Dromedaries and Dung
- Jaisalmer & the Thar Desert, India
from the dusty hot desert...
When we last left off, we were
on the far western edge of India, near the Pakistani
border. Jaisalmer, the golden city, is lorded over by
a huge fortress, on the edge of the great Thar
It was a long and bumpy busride. I tried to sleep, by snagging the last
row of seats and stretch out, but was continually foiled by potholes that
bounced me airborne. The last straw was when I was bounced right off the
seat onto the floor under the chair in front of me. Ouch!
As we approached Jaisalmer,
bleary eyes and restless with lack of sleep, a great honey-colored fortress with
stone ramparts appeared
like a mirage. Straight from fairy tales and sand castle,
it was the quintessial desert fort.
To be in the middle of it all, we took
a room inside the fort walls, a maze of dead-end
and temples upon temples jumbled together.
beckoned to the traveler down alleyways offering
henna painting or kohl-lining of the eyes. Homes built into the
very walls, had colorfully painted doors welcoming visitors. Half-naked
children (usually the lower half) scrambled around
barefoot across the hot stone.
stone steps mark a precarious entryway.
Our room was situated
on one of the great ramparts and we had an unparalleled
view of a never-ending desert stretching off to
country. I would definately recommend the Paradise Hotel, near the
first intersection after you enter the palace. Laid-back place with
delightfully whimsical rooms with painted decorations and local decor
complete with geckos running everywhere.
is also famous for it's merchants homes, built outside the fortress.
These beautiful homes were built of carved stone, their intricate
details evident in the window screens and decorations.
The big activity here is camel safaris into the
desert, and we had to try our hand at it. Safaris are
BIG business here and pretty ruthless competition.
We played it safe and signed up for one with our
since we liked our room so much. We have heard good
bad stories from other travelers. Things like them
selling you water for extortionist amounts just when
you need it the most. Or, kicking you out of the hotel if you book
a safari with someone else. But our hotel sounded really
good and they quickly made the arrangements for us
leave the following day.
poor thing has got an itch ...
To make the most of our time, we took a jeep ride
the desert to a small village where we met our camel
driver, Musa and our two camels, which we named
Baksheesh and Catch-up. Now, we really had no idea
what to expect, perhaps it would be very touristy and
feel like a package deal. Maybe there would be a lot
of other backpackers hitting the dunes. Or at the least, some
other tourists. Well, it was
none of these things. We jumped on our camels and
the three of us rode into the desert, setting off for
the nearby Sam Sand Dunes. After a good ride, Musa
stopped and set up camp. There wasn't another soul around. First,
he took off the saddles and immediately, these great, gangly beasts
flopped down on the sides and rolled back and forth in a swirl of sand,
relieving all the itching built up over the day.
Cooking breakfast over
a roaring twig fire
sticks he had gathered from the sparse vegitation, Mussa soon had a roaring
fire going and dished up a quick snack of
fried chips of some sort to hold our hunger at bay. He then told us to run along
and admire the sunset while he fixed dinner. When we
got back, he had a wonderfully spicy vegi stew with
and made from scratch chapatis (flatbread) and all
fruit we could eat for dessert. Our hotel had kindly
provided us with twenty bottles of mineral water and it never
became a problem in the hot desert sun, although it was intensely warm.
the desert, you follow desert time. When the
sets you go to bed. When the sun rises, you get up.
Well, after dinner, we hurried to set up our beds
before it was completely dark.
Musa helped us lay out bedrolls
blankets on a soft sand dune and we settled down to
Now it gets interesting. One curious inhabitant of a me.)
dune is the dung beetle, a large inch and a half
long black beetle that flys over head with the steady bussing
sound. When it lands, it crawls on six legs
across the sand, its mandibles splayed out in front.
And aptly named, it goes in search of dung, as a
of food and shelter. Our camels obligingly provided
dung, and we got to watch the amazing spectacle of
natural recycling earlier that evening. The beetles come from all around,
smelling the dung, we suppose, and they land upon it
and parcel it into small bundles and then carefully
roll it away. A large pile of camel dung disappeared
in about ten minutes. Now there is a point in all
While they are completely harmless to people, they
are scary nevertheless (to bug-phobic people such as
Once our camp settled down to sleep, the stars
sleep sack (only to imagine that beetles were inside)
came out and the soft glow of the moon settled across
the land, and provided just enough light by which to
see the black beetles crawling towards me. Their menacing
movement, I could see out of the corner of my eye, a black shape in
sharp contast to the whiteness of the sand dune. They stopped only
momentarily at the edge of the thick woolen blankets before, climbing
atop and continuing their way toward me. Needless to say, I spent the night on
involuntary bug patrol while Doug blissfully snored
away. After trying numerous things like sleeping in a
and rolling myself like a mummy into a big woolen
blanket, I managed to sleep maybe an hour or so, and
even then dreaming of beetle mandibles poking up
through the blanket. When I brushed one away, it merely alighted
and buzzed away only to taunt me yet again. When morning finally came and
when we mounted the camels did I finally feel safe.
newest member hitching a ride
At a local village, we stopped and added an
member to our party. The chicken rode shotgun behind
Musa on the camel, and after a long morning ride,
we had him for lunch. Musa, kindly enough, took our
new friend away, and we didn't see him again til he
had a bubbling pot of spicy chicken stew with fresh
chapatis. We ran into a friend of Musa, a local desert women, who
pitched in to help pat the chapatis into shape and spice up the stew,
and joined in our feast. It was the tastiest meal we have yet had,
full of Rajasthani desert spices from Musa's stash. Later, when Doug went to answer nature's call, he
found the rest of our friend in a bush, the feathers
During the hot midday sun, we spent our time relaxing
under the available trees and the shade they
The camels would wander off to eat grass, while we
would nurse our tender thighs and butt, rapidly
becoming very sore. Once we set off again, Musa
entertained us with his folk singing and bantering.
