Camel sightings from the train!
Having grown up in western India, where the geography is anything but flat, I was quite mesmerized by the endless flat landscape on the train journey from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer. Large flat wastelands with little shrubbery on both sides extend monotonously into the horizon. But the fun part? There would be sudden camel sightings now and then and it would almost feel like I am on a train safari.
As I got off the train at Jaisalmer station, I felt a different vibe. A town at the western edge of India, in no particular hurry that took you back in time. Soon I was accosted by a rickshaw guy and a taxi guy who wanted to take me into town. The taxi guy took me to his office, bang opposite the biggest fort I had ever laid my eyes on. The Golden fort is huge, imposing but at the same time welcoming. More on that later.
After having negotiated a 3500 Rs price for a camel safari with a stay in a luxury tent along with food and entertainment, I set out to explore nearby and have lunch. After a simple but tasty lunch of dal-roti, we set out for the camel safari.
THE CAMEL SAFARI
In the afternoon heat, a honeymooning couple and I plonked ourselves into a jeep and set out for the 45 km trip to the Sam sand dunes. Note that it is pronounced as sum, not sam. The roads are in very good condition and largely empty. On the way you can see direction boards pointing to the other attractions like the Kuldhara haunted village which are a few kilometres off the same road. After relaxing for a while in our so called luxury tents(where the electricity and hence fan would go off every few minutes), just before sunset we went to the sam sand dunes. I sat aboard a camel for the first time and it was quite the experience! The camel sits down for you to get on and then you hold on tight as it stands. The standing and sitting are the only scary parts. My camel guide was a jolly good fellow enthusiastically talking about the camel, the desert and other things. For me, riding into the sand dunes was quite a magical, Arabian nights’ experience. The sand dunes look beautiful amidst the setting sun. My guide made me grab a fistful of the powdery sand and asked me to hold it tight, to demonstrate how fine it was. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t retain anything. It slips away. He also helped me take the mandatory photos on the dunes and we made our way to the tent for the night. Back at the tent there was a musical and dance program under the open sky with hot pakodas and chai for company. After enjoying the programme we were treated to a Rajasthani dinner and in the morning made our way back to the city.
Exploring a living fort.
With the major attraction of camel safari done with, it was now time to visit the next major attraction, the Golden Fort- the only fort where over 5000 people still live in. You'll find hotels, temples, shops and rooftop cafes with a grand view overlooking the fort in a crazy maze that is India.
As I made my way up the entrance of the fort, I was struck by not only the sheer majesty of the fort, but the amazing variety of things for sale. That’s the thing about Rajasthan. There’s art and craft everywhere- from the colourful turbans of the commonfolk to the puppets to the architecture of every haveli. The textiles in Jaisalmer are the most impressive ones I saw across Rajasthan. Soon, I was approached by a guide and I readily agreed for a princely sum of 100 Rs. The first stop was the Jain temple, whose intricate carvings simply blew my mind. Next stop was a haveli that has been converted to a museum. Both are worth your time. After the tour as I came out onto the sweltering afternoon heat, my guide took me to a guy selling chaas. At Rs. 10 a glass the masala chaas was extremely refreshing and not to mention pocket-friendly.
Staying in Jaisalmer- Unbelievably economical
If there’s anything more surprising than the beauty of the desert, it’s the prices for a stay in Jaisalmer. I was fortunate to have gone during the off season when prices are ridiculously low. A good room at the fort cost not more than 400-700 rupees. But since I was travelling solo, I decided a hostel should offer me company and imagine my surprise when I found Moustache hostel at a price of Rs. 200 per night. Air-conditioned beds, clean toilet, well equipped kitchen, massive terrace with a view of the fort and the company of travelers from across the world. I was in travel heaven.
Bike ride to Kuldhara and Bada Bagh.
While sauntering nearby the fort, I made friends with a local shop owner. Next day, I hired a Hero Impulse and set off to explore Kuldhara. The good and empty roads make riding a breeze. Soon I was at the entrance to Kuldhara. “Yahan raat ko bhoot naachte hain,” was the security guard’s introduction to the haunted village. In the bright hot afternoon sun, it did not take much guts to ride alone into the ruins but I must admit it feels quite odd to explore a haunted village even in broad daylight.
Next, I set out for Bada Bagh. After an hour of riding, when I suddenly caught sight of the royal cenotaphs, I have to admit it took my breath away. In much the same way as when I first caught sight of the Taj Mahal. I requested the security guard for some water and he was kind enough to oblige. The royal cenotaphs are essentially a cemetery for the royals.
Next to the cemetery lies a huge garden built by a king and that is the reason for the name bada bagh. I ventured into the garden and the atmosphere suddenly changed. From the heat of the desert afternoon I was plunged into a cool shady world with streams flowing beneath my feet. Ah, the magic of trees! The garden is said to be over 4 km long and has dates, jamuns, mangoes etc.
After 3 days in Jaisalmer it was time for my next stop, Jodhpur.