May 14-16, 2016
Another Sleeper Train - 3AC from Delhi to Jaisalmer
It was a very hot day in Delhi today—`115+ degrees F (46 degrees C).
Our train left as scheduled. We found our seats in our 3rd-tier AC class cabin. We’ve now tried 2nd AC, 3rd AC, and sleeper class. We departed Delhi at 5:35pm and are scheduled to arrive in Jaisalmer the next morning at 11:30am? (Currently writing on the train) Our berth on the train was quite crowded; it is supposed to accommodate 8 people, as there are 8 beds. Before bed time the middle bunk is folded down and all 8 people sit along the bottom beds using them as chairs. However there were more than 8 people in our berth…clearly no one cares about where their seat is, and people who don’t pay for tickets in advance come on the train to the general class, purchase a ticket and then find their way onto the nicer AC cabins and take up seats. Incredibly annoying.
We’ve noticed many kids on the trains we’ve taken. They have a lot of fun climbing up and down the bunks and swinging on the ladders. It’s actually more cute than annoying. The majority of young girls wear their hair short and after noticing this common trend, we decided to look it up. Turns out it is a religious practice. Hindu girls get their hair shaved off around 11 months to rid themselves of any bits of their past life.
We pre-ordered a veg Thali for dinner that wasn’t delivered until after 8:30pm. Although we were both quite hungry we struggled to eat the low quality train food. When we finished with our food we couldn’t find a trash can so neatly stacked the empty containers on top of each other. A train attendant walked and asked if it was our trash. He told us to throw it away and walked us to the door of the train where he then tossed the containers onto the track. Not to mention other pee and shit into the train tracks (last week we saw a mother hold her toddler over the track while he diarrhea-ed.) This blatant lack of respect for the environment and acceptance of littering has been apparent in every city we’ve visited so far. It’s upsetting to see the little regard many here hold for their land and country. I’m not sure if it’s a lack of education or a general sense of indifference.
After watching a few Seinfeld episodes on the computer we each retired to our own bed. Sheets and pillows are provided on the AC classes but we opted to use our sleeping bag liners as sheets, figuring them to be cleaner. The train made stops throughout the night and around 12:30am the lights in our cabin were abruptly turned on and loud conversation ensued. Awoken from sleep I looked down to see the source of the commotion and saw a family of 8 with 3 kids in our berth. I wasn’t sure if they had tickets to be in our berth or had hopped on the train, saw empty beds and took advantage. They were being so incredibly loud and disrespectful we had to address them. They did quiet down and shoved themselves in the remaining beds sharing with their children. This is the second time on a train that we’ve encountered a lot of commotion in the middle of the night with people sneaking on the train- the last time a couple with out ticket reservations tried to spread a sheet on the floor between the bunks and sleep in our berth.
Arriving in Jaisalmer, “The Golden City”
Upon arriving at the railway station we were accosted by dozens of men trying to sell us rides into the city. Since it’s off-season any business during the day is a good day for them. We jump in the back of a jeep and pay 10rp ($0.15) to get to gate of the fort. As we walk inside I start feeling nostalgic. I start recalling many things from the last time I was here (7 years ago). Our hotel is called the “Saffron Guest House” but I have to ask people where to Monsoon Palace is since the name was changed a while ago and that’s the only name people will remember. I am taken to the building but it’s all locked up. We learn that the owner also runs another, larger, guesthouse on the other side of the fort. We are shown to it and meet the owner. He explains since it’s low season the house has been locked up but he is ready to show us to it.
Our Lovely Abode
As I write this we are currently in our room and the A/C just went out, along with all the power within the fort. The weather today is 117 degrees but the temperature in a few days is forecasted to be as high as 120 degrees (much higher when you consider the heat index). It’s brutal walking around here. We bought three large beers and they are in the fridge upstairs, along with 2 liters of water. We have the entire building to ourselves—thanks to the low season the other room is not currently being rented. We have our own roof deck, which overlooks a nice portion of the city of Jaisalmer.
The Jaisalmer Fort
The Fort is nestled in the center of Jaisalmer city. The vast majority of tourist facilities, restaurants, and population reside outside the fort. However being in the fort has a certain romantic charm and it’s nice walking around the curvy roads. There is a Jain Temple in the center of the fort and a few shops that cater to tourists. Leaving the fort is essential when you have a room within it as during low season there are not too many dining options within fortress.
The Fort was built in the 11-hundreds and has been rebuilt/restored many times. Un until a decade ago the fort was not even considered safe to be inside since the infrastructure was so significantly lacking. It's apparent by the piles of stones, incomplete constructions, and overcrowded alleys that the Jaisalmer Fortress is not a poorly maintained and the demand brought by tourism is straining the fragile architecture.
There are several temples inside the fort, the most famous being a Jain Temple. Jainism is a very old and peaceful religion. It dates back to a contemporary of Lord Buddha, however to an outsider Jain looks like a blend between Buddhism and Hinduism. Jainism believes in harming no living being and the most holy of the Jain men don't wear clothing because even making clothing involves harming a plant. It's common for people in the Jain faith to walk around barefoot and carry a duster with them as to sweep the ground in front of them so they may not accidentally hurt a bug. Jain temples are ubiquitous in the Indian state of Rajasthan.
