Saturday, November 10, 2012

Golden city of Jaisalmer

I'll post pictures when I have wifi again, but for now I just wanted to write about how much I adored Jaisalmer. After more than two months in India it has so far been the highlight of my trip. My favorite city. The place I most want to go back to visit again and again.

Jaisalmer is the farthest west city in Rajasthan, deep in the Thar Desert. Its nickname of the "Golden City" comes from the fort that perches up over the city. Made of yellow sandstone, it glows in the desert sun and reflects light just as if it had been made of gold.

I stayed at a delightful hotel just outside of the fort, called the Hotel Royale. It's much more expensive than I would normally pay but it was part of the bad mistake I made in Delhi letting the IIRC book part of my trip in advance. Since I didn't feel like fighting to get the full refund if I had canceled everything I just sucked it up and enjoyed the nice hotels for a little while.

The hotel was not only comfortable and colorful, but the staff was delightful! On Halloween night, feeling lonely and restless, I went to the hotel manager to ask if he had any recommendations on where I could go to be around people. I ended up on the back of his brother's motorbike heading up into the fort to the family's home. I spent the evening as part of the family. Playing with kids. Drinking chai. Talking. Petting the family cow (who knew that cows enjoyed having the backs of their ears scratched?). And when I mentioned wishing I could try on a sari, Ajay and his wife took me upstairs to their bedroom and his wife dressed me up in one of her sarees! I was so delighted, and couldn't stop smiling and laughing. And I was full of such pure joy that Ajay's wife and mother went out and bought me a sari of my own as a gift to remember them by. *smiles* I was struck truly speechless by this generosity. And couldn't help but hug Ajay's mother. I now have a blouse and petticoat to wear with the sari, so I will be wearing it proper for the first time on Diwali. I figure that'll be a good opportunity to dress up!

Another highlight of Jaisalmer were hanging out at the textiles shop I ended up at after meeting a guide up in the fort. I purchased a custom made jacket from there, and also got the blouse and petticoat made. But mostly I spent time just sitting inside, drinking chai and talking to the men who worked there as well as the many locals who would drop in. On my last day I pulled out my sketchbook and drew the inner wall (complete with tapestries and a poster of Ganesh over the front door). My guide took me on his bike all over the city. We dropped into a silversmith's shop, where I ordered a custom silver pendant made. I now have the compass rose I have been wanting. And we went to several shops and I drank more chai than I have ever had in my life, and looked at crafts that I wished I could buy. Perhaps when I have an apartment of my own again (and money to shop with!) I will come back to Jaisalmer and buy all those things I just dreamed of buying on this trip.

One thing that I enjoyed (though it wasn't as much fun as I had expected it to be) was the camel safari I went on. For one thing, I guess I am more afraid of heights than I tend to think I am. Camels are WAY taller once you're on top of them than they appear when you're safely standing on the ground. And the way they walk is so odd that I was afraid I would fall off! It took until the next day for my hands to stop shaking, and my anxiety was so high that I couldn't bear going out again after dinner that night and surrounding myself in darkness. So I missed sleeping out under the stars. But oh my god the desert during daytime was beautiful! I can't listen to anybody who says the desert is a dead, colorless place. Because when I looked around all I saw was beauty. The light playing on the sand. The desert plants with roots so deep they remained green even after a lackluster monsoon season. Birds and insects and animals everywhere I looked (I saw two antelope, but they were too fast for me to catch with my camera). And sunset from the dunes was magical.

My guide was a delightful man. 40 years old, who had never been anywhere but this desert. No education to speak of, just 25 years of experience as a guide. His dream is to save enough money so he can buy some land of his own and have his own well and be able to send his own four children to school so they will grow up able to read and write. So simple! I would love to spend more time with this man, and wish I could have met his family. I would love to bring paper and books and teach them all to read and write. That would be something to remember forever.

I spent 4 nights in Jaisalmer, and I want so badly to go back. It wasn't peaceful in the slightest. And the chaos would normally drive me batty. But Jaisalmer was magical. It felt like I'd dropped smack dab into the middle of an Arabian fairy tale. I could have stayed there for a lot longer.

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