Jaisalmer, the golden city of Rajasthan, and sadly my last stop in this great state, was somewhere I’d heard about many times from fellow travellers; the main attractions being the fort (yes, another one) and desert safaris. I left Jodhpur both excited and a little down; I knew that I’d have a good time in Jaisalmer, but I also knew it was my exit from Rajasthan which would then lead into my last few weeks in the sub continent. In fact, even while writing this (which, as you know, is around 3 weeks behind) I feel a little depressed at the fact that I’ll be leaving the country very soon; but lets not focus on that for now.
Rajasthan, in or out, is basically situated within the Thar Desert, but Jaisalmer is where the actual desert starts. The city/town itself is just what you’d expect; it’s dry, sandy, and once again, as the name suggests, golden; if you were to view the city from the air I’m pretty sure that half of it would completely blend into the ground; it really is that sort of colour.
The hostel that I stayed in was based on the very edge of town and had a view of basically nothing but sand and the odd tree, and was unbelievably quiet; this made for a welcome change from the jets of Jodhpur, the taxis of Udaipur, and the rickshaws of Jaipur. However, the one, possibly expected downside was the heat which, as you can imagine and expect from a desert settlement, was just about bearable. Now, I knew I’d be going on a desert safari whilst I was here, but I was planning on doing it a couple of nights into the trip. However, after enquiring I was told that somebody else had already planned the trip for that night so, with little persuasion, I decided to follow suit.
So, after meeting and spending the day with the Mexican girl who’d kickstarted the trip, we took the journey into the Thar Desert. The two camels we rode were entertaining from the start; Lalu (my camel) was very docile and seemed to have a very ‘take it easy’ feel (if a camel can have such a feeling), whereas my companion had a camel that had a very ‘f**k you’ attitude and was very insistent on defying whatever our guides insist it do; it tried to wander off, and generally misbehaved throughout, which was actually quite amusing.
After an hour or so of riding far away from Jaisalmer, we arrived at our camp site; which was situated amid towering sand dunes and a few bushes (which we used for certain purposes). By this point the temperature had lowered significantly to a more comfortable 35 degrees and, after helping our guides prepare food (mainly by chopping vegetables), we sat atop a sand dune talking about life and the universe whilst the guides continued with the cooking.
Then something happened, something I thought was impossible, but it happened anyway; someone appeared. In the distance, between the dunes and the blinding, setting sun, he arrived. Where had he come from? We were quite far away from any kind of settlement yet this man, bag in hand, came towards us intently.
He sat down and, after the normal pleasantries, asked if we wanted beer. Beer? Is this a dream, or some sort of mirage? There we were, miles from anywhere, and I’m offered beer in the middle of the desert. I actually declined (I’d not drank for quite a while at this point) but my companion uttered that I wasn’t going to have the chance to truly relax, beer in hand, whilst sat in the desert again anytime soon so, after mulling it over, I bought a few (I also treated the guides to a couple of things as well). I’ve been told, usually jokingly by many Indians, that in India anything is possible; well I guess that’s true!
After a surprisingly delicious meal, which was made on a makeshift stove and using basic utensils (I had to give one guide my knife), one of the guides hit the sack whilst the other, quite frankly, wouldn’t shut up. This guy bombarded us with questions, many of which were very odd (such as asking if we have cows in England).
We found out from him, after hitting him back with a barrel load of questions, that if you kill a cow in India, even by accident, you can be sent to jail and have to pay a fine (this seemed reasonable given that they’re holy, but when I looked it up, it’s actually a more severe punishment than accidentally killing a person). He also told us many little snippets about Indian law and the Indian population’s general hatred of Pakistan (which he also told us was only 8 miles away and that late at night, any non-declared people or vehicles nearing the border would be met with a ‘shoot on sight’ sort of reaction).
The midnight atmosphere really made this little trip; I don’t think I’ve ever been in an environment so silent; there really was no sound whatsoever. No animals, no traffic, just nothing. The air was cool but not cold, and the company fantastic; we felt like we could see every star out there and, after witnessing at least three shooting stars, I was in a state of complete bliss; I really couldn’t have been happier.
The morning came round soon enough and, after another makeshift meal, we made the sad journey back to Jaisalmer and civilisation. We quickly parted company (she was leaving that night) and so I carried on exploring the golden city in my familiar, yet comfortable, loneliness.
There are, of course, many other things to see and do in Jaisalmer, with the fort being a large part of the tourist draw. It really is huge and, with its diverse range of cafes, restaurants and shops, you can easily spend a day just strolling around but, me being me, I had to do things differently, which led to an unfortunate situation that was of my own making…kind of.
Being the fool that I am, I decided to leave the tourist trail and find my own way around the fort and its many backstreets and alleyways; this eventually led me down a path that ended up being in-between the two layers of the fortress walls which, unfortunately, was where the locals dump their waste (and by waste I don’t mean plastic and rubbish; I mean sh*t). Unbeknownst to me, the many pipeways that get rid of the crap from within the little town that is the fort, pass through these walls and, probably deservedly, I ended up covered in shit when I walked past one such pipe that had a bit of a flow going. Yes, that’s right, I got covered in sh*t: human sh*t, and by covered, I mean pretty much everywhere other than my head.
Now, there are many unfortunate situations that I laugh off and say are ‘part of the experience’, but I can definitely say that being covered in sh*t is a hard one to put into that category. Naturally a little disheartened and feeling unwell, I took a walk of shame back to the hostel and showered, before showering again, then once more after that to be sure: this is probably the worst thing that has ever happened to me…ever.
Of course I look back on this little incident with humour and a genuine hope that it happens to someone else who decides to find their own way around. If not, well, at least I’ve done something in Jaisalmer that not one else has, so I have that going for me…
Jaisalmer, then, was a fitting end to my time in this great state; I enjoyed my time there and can happily say it’s a place I won’t be forgetting anytime soon so, as sad as I was for leaving, the Golden city of Rajasthan will always be a great reminder of a fantastic state…