For the most part, I felt safe from the dung beetles,
they tended to fly very low and couldn't reach the height of the camel
seat. But, when one finally did and landed right on the saddle horn, I
panicked and almost off the camel, but stayed calm enough to fling the
saddle reins at it and brush it off. As night approached, we made camp again and knew that
the bug problem would have to be confronted.
Fortunately, Musa devised a plan for a bug-free bed.
He took his ax and gathered a bunch of desert bushes
from which he made a raised bed. Upon the young, green and
piled a foot and half high, we laid the bed rolls and
blankets, and he assured me the bugs could not climb
in. Dinner that evening was excellent as usual. And
after dinner, we talked awhile. Musa
lives in a small village a ways away, but with no
work available there, he comes to Jaisalmer for three
or four months at a time, leading camel safaris to
feed his family. He was the best guide we could have
asked for, and his bed trick worked. We both slept
peacefully, after staring at the beautiful stars for
a long time, amazed at how bright and numerous they
were. The milky way, a bright and creamy streak across the
in (a bushy) bed ...
In the morning,
Musa treated us to breakfast
our platform bed, a pile of toast, eggs, chai, and
savory vegetable pakoras. As I was savoring this delicacy, I
watched with great interest, a dung beetle attempting to climb the great
bushes of our desert bed. He struggled, fell sometimes, climbed yet
again, and just as we were completing our breakfast, he broke over the
edge of the blanket and onto our bed, as I scrambled off. Our safari came to an end
that afternoon, after riding over numerous sand
passing through fields, stopping at small oasis, chatting with
shephards leading their flocks, and
seeing the desert come alive.
Jaisalmer, we headed to Jodphur and Jaiper to
other Rajasthani cities. Jodphur is famous for the imposing Meherangarh
Fort dominating the cliffs overlooking the city. The history of the city
is rife with intrigue, ruled by the warrior clans and fought over by the
Mughals. We learned about the terrible practice of sati, through the
story of one famous Maharaja. During a particularly violent time, he
undertook to ride out to fight and face what was almost certain defeat.
Upon his death, some thirty of his concubines threw themselves on his
burning pyre to die with him. There in the fort was a number of hand
prints said to be the handprints of the concubines as they perished in
Jodphur is also known as the Blue City. Many of the
houses are painted a special shade of blue indicative of priestly
status, we were told. Looking out over the town from the fort,
well...that's a lot of priests.
Jodphur, we hit the Pink City, Jaipur. The old city walls enclose the
oldest part of town and some remarkable vestiges of the days of the
Princely Maharajas. Most striking is the Palace of the Winds, a building
designed to inspire spontaneous melodies in one song-writing maharaja.
The building is a series of wind chambers from which chimes hung at all
angles in every window.
Back in the city, we sampled some special Rajasthani
cuisine, typically very spicy and savory. Items like
ker sangri, desert beans and capers that look alot
gravied twigs, and lal maans, stewed mutton in red
The other thing that makes the desert so colorful is
the women and their beautiful clothing. Their saris
are more colorful here than anywhere in India, all
shades of the rainbow. The line their eyes with black
kohl and pierce their noses and hang intricate gold
jewelry from nose to ear. Their feet jingle
with strings and strings of bells dangling around
ankles and rings for every toe. Bangles run up and
down both arms and chains wrap their waist. And this
is just their everyday casual. Even the children are
miniatures, the little girls with
eyes and jewelry.
Whereas we looked in amazement at the locals and how
beautifully they were dressed, we discovered that we
were just as much a curiousity to the locals. On many
occasions, we have been stopped and asked for
autographs, or to take a picture with them. Little
children will stop and stare in amazement at us. Come
running up just to shake our hand and ask where we
are from. The strangest thing by far though has been
the Indian tourists themselves,
their country on holiday. Here we are, both visiting
some site, and they will come over and ask if we will
pose with them for a picture. Mostly with Ann for the
pictures. At first you think it might be some guy,
macho thing, but then the girls want pictures with
Ann as well. Well, the tables are turned, and the
tourist becomes the tourist attraction.
Well, that about wraps up Rajasthan, an incredible
area within India, that at once feels like its own
world, and yet so uniquely Indian. With a good
infrastructure for both the budget and luxury
where everybody can sleep in a palace, we highly
recommend Rajasthan as a first stop on any visit to
India. Well off to Delhi to pick up 'T' and then
we head north to rendevouz with the Dalai Lama.
Til we email again
Ten four good buddies
ann and doug
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