would fall apart if too much rain were to fall. Luckily it’s in a desert.
Thanks to Morten and Claire, our hotel stay was wonderful! We had such a beautiful and CLEAN room! Also, the view of the city and its fort was fantastic from the rooftop.
There are people actually living within the walls of this fortress although I have a feeling most are either running the tourist shops and restaurants or somehow otherwise involved in the tourist industry. Regardless, walking around the walled in city protected by 99 bastions is nothing short of magical. It really feels like you’ve been transported into a tale of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves or a movie set for Aladdin. If you consider the history of the fort this is actually not that far off from the truth. This city was once notorious for being fiercely independent and sacking other surrounding cities and passing Caravans to sustain itself. In fact it became wealthy by collecting a “passage tax” from any caravans going along the silk route from Europe to China. It has definitely retained much of this outlaw outpost character although these days you are far more likely to be conned out of your money by the fast talking merchants than to encounter any physical problems. If you like adventure Jaisalmer is a great place to just wonder around and explore.
The biggest highlight of visiting Jaisalmer is going on an overnight safari. Sleeping under the moonlight next to a campfire -- sounds romantic, right? Derek and I had very different experiences…
First we took a jeep tour through an oasis and a couple of villages. The villagers were mostly welcoming and friendly. The children were especially playful and adorable. But in one village, a man kept asking if we had drugs to give him (right in front of his children), and there was another moment when the driver told us that he uses opium. I told him that he could potentially stop breathing and kill himself if he takes too much and he replied “that’s ok – everyone dies eventually.” Derek informed me later that he was probably trying to sell us opium.
Eventually we reached an area where the jeep dropped us off and we met our fantastic camel driver and camels! Camels are quite fun to watch and I can’t describe why – they JUST ARE! Riding a camel for 2 hours is like a core exercise – your entire core HURTS afterwards due to all the bouncing you do. It’s super hot in the desert so you have to cover all exposed skin. This is how Derek and I looked:
The desert itself was quite shrubby and even had some desert blooms. After 2 hours, we reached our destination by a bunch of sand dunes. Our camel drivers cooked up tea, snacks, and dinner – it was quite delicious! It was fun to watch the camels trotting around the camp, occasionally “arguing” over food, and inconspicuously they walk up to you then immediately walk away. There were also a bunch of large beetles everywhere. They kept making some strange “crunching” sound and I kept wondering what they ate, but they looked a lot like those scarabs from the movie “The Mummy” that somehow get under your skin, crawl around your flesh, and eat you from the inside. Ew.
As it became dark, I realized that eventually I would have to go to the washroom. Fact is, the desert is a one giant washroom so one can supposedly choose a bush and go. But I found that there were too many angles one can see me from so I decided to wait until dark.
This would be the first time I would ever go to the bathroom outside. I was quite nervous about it, but after MUCH mental preparation (and Derek hearing how much I feared this), I was ready to do it. I would make my female portaging and camping friends quite proud!
Being female, I discovered that this endeavour would be much more difficult than I anticipated. I merely thought that I would bring a headlamp, toilet paper, do “my thing”, and that would be all! I was so wrong. First, it was so difficult to find “a spot” in the dark in the middle of the desert, so I decided to just go behind a sand dune. I turned off my headlamp and tried to “go”. It was pitch black, but at least no one could see me! In the midst of my business, I soon realized that going in a sand dune was very difficult because I slowly started sinking to the sand! I thought “holy cow, I’m peeing in quicksand in the DARK! ” To make matters worse, I could hear those scary scarab-beetles crunching around (crunching WHAT I have no idea?!) There seemed to be other noises about that I couldn’t recognize – a camel perhaps? Sand snakes? SAND DRAGONS?! Peeing in the desert isn’t supposed to be THIS DIFFICULT AND TERRIFYING, is it?!
And of course I had held my bladder for the entire day, so my bladder emptied a day’s worth. I think this was my longest pee ever as I slowly sank into the sand dune while those creepy, crunching scarab-beetles waited around to feast on my flesh, and I SWEAR that a camel keeps coming by to see what’s happening?!
I was mid-thigh deep in sand by the time I finished. If there was a most uncomfortable, heart-racing, terrifying pee ever -- I think I can say I did it.
But the “desert fun” didn’t stop there.
First, there was no campfire because they attracted a lot of bugs this time of year. Derek and I were quite disappointed but that’s ok since I wouldn’t want to attract more bugs anyway. So our beds were laid out on the sound for us to sleep. The beds were quite comfortable but you could hear the bugs everywhere! Then the one tourist that was with us kept slapping bugs and spiders on his chest, remarking at how large each one was. As I tried to sleep, I could hear bugs buzz by my face and those creepy, crunching beetle-scarabs trying to crawl under the sleeping bag! Sometimes you can feel them underneath you, crawling about looking for something to crunch on! I kept waking to strange, unrecognizable sounds throughout the night and did not get much sleep.
The only good thing about not being able to sleep was seeing all the constellations move throughout the sky throughout the night, watching the various gradients of color the sky makes as the moon and sun gradually trade places, and the amazing sunrise. There was even a beautiful electrical storm off in the distance. As paranoid and tired as I was, it truly was a beautiful experience.
Derek slept throughout the night, DIDN'T have problems peeing, and woke up fresh and rested while the bags under my eyes indicated otherwise.
Although children in Jaisalmer are said to grow up to be 4 to 7 years before they ever see their first rain it stormed for 2 evenings in a row starting the day we arrived back in the city after our desert trip! The city was at a standstill. This was unfavourable for the farmers since it was crop-cutting time in Jaisalmer before the rainy season. If the crops are wet, they are extremely difficult to cut. It makes one wonder how climate change affects everything…
Overall, we had a very pleasant stay in Jaisalmer and it was definitely my favourite part of our visit to India. I have but one piece of advice: If you’ve never tried to go to the bathroom outside, perhaps don’t attempt your first time in the desert!