Jaisalmer and Jaipur- Of sandy sunsets and unsung saviors

After return to our stay,  we hopped on to the car ride we’d booked shared with a tourist from China, one from Australia, a senior couple from Calcutta. An hour later we dropped off only to ride camels to finally get to the Sand dunes.

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Once there, we alternately walked around and sat awhile in the sand, well-aware of how scary the beautiful landscape could get in the summer or even for someone by themselves unfamiliar with the vagaries of the desert. IMG_9514One of the most memorable parts of our experience while waiting for the sunset- was sharing segments of oranges between the couple, the driver and us, sitting on the sand, chatting about life, weather, food just watching the endless expanse of the desert. IMG_6581

After the sunset, we were taken to a resort and treated to a cultural music and dance performance and a meal. This seems like a popular option in any of the sand dune tourist “packages” offered in Jaisalmer. The highlight of the evening, however, was just making our way back to the jeep and looking up for a second, only to see the more dramatic celestial performance of the millions of stars clearly piercing the pitch darkness of the sky. IMG_6656

Unfortunately, we couldn’t spend more time there since we had to catch the midnight train to Jaipur. However, a good night’s rest was not to be. We were rudely jostled awake before 5 in the morning by well-behaved toddlers and the most inconsiderate adults who plonked a group of 7 in seats booked for 4. Luckily every journey has to end and after sharing our breakfast of trusty theplas with the kids we reached Jaipur just after noon.

Exhausted from the lack of sleep on the train we decided to spend the afternoon at our comfortable hostel with a nap to catch up on rest. It was early evening when we decided to ride to Jal Mahal after picking up our bike passing by the unmistakable Hawa Mahal beautifully lit up. IMG_6688

By the time we got to Jal Mahal, it was dusk and parking was disallowed at that time so we decided to return the next day instead. On the way back, stopped at a very crowded “MM Khan hotel” which is a restaurant that seemed a local favourite from people of all social and economic classes. Despite having their hands full both literally and figuratively, the staff were attentive and kind and the food was cheap and undeniably delectable for both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options.

The next morning, now well-rested, we made our way to the Amer Fort. We first stopped at the majestic Shree Narsingh Devji Mandir just because we saw it on our way. A quick exploration of the temple and we made our way to the Fort. IMG_6717

As we got there, we realized it’d be yet another place packed with crowds even as we snaked our way to the parking space. We were also grateful we were on a bike since the cars were struggling a whole lot more.

Despite the hefty entry fees for the Amer Fort, and its vastness, we were perhaps saturated with architecture that alternately reminded us of our relatively recent trips to Gujarat and Turkey plus the crowds got on our nerves after a while and we decided to make our way out.IMG_6787

We picked a few snacks on our way back for ourselves and made our way a second time around to Jal Mahal.IMG_6963

We stumbled upon a nook around the lake that seemed to be a favourite of the birds and settled into watching them and the little kittens around.There happened to be 2 tribal ladies selling something while seated on the parapet. One of them angrily chided a young man who tried to litter plastic into the lakeshore.IMG_6893

Seeing the kittens hungry, since we had nothing but the snacks we had bought, we fed it to them and their very wild and suspicious mother. The tribal woman exclaimed at how kind it was, chiding the previous couple seated there who refused to share their food despite the pitiful wails of the kittens. She very wisely said “Children are children whether they are human/animals…how can one ever not help them when they whimper”.  While she smoked a bidi and most likely had no formal education, she was the most discerning and enlightened person we’d met in a while.

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I asked her consent and embraced her only to have her elderly friend also insisting on a hug. They profusely blessed both of us and insisted we come again and see them though I don’t think they could get an idea of how far we lived when we tried to explain we were from Bangalore. True human connection is a rare find and we really hope to get an opportunity to meet them again. Meanwhile, if you see the 2 tribal ladies by the side of Jal Mahal do give them our love.

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Jaisalmer : Of getting lost in the desert and finding our way to food!

A very kind auto driver had been arranged by our Airbnb host to pick us up from the Railway station at an ungodly hour. Even as we dragged our luggage across the alleys of Jaisalmer in the dark, I knew it’d be my favourite of the places in Rajasthan and I was right.

A quick nap and we were ready to start our day with breakfast at our stay itself.

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This, was effortlessly our view from our stay.

