Not that this was my first trip to Rajasthan. Having traveled to Jaipur and Udaipur before, I was quite sure of what to expect when we decided to vacation in Jaisalmer. The flight from Mumbai to Jodhpur (the closest airport) took about an hour and thirty minutes. Indian Airlines of course lived up to its expectation of reaching late to any destination but we finally made it to the land of the staunch ‘Marwars’ – Jodhpur.
A local friend suggested we drive down to Jaisalmer and after much deliberation, we hired a Toyota Qualis (350 odd Kms from Jodhpur – Jaisalmer) and settled down for at least 5 hours of drive. We were pleasantly surprised when, within three hours we had reached the quaint city of Jaisalmer. On the way we passed Pokhran, famous for its nuclear fields and military base. The weather, being January, was crisp and cold, perfect for an ideal vacation (peak season is from November to March)
Jaisalmer was nothing close to what I had expected. The city had an old world charm about it and is nowhere similar to its bustling commercial cousins. The yellow stone houses make a stark contrast to the blue skyline. And just when you feel that the entire city is a mix of yellow and gold, a splash of azure and sapphire hits the eye. From every fort and palace, and there are numerous in the city, one can see the blue and white houses in clusters that resemble a collection of gems.
We stayed in this place called Hotel Gorbandh Palace, a heritage monument that is appealing and just right for someone who wants to visit the past yet experience the comforts of the present. A suite is for about 9000/- per night, breakfast and dinner included.
The hotel also arranges for cars for local sight-seeing – but they demand their pound of flesh. A cheaper and equally convenient option – tie up with a local “auto-wala”. We had our own “Pappu”, complete with cell phone, always available on call for the 4 days we stayed there. And he showed us all – sights to see, places to shop and good joints to eat – all at one tenth the cost.
A point to note is that there are no HDFC and ICICI bank ATMs in Jaisalmer!! So if you plan to go there and withdraw some cash for sustenance – think again. SBI was about the only option we saw. And while the major hotels will accept credit cards, the local shopkeeper may not.
It is not a shopper’s paradise and there are items just enough to satiate the hungry tourist. – Sandstone articles, Rajasthani handicrafts (mirror work) and leather – must buys from Jaisalmer. Your auto-wala will take you to the right places to buy. He may have his cut, of course, but one shouldn’t grudge him that. And bargain hard! The line “Phirangiyon waale daam mat lagao…” always works!
Food is the best part, with places like The Desert Boy’s Dhani offering the local meal of ‘Gatte ki sabzi’, ‘Dal Bati churma’ and ‘Ker sangri’.
The safari that takes you in the middle of the Thar desert (they call it Sam) is not to be missed. The camel ride lasts for about thirty minutes and culminates in the most beautiful sunset the eye has seen. Dinner is again a local fare with folk music and dance around a cheery bon-fire, followed by the night spent in a tent. The hotel organizes these trips and they cost between 5000/- to 7000/- per night depending upon the nature of the tent.
The vacation was unlike one I had ever experienced. The fort left the strongest impression on me. As I look from the top, it all looked so surreal and out-of-this-world.
New to ghumakkar and looking fwd to thoughts from fellow riders.