Jaisalmer was a place of many firsts and some lasts. As a town it grows on you the more time you spend there. It’s stand out feature is its fort which perches above the new town. Not only is it striking in its appearance but it is still inhabited by some 2000 people. Such is the sizable numbers that in a number of years it may no longer exist due to its walls crumbling away.
In some ways the fort disappointed. I imagined it to be a bustling hive of activity along its small streets. Instead it all felt very chilled and relaxed. Only the shop owners were visible, everyone else seemed to be on vacation. However when walking around you feel as if you are in a museum. The architecture was astounding. The carvings and patterns, mesmerizing. At its center stands seven Jain temples. I’ve never been in a Jain temple, neither was I entirely sure what a Jain was. On the way in there was a sign stating ‘no women on a period allowed in’. That didn’t disallow me which was lucky because the temples were incredible. The rock carvings were beyond anything I have ever seen in a temple. The outside had been impressive but the inside dazzled. I spent the rest of the day at a lake, surrounded by ancient ruins and more grand buildings steeped in history.
The other main reason that people come to Jaisalmer is to go on a camel safari. I’ve never been on a camel before, nor seen a desert so it was all a little exciting. So at 9am around 30km outside of Jaisalmer I stood in desert scrub awaiting the arrival of the camels. I was joined by Dom, there is no wind or rain in one of the driest deserts in the world, Feurado (we had previously met in Pushkar) and a Japanese guy who’s name escapes me. The camels arrived and the scene was set. A ride into the desert in the blazing hot sun, to dreamy sand dunes, a night under the stars and a day ride back. We got on our camels. They were very tall. They were also all males. Mine was called Sonia! I felt sorry for it and changed his name to Barry. Dom’s went from Rocket to Eric and the other camel from the cool Johnny Walker to Jessica. It was with little surprise that the camel would give our Japanese friend a few bumps along the way. All ready we rode out into an overcast sky, drizzling rain and strong winds.
I’m not going to lie to you, riding a camel was torture. I love them, I really do. Their expressions, their mood swings, their awkward movements but there is little joy to riding them. We were always relieved whenever we had a break and got to do some sightseeing. At one point we visited a local village. We were told to beware of the children. We saw no one but spent much time joking about what exactly we had to be careful of. Just how scary can a kid asking for a pen or a photo be? It turns out quite scary. The other part of our group (riding separately) were threatened with a rock unless they gave a young kid 10 rupees!
On arrival at the sand dunes I could not move. Dom after finally managing to sit down, sat transfixed looking at his legs shaking. When I was not laughing I was silently crying. After an hour sat on the verge of paralysis I fully appreciated my first ever desert. The sand dunes were something else. Sure sun would have been nice but the scenery shone on its own.
For the whole trip our every need was waited upon by our camel driver and his trusty companion. The food and chai that they cooked up was typical of Rajasthan, delicious! It was whilst enjoying a cup of Chai that the clouds began to break. There may have been no traditional sunset but the sunlight streaming through the gaps in the clouds painted the sky red in the most dramatic way that I think I have ever seen. Half way through the light show a man rode up on a camel with a bag full of fruit and a number of beers. I couldn’t think of a better place to enjoy a nice cold, out of date beverage (or three).
Come the evening we sat around a campfire, listening to local songs, drinking and chatting to the other group, who safe from their rock throwing incident, had arrived and pitched on the next dune. Even with the fire you could not see much more than a foot away. It was pitch black. When no one was talking the silence was incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated silence as much as I did on that day. From months of car horns, pumping stereos and the general loudness of the Indian population, total silence is a God send.
Eventually we went to bed under the clouds. I’m pretty sure that I’ve never slept out in the open before. It was great. At 11pm I awoke. The clouds had gone and some stars were in the sky. But most notable was the almost full moon. I’ve never appreciated just how much light a full moon reflects. I noticed Dom had awoken. He looked up, nodded towards the sky, put his thumb in the air and went back to sleep. He remembers none of it! When we awoke we were served breakfast whilst the sun broke through the last remaining clouds. Again it was beautiful.
Unanimously all deemed the pain on the camels worth it but few wanted back on. Around an hour into the second day I built up enough courage to go surfer style and sit sideways. It was a lot less secure, however it was also a lot more comfortable! On our arrival back I felt whacked. Every muscle hurt. It’s hard work sitting on a camel all day.
Outside of my first live able fort, first Jain temple, first desert, first night out under the stars and first camel ride, Jaisalmer was also home to my first cow attack. After joking with Dom at how upset the cow looked and how its mascara had run it promptly decided to spear me with its horns. It was one depressed cow! I got off with a temporary red mark but it will be a long time before I go insulting a cow to its face again!