In the morning light, the old city of Jaisalmer woo-ed us some more and we couldn’t help grinning at the sheer beauty of every structure around us- the intricate craftsmanship in the uniformly brown buildings lent themselves to being admired endlessly.IMG_5702

We ordered breakfast as per the host’s recommendation and gobbled up our 2 plates of delicious Dal Pakwan with some tea- it was our favourite dish of the trip. It was also Christmas and it received one vote from us to be part of Christmas meals going forward.IMG_9416

Reaching Jaisalmer at midnight seemed to set just the right mood to visit the ghost town of Kuldhara. We hadn’t learnt our lesson with maps yet and were yet again lost – this time in the desert!IMG_5736

It would have made for a fun horror story of its own. However, it was also hauntingly beautiful and the barren landscape had its own kind of magic. We happened upon a herd of wild camel and deer which was somehow a surreal experience when by ourselves in an unfamiliar landscape looking on in awe at these creatures unshackled from human need.

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Thanks to Anand’s skills of retracing routes being better than mine, we finally made it to the dusty site of Kuldhara. It’s often referred to as a ghost city or a haunted town due to the intrigue around why people from an entire village deserted it seemingly overnight. The reasons theorized are

  • An earthquake leading to panic/destruction of property
  • Unreasonably severe taxation by a minister and his cruelty to the villagers
  • Water just drying up causing the inhabitants to move away- this we heard from a guide in Gujarat still happens to this day.
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The mystery around the town comes from the fact that there are said to be “hauntings” and ghost sightings when anyone ever tried to inhabit the place again. However, currently, it’s only afflicted by the influx of tourists wandering around the place hoping for one of the ghosts to flit by.

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The deserted town of Kuldhara

We ambled around the ruins imagining the lives and times of the village people who once had their homes there and how hard it must have been for them to leave it all behind and disappear/move to another place- depending on the version you’d want to believe.

By now the desert heat and time we’d spent getting lost, led us to be ravenous, and the one icecream we each had in Kuldhara wasn’t enough any more. In the very first restaurant we saw along with rotis we ordered ker sangri which sounded unique to us and we quite enjoyed the exotic looking vegetable. The hotel staff on my request enthusiastically even showed us the “raw” vegetable and explained its pre-processing and cooking. Later on the trip, we even picked a bottle of ker sangri pickle for ourselves on our way back from Rajasthan.IMG_9447

Just after the meal we then promptly ran out of fuel. Thanks to some support by an auto-rickshaw driver pushing our bike with his foot as he drove by its side, we made it to the nearby fuel pump. We then made our way to Bada Bagh(big garden) which I think is a strange name to give to a group of cenotaphs from the 16th century.

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The memorials are referred to as chattris(umbrellas) due to the shape of the yellow sandstone structures. Stone slabs in some of them describe the person the memorial is dedicated to in a language long lost. We were lucky to also be there in time for the sunset and see the structure slowly glowing in the warm orange of dusk till it was gently enveloped by the inky winter evening.IMG_5896

Making our way to the town of Jaisalmer we “escaped” the Tibetan restaurant we first entered, thanks to the desperate waiting customers who let us know they’d been waiting for over an hour. Thankfully the next place -though lit up in suspiciously blue lights- had food we enjoyed with not much wait despite a very large Bengali family having just made a significantly large order just as we were seated.

The next morning we decided to indulge in street-fare of dal pakwan, kachori, cutlet, jalebi and tea that made up our yummy breakfast.

The Jaisalmer Palace is right in the center of the Jaisalmer fort where we were staying and we had to ofcourse give it a look. It was relatively less crowded we had a good time enjoying the filigree work and remnants of the lives and times of royalty in Jaisalmer.

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Jaisalmer Palace

It was relatively less crowded we had a good time enjoying the filigree work and remnants of the lives and times of royalty in Jaisalmer.

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Jaisalmer Palace

Baa-ri Haveli , a 450 year old heritage home was next on our list and was a joy to enjoy the colorful space with every nook and cranny filled with local art and quirky household items.

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Baa-ri haveli

Next was Patwon ki Haveli. The Haveli itself was interesting and also full of knick-knacks everything from attire to utensils but the crowd from Christmas vacations having all landed in Rajasthan at the same time made it hard to really enjoy it.IMG_6341IMG_6376IMG_6380IMG_6388

We also went in front of Nathmal-ki-Haveli but the crowds were a turn off. and considering how much we liked Jaisalmer we decided it was perhaps meant for our next trip.

Incidentally there was an eclipse on that day, so the temples had delayed opening times due to their eclipse-specific ceremonies that needed to be done. So after passing by it several times, we found the Jain temples in Jaisalmer fort finally open in all its glory. The detailed ceilings of the structure in yellow sandstone are utterly hypnotising and it’s easy to imagine the cool interiors providing respite from the unforgiving heat of the scorched desert land.

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Chandraprabhu Jain temple
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