By Samir

Thar Desert, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

On the evening of the 28th, we took the midnight bus to Jaisalmer, which took eleven hours to go about 360 miles. I thought the driver was a bit crazy. I remember looking down the aisle watching where the driver was going, seeing no potholes, people or animals, and yet feeling a sudden swerve and thinking to myself, ‘what the hell is he doing?’… this happened countless times.

Near the tail-end of the bus ride, we started looking up places to stay in Jaisalmer. Clearly, finding a hotel less than two hours before you arrive is probably not the best idea. We reserved a place; we were told to find the guys holding up a sign for the guesthouse. After we exited the bus, I was taken aback by the onslaught of cab drivers offering to take us anywhere I wanted for as little as 20 rupees a ride. Some even came on the bus before I got off!

We made our way to Desert Boys Guest House inside the Jaisalmer Fort. About a quarter of the population lives inside the fort which has steep, cobbled-stone pathways. After checking in, we promptly went to sleep.

Side note: This is what we found, on the wall of our room when we entered, right next to the bed.

Image

Insert by Rachel:

While Jaipur is called the Pink City – though really the old city now looks like a puce-ish color – it is easy to see why Jaisalmer is called the Golden City. Pretty much all the houses and buildings are made from the same golden yellow desert sandstone (unlike in Jaipur where only some of the buildings even in the old city had that pinkish color) and our view from the roof of Desert Boys really shows the magnitude of this.

The Golden City

Back to Samir:

The next day, we left around 3pm for our overnight desert safari (booked through Desert Boys). We rode in a door-less Mahindra Commander (a jeep) about 45 kilometers outside of town. The journey was scenic, passing several small villages. The wind coming into the vehicle was cool, though not unbearable. We arrived at one of many “camel points” along the way, which had numerous camels and local guides waiting for tourists like us. We climbed aboard a camel, Rachel first, me second. The camel was seated on the ground and then stood up after we got on. There was a guide leading the camel who noted that the camel’s name was Bablu, and that he was supposedly fed plant leaves and water twice a day. Almost immediately, I wish I’d done some groin / inner thigh exercises before getting on. 🙂

Samir, Rachel and Bablu 🙂

During the course of the next two hours, we rode the camel through the Thar Desert, seeing the SAM dunes (the largest dunes in that part of the desert). When off the camel, in some places, we sank down, which allowed the sand, somewhat cool to the touch, to envelop our feet. This felt great. We took turns laying down in the sand, walking up/down dunes, and generally enjoying ourselves and the vast rolling dunes around us.

SAM Dunes, Thar Desert

Because we chose the touristic safari option, there were a few people that tried to get us to purchase snacks/beverages. After being out in the desert all day, we quietly wondered how the vendors could claim to still have “cold” beverages for sale.

After our camel ride ended, we walked in the desert, stopping to talk to a few tourists, and finally finding a place to watch the sunset together. While there, I became engrossed in playing with the sand.

Little boy, big sandbox

The sunset was beautiful. The camels that were nearby all seemed to look off into the distance and watch the sunset with us, though I wonder what they thought about it, if they did at all. If they saw the same sunset everyday, would they still enjoy it like we did?

From there we proceeded to a Desert Safari Camp run by some Hotel Payal. We sat around a central campfire, along with about fifty other people. We were served chai and poha (puffed rice). Some old men were on a stage with microphones, and proceeded to engage in some poetry and songs. Later, two women in beautiful flowing Rajasthani outfits came out and started dancing. Some of it reminded us of flamenco dancing as they picked up their wide skirts and twirled. During a performance, one of the dancers bent over backwards and picked up a gold ring, and later a blade, with her eyelid. Later, the same dancer climbed up on and stood one-legged on a bed of nails.

On a bed of nails!

After a typical Rajasthani buffet dinner, we were offered a Swiss tent or mud hut, though we were told the Swiss tent would retain heat better, so we chose the tent (with attached bathroom).

Our desert tent

Rising too early the next morning (6:45am), we went back out to the sand dunes to see the sunrise. The sand felt overly cold, and the air was a bit nippy. Just before the sunrise, we saw a stray dog trying to chase down a low-flying crow, which provided some amusement, though the dog later gave up. But the crow seemed to be teasing it, crowing loudly at it and flying just within reach but not so. The sun rose slowly. At first, it was only faintly visible just above the horizon. It slowly rose, and then started to get brighter. By the time it was up, we felt the light outside getting brighter. Rachel noted it was our first sunrise we had ever shared together. Awww…

Sunrise over the Thar Desert

Our first sunrise

After watching the sunrise, we had a quick greasy breakfast and headed back into town. We took a shower and a brief nap and went out. Our first stop was the Jain temple. Rachel was a little miffed at the sign out front.

Seriously?

Next we went to Patwa ki Haveli, which was an old house lived in by a rich family that had since been converted to a historical monument / museum. There were a lot of cool relics inside. Rachel was jealous about the size of the master closet. It was like a bedroom in of itself with lots of ornate, colorful paintings, mosaics and inscriptions. From the roof, we had a great view of the Jaisalmer Fort.

While on the roof of the haveli, we spotted a nearby rooftop café, which is where we went for a leisurely lunch – the vegetarian pizza was surprisingly good!

The next day, we took a sleeper bus to Udaipur, which took about 15 hours to go 325 miles. A “sleeper” seat on this bus means a berth on the upper part of the bus. We had a double sleeper and our enclosed little berth was about 3.5 feet wide, 5.5 feet long and maybe 3 feet tall (just enough to sit up with your legs stretched out in front of you). Parts of the road were in poor condition, and the windows on the bus didn’t close properly. Unprepared, we shivered through much of it. Luckily, we’d booked a homestay prior to the bus ride. After arriving in Udaipur at 7am, we promptly went to sleep for 8 hours!

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