It’s not that often that you can say that you are writing from the middle of the desert, but if last week in Udaipur felt like the Meditterranean then Jaisalmer, which is where we are now feels like the Sahara desert. It is on the edge of the Great Thar Desert and the main town is actually inside a very old huge sandstone fort. It is very very hot at the moment which is a shock to the system after a few months of heavy rain. As some of you know my body temperature likes to mirror that of my external environment, like I’m a reptile or something! So right now on a scale of boiling to very very boiling I’m the latter but I’m adjusting to the heat as best I can.
When I left you last week we were still in Udaipur which has probably been the best stop on our route so far. Last Friday evening we went up to a place called Sunset Point where you had a bird’s eye view of the whole city. It was just stunning. In the evening we went to a Rajasthani dance festival which was really lovely. This woman was dancing with wait for it….eight water carriers balanced one on top of the other on her head! We also visited the tailors for the last time. I had to have my dress altered for the third time because I put it on and broke the zip. Oops.
We had to cancel our plans for an early morning bus ride to Jodhpur but when I finally got my dresses back they were absolutely perfect. I would have never found something that good for so cheap a price at home so it is a good investment when you consider the cost of graduation balls etc.
The next day we went to a place called Ranakpur because we didn’t have time to go all the way to Jodhpur. Khan and Navin took us in the car but it was a really tight squeeze because of the ever increasing luggage we have so we had to just suffer numb legs for a few hours haha.
I felt pretty awful because I had eaten a dodgy pancake and couldn’t hold down (or in!) my food ever since. We spent the journey trying to come up with 101 uses for a dupatta after having discovered several just through our daily wearing of salwar kameez. I think we are at number 64 or something. We’ve also devised a new format for a TV show called Pimp my Rickshaw (MTV fans need no explanation!). In Ranakpur we visited a(nother) Jain Temple but got ripped off a bit by a somewhat money hungry high priest. We stayed in a five star hotel by our usual standards which cost a whopping 700 rupees a night (about a tenner!) It was quite nice though because it had a swimming pool which is a luxury for us!
I hadn’t had anything apart from rehydration salts and a banana for about 36 hours so I was feeling quite weak. The next day we headed for Jodhpur. As we were the last on the bus I got the seat where there was absolutely no suspension. Here’s a formula thats worth remembering: loose motions + no suspension = not fun!!
I was so relieved when we finally got into Jodhpur after about 4 hours. In Jodhpur we were bombarded by rickshaw drivers but we have one stock response now. We just tell them we need exercise and they just start laughing and walk off which is good because we don’t want to get angry with them or anything.
Jodhpur is a geometric mass of blue. It used to be just Brahmins that painted their houses blue but now lots of people do. It wards off mosquitos apparently which is good news for me! We got a free ride from an old guy who saw us trying to bargain with the rickshaw drivers and took pity on us. He lived near the fort so he didn’t want any money for it so that was so nice. Meherangargh fort itself is amazing. They had an audio tour which is one of the best ideas I’ve seen so far. Whenever we have had a tour guide before we have ended up nodding in the right places because we haven’t got a clue what they’re going on about so it’s much better that way. They even had the handprints of all the Maharajahs wives before they burnt themselves on his funeral pyre.
In the evening we went shopping for a bit and then had to get a night train to Jaisalmer. It came into Jaisalmer at the unearthly hour of 5am and we slept through the alarm or didn’t remember to set one I can’t remember. The upshot was we all awoke as the train was coming into the station and had approximately 3 minutes to speedily pack up sleeping bags and generally prise open our eyes!
Emerging from Jaisalmer station is an experience. Even at 5am you have several hardcore hotel owners battling for your attention. We jumped in one of the jeeps – they all say they’ll take you anywhere for 10 rupees but naturally you end up going to their guesthouse (or their uncles or their uncle’s mother etc).
The hotel owner then proceeded to try and make us take a camel safari promising us dance and ‘full moon party’, bhang (marijuana) and whatever else. He got quite nasty after two days because we checked out. Most hotels offer you dirt cheap room prices because they convince you into paying for a safari. I didn’t like the guy at all and besides he had designs on Louise and was trying to ply her with beer so we wanted to steer clear of him.
Jaisalmer city is like a huge sandcastle. The fort is absolutely huge with many of the hotels actually housed in old parts of the fort. It almost doesn’t feel real because its like a real life exhibit. We bought some really beautiful wall hangings. I like mine because its made of both Indian and Muslim gypsy dresses so it looks more unique compared to the rest. I have been keeping a record of where I am spending money so I can keep track and keep on promising myself I’ll slow down soon but the rupees still feel like monopoly money, and I still have a long way before I can pass GO and collect my next student loan installment!
