Where I've Been

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

India

Part 7 – Jaisalmer

As before, I would recommend viewing this blog on the blogger.com website, not on any RSS syndication (like Google Reader) so that the pictures all line up.

Ah the train again, here is Steve, delighting with his fellow passengers at the start of another long ride:

Within hours, the soft blue of Jodhpur had given way to the sandy gold of Jaisalmer.

Jaisalmer is the largest western city on the road to Pakistan; it’s out there. Despite its remoteness, tourists still flock to Jaisalmer for the magic of its dunes, camel tours, fortresses, havelis, and Italian food:

My standing recommendation however, is simply ask to be let off in Italy while on the way to India if you really would like some Italian food.

Jaisalmer is home to a fabulous series of Jain temples, awash in intricate carvings. Jains are notable in that they reject killing of any animals. To enter their temples you must remove all leather items. However, to keep this a family blog, I will refrain from all leather jokes. The most ardent devotees wear face masks and sweep the ground in front of them to avoid harming even microorganisms.

The priests within the temple network gladly tour you through their temples, explaining and showcasing the beautiful carvings, after which they ask for a tip, expressly against the instructions displayed on several placards throughout the temple. Some alternatively ask for a souvenir of an American dollar, preferably a 5 or 10 dollar bill.

Likely the most popular Jaisalmer attraction is the desert camel safari. These come in varying lengths, but most will have an overnight stay. The desert can be a sinister and unforgiving place, as anyone can learn from the movies. To be ready, we decked ourselves out in extreme desert gear.

We were ripped off in our purchase of this hardcore gear, but luckily we were able to recoup our losses by selling the clothes to incoming freshman at the local jihadi training camp.

Here’s me and my ride:

Here’s a video of me in the drivers seat

video

And here I am making a hand shadow of a camel while riding a camel.

Sunset in the desert is gorgeous, after which the temperature drops “like it’s hot”. Our guides gathered up some scrub wood, built a fire, and cooked a dinner of chapati, daal, rice, and curried vegetables, all seasoned with sand. Afterward, we lay around the campfire listening to the camelman’s songs, staring up at a moonless, star-spangled sky. After several cold hours under thick, camel-musk-scented blankets, we awoke, ate a sandy breakfast and cameled back to town. Recommended, do try it out.

We had the good fortune of being in Jaisalmer over New Years, so we attended a party thrown by our guesthouse. It’s difficult to accurately describe the amount of shock we experienced at this party. The party started out tame enough, but as midnight drew nearer, we noted that something was seriously wrong, and became increasingly more wrong. The assembled crowd started dancing, jumping up on stage and careening about, but without the help of any alcohol. Now I’d been to a few Mormon dance parties in my time, so that part didn’t terribly surprise me. But looking about at the wildly dancing crowd of about 300, it was clear to see that about 98% were men, young men our age and younger. Each was creating a dance out of the thin, cold, Jaisalmer air. One was hopping on one leg like an amputee, another looked like he was guiding a Boeing 777 onto a runway, still another looked like he was waving for a rescue ship after being marooned on an island. The beauty part was each was smiling like a synchronized swimming contestant and intent on convincing each of us that his dance was the coolest on the dance floor. We were constantly being grabbed, and spun around, our limbs gripped and marionetted into the latest extemporaneous dance craze.

Being the hit of the party was tiring, so we left and greeted 2008 from our balcony amid the whoops and fireworks from the rooftops below.

The next morning we set off for our next destination: Jaipur. Until then.