Our first night we enjoyed a strong beer on our personal roof deck. We opted to go out of the fort to the restaurant “Gaji's Restaurant”, which is rated #1 out of 157 in Jaisalmer. We will be able to enjoy a sunset while enjoying a panoramic view of the fort. The restaurant focuses on Korean food, we’ll see about that. Having just returned from Gaji's Restaurant and I have to say, WOW! The food is amazing, the view just as stunning!
We picked up some cantaloupe and oranges on the way back to our hotel. Since the sun had set the temperature had finally dipped low enough to sell vegetables and fruits. We devoured the fruit the next day in the near 120 degree heat from the comfort of our own personal rooftop. I was just imagining that somewhere back in the states there is someone wishing that they were in a far-away land at a sauna for the day. The though of that actually allowed me to enjoy the intense desert heat while lounging on our roof deck. Knowing there is an air-conditioned room two floors below added great comfort.
The people here in Jaisalmer, along with the people on the train into Rajasthan, seem different than the majority of individuals we've met in Kolkata, Delhi, Agra, and Varanasi. In the previous locations begging was everywhere, people lived in the streets, paan chewing was ubiquitous (red rotted teeth), and people were clothed in rags. Varanasi has a large population of untouchables--an entire population of poor Indians that are not even included in the the 4 caste system. The act of preparing and carrying out the burning of the bodies on the ghats is a task saved only for the untouchables. It seems that these 'lowest class' citizens was more more highly concentrated in our initial Indian destinations. Rajasthani people, seem to be largely Brahmin. Most people here in Jaisalmer speak good English, have good teeth, clean clothing, and are not beggars.
Our 2nd day in Jaisalmer was spent relaxing and getting henna for Sylvie. At 3pm we are to meet our tour agency and take a jeep into the desert where we will take a 1-day desert camel safari. The prices we were quoted ranged mostly from 1,500 to 1,900. We were found one guy inside the fort offering the safari for 1,000. Having taking so many of these 'pre-planned' trips before we both are confident that all of the trips are the same. We will travel for a few hours into the dessert, stop off at some stop along the way, take a camel ride for several hours, get out and eat dinner among the sand dunes. We'll enjoy a night below the stars in the open Thar Desert. Tomorrow we reverse the route and get back into Jaisalmer before noon where we will catch a bus to Jodhpur.
We hopped in the jeep with a couple from Chile and two men from China. The ride into the desert took about 45 minutes. Once we pulled over we saw 6 camels waiting for us on the side of the road. What goofy looking animals! After an obligatory camel photo shoot, three guides escorted us alongside our camels into the desert. Two of the guides were shockingly young, one maybe 12 and the other 15.
Though the temperature was still very hot the thrill of riding on the back of a camel was an awesome distraction. Aside from our group, there was no one in sight making our journey into the desert even more magical. We laughed at our frisky camels as they stubbornly stopped to much on stray weeds and bobbed up and down to the rhythm of their lazy saunter.
Camping Out in the Desert
About 45 minutes into our journey we had reached camp for the night- there was nothing in sight but endless sanddunes. The guides were nice but provided little for entertainment. They threw down a blanket in the shade and the group plopped down relieved to escape the heat. We were served hot tea and crispy fried snacks.
The temperature continued to cool and we stepped out of the reprieve of the shade to search for the perfect spot to watch the sunset. As we settled in for the sunset atop a dune we noticed we had attracted a friend, a panting dog. We shared some water with the dog who gratefully lapped it all up. The sunset was incredible. We had left the noise and dirt of the city behind and now had the entire desert to ourselves. It couldn't have been more romantic.
We ate a dinner of rice, chapati and potatoes with our group. The meal had been prepared by our guides over a small fire they started. We watched them make the chapati dough and cook it over the flames. It was definitely a no frills meals but watching them make it with such limited materials in the middle of the desert was impressive.
The four other people on our tour had booked a day tour and left after dinner. It was just the two of us spending the night. The lead guide joined us for a chat. He told us about his job telling us that he earns 2,000 rupees a month but usually doubles that with tips. He's been a guide with a company for ten years and says he's ready to be his own boss and have his own camels. He went on to talk about his marriage telling us that he is Muslim and had an arranged marriage that was quite an expensive financial transaction- over 100,000 rupees ($1,500).
Sleeping Under the Stars
After dinner he showed us to our beds which seemed to have materialized out of nowhere. 2 cots sat on top of a sand dune- our accommodation for the evening. He told us that he would meet us in the morning. With that we were left on our own under the stars. The moon was shining so brightly that the view of the stars was obstructed. We decided to set out alarm for later in the night to see the stars in full power.
Shortly after laying down we were joined by two dogs who protectively spent the rest of the night sleeping by our beds. I'm sure the water we were giving them probably also kept them around but they were very well behaved. We woke up in the middle of the night to the glorious stars above, soaking in their beauty.
The following morning we enjoyed sunrise, breakfast and another camel ride back to the jeep. This time, a guide rode on the back of each of our camels enabling our camels to trot. We had a great time bouncing around on our goofy running camels.