We randomly met Tim and Sara who we had joked with before leaving Deep Griha about meeting again sometime during our travels so we had dinner with them and told them all about our travels so far. Louise seems to be a man magnet because wherever she goes we end up having a bunch of indian guys trying to make inane conversation such as “what is your good name” and really interesting stuff like that! She needs to be a little less soft because before long theres invariably a sob story which is meant to make you take pity and invite them back home to get married!
Anyway on Tuesday we went to the fort museum but none of the exhibits were marked so we had to make up our own stories or find some other diversion. We saw a bunch of bats that were living in the fort which was pretty cool. Then we went to Gadi Sagar which is a big lake with a temple on it. Whilst Louise was chatting up some Indian guys (joke Louloubelle if you’re reading this!) I was talking to a couple of musicians. Hadish was married when he was fifteen and his wife was ten so it was odd to think he was only 23 but had been married for so long. I learnt to play (sort of) the Rawanattha which is a beautiful stringed instrument of the Bhopu desert tribe. Then we went for a ride in a pedalo on the lake and afterwards I was persuaded to get one of these instruments. It didn’t take much persuasion because I already really wanted one so I just wanted a good deal. Also, I am a total sucker for beautiful eyes and this guy was pretty dam good looking but don’t tell anyone that part of the story! So I ended up getting the instrument, a CD and one of his silver rings (which looked exactly like what I had been looking for) for little over 6 pounds. In the evening we ended up going to this really quaint museum run by a guy who I reckon was about 85 years old although he wouldn’t reveal his age. We saw this really weird puppet show (puppets are quite big here!) which made me laugh so much mainly because I couldn’t believe I was sat in a room full of weird puppets. In the museum all the exhibits were painstakingly handwritten and the old man took us round on a guided tour. He even gave us a detailed explanation (no less than fifteen minutes) on the Kama Sutra. It was just so funny having it come out of the mouth of this little old man…easily the oddest fifteen minutes of my life so far! Then we ate Tibetan style before getting an early night ahead of our safari…
On Wednesday and Thursday we went on a safari into the desert by camel. It started off nicely but ended up being two of the most draining days of the trip so far. My camel was called Rosie and she was with her husband Rajah, Louise’s camel, and Rocket, Jen’s camel. Their baby Bella came along for the ride. It was really fun riding a camel if a little bit sore at times. Rosie spent much of the time sidling up to Rajah and the baby was trying to feed from his mama at the same time! When we stopped for lunch the camel drivers entertained us with stories about their desert experiences like the times male travellers have tried to make a move on them – it is so funny their trying to explain these things to us in pidgin english.
In the afternoon the travel agent joined us. After a bit of a domestic with his girlfriend, it was a bit obvious he was trying to make her jealous by going on with Louise. Then he was trying to make Rajah go faster and faster even though they’re not designed for it. I wanted to go slower as it really hurt but Rosie was tethered to Rajah so we couldn’t slow down. After a few seconds I heard Rosie scream and she fell down and was dragged along until Rajah slowed down. I was thrown off and landed a little ahead. That’s another contender for Scariest Moment Of My Life. It was a miracle that I had only a few cuts and bruises especially when you consider Rosie’s injury. When I got up and turned around to my horror her leg was hanging by a thread and she was bleeding heavily. I was crying from the shock of both of these things. I gave my dupatta to be used as a bandage but since no one was a camel doctor they just tried to bandage it back together. They ought to have used it as a tourniquet to stem the blood flow but it was hard to get this across. Worst of all is that the camel driver will have to foot the bill not the travel agent. It costs 10,000 rupees to replace the camel which is a lot to me even so it is their whole livelihood.
They did their best to make us happy and we saw the sand dunes and were rolling down them like kids and burying ourselves entirely in sand. We later heard that they had been sobbing most of the time they weren’t with us. We tried to get some money back from the travel agent to give to the camel drivers. He was a nasty piece of work and ended up saying he would pray to his god to get us back twice for the wrongs we have caused him. We wanted to relax by the campfire but he stayed their bad mouthing us in Hindi probably because he had been humiliated by three girls. We did our best to ignore him and concentrate on the beautiful surroundings.
We got back last night and spent a long time arguing for a refund. Of course, there is no concept of a refund here but we argued all the same. In the end they conceded to give us 33% back and two nights in a guesthouse. We had wanted the money to give to the drivers but we gave them what we could.
Right now Jen and Louise are out visiting some Jain temples and a few other things. I am feeling really really weak. I have been pancakeaphobic after the incident a few weeks ago but generally I am not in a great state. It’s why I decided to stay back while Louise and Jen go because they say rest is a good tonic. I am currently taking a cocktail of medicines so I hope by the next update I will be alive and kicking and ready to go. We are hoping to get a massage tonight which would be amazing. Wish me well 🙂