Winter sojourn to the desertland

After a lot of characteristic dilly-dallying, I told Anurag that we must head out to Rajasthan, and not go rafting again. Manish had already announced that he was coming along, irrespective of the destination. And on the last day, Anuj gave his confirmation as well. So it was to be the 4 of us heading for a 3-day culture-heritage desert trip. Destination choices were Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Bikaner. Anurag had been to Bikaner before, and Jodhpur was not really “desert”, and so not the typical mental picture of Rajasthan, so Jaisalmer it was to be.

We started early as Delhi-Jaisalmer is a good 14 hours by road. We were driving Anurag’s Ford Fiesta, and I was really quite excited and looking forward to driving all the way.

The roads did not disappoint us at all. All national highways in Rajasthan offer an extremely smooth journey where you can clock real highway speeds. As Delhi gets left behind further and further, the landscape changes face as well. It becomes increasingly arid and the yellow of mud starts to stand out as the pre-dominant colour.

Stopping by near Bikaner for lunch, we reached Jaisalmer only by nightfall. The road between Bikaner and Jaisalmer deserves a special mention. It reminded me of the Hollywood thriller movies with a mid-western backdrop. A huge barren expanse, where the visibility on the road can extend to 25 km. No civilization next to the highway for miles and miles on end, and your are tempted to touch dangerous speeds.

The hotel at jaisalmer was nice with both the exteriors and the interiors done up like a fort. The view of the city from our room window was impressive and after dinner, the four of us strolled out to admire the spectacularly lit fort visible in a distance. All the houses in the city were lit mostly in yellow light, which accentuated the golden brown look of the city. We decided to sleep off the travel weariness to be fresh the next day of exploring the magnificence of Jaisalmer.

Next morning brought with it a bright sun and crisp cool air, perfect for our day of glory in the middle of the enchanted desert destination. After a quick tour of the hotel property, we packed our bags and set out for a closer look at the famed Mehrangarh fort and havelis of jaisalmer.

The fort is the only “living” fort in India, in the sense that there are around 2000 houses inside the fort itself and people actually live there to this date.By the time we reached, the sun was quite bright and we were wondering how scorching it would be in summer! On entering the fort, we suddenly found ourselves in a different world altogether. The stoned pathway had majestic fortwalls rising on either side. The pathway was littered by colourful shops on both sides. Most were selling rajasathani handicraft – colourful “pagdis”, statues, hangings, tinkrets, clothes, bags, jewellery, all nice and bright and obviously aimed at targeting foreign tourists with Indian exotica. The light tones of folk music wafted through the air, and making the surroundings around me appear surreal.

We hired a guide to take us around as we had limited time on hand, else I would have just wanted to roam about the fort at leisure. In fact the best idea for anyone going to Jaisalmer is to book a hotel inside the fort itself. There are dozens of them inside there, and I am sure they would be offering competitive rates upon haggling, as they do to the hordes of backpackers that throng from europe with long itenararies and little money to spend carelessly. The guide took us to a couple of Jain temples. These reminded me a lot of the temples in the Jagannath temple complex at Puri with small dark mysterious looking chambers, exquisite carvings in the stone and an overall peaceful atmosphere. The whole of Mehrangarh fort is a structure created by assembling blocks of stone, so there is no cement binding the construction material. Of course it has perfectly stood the test of time, like the pyramids which are similar structures, only much grander and ancient.

The king’s palace inside the fort is now a museum, and the guide took us through four floors showing us the king’s courts “Diwaan-e-aam”,”Diwaan-e-khaas”, the courtesan’s dancing chambers, queen’s private chambers, the rang mahal containing gold plated wall paintings, weaponry, and the terrace offering a beautiful view of the golden city and surrounding desert. We descended back into the alleys and moved on to the Havelis nearby. The Patwa Haveli was available to view from inside, and presented a peek into the wealthy old days of Jaisalmer’s rich merchants who stayed in these havelis and made a living out of trading gold, cloth and opium with the persian and afghan traders from the west. The havelis must have been tastefully decorated and the common areas like the kitchen where particularly impressive.

Moving out, Anuj tried on some pagdis and dhotis at the shops and we even checked out the leather bags and colorful wooden showpieces, but did not pick up anything. Thus ended our tour of the Jaisalmer city and fort, and it was time to head for a desert camp and a camel safari towards the evening.

The afternoon drive to our desert camp was short and soon we could see camel-wallahs sitting right next to the road, and seeking customers to ride their camels. But we had instructions to drive right up to the camp on a dirt track. The camp was quite huge, and we had a nice big carpeted tent, with running-water tiled bathrooms and even a rajput warrior-helmet shaped lamp. I was not expecting the camp tents to be so large, complete with a wooden table and chairs, let alone provision of electricity. But since this was turning out to be a royal luxury trip anyway, I decided to be pleasantly surprised, instead of putting across a characteristic crib about the facilities being an over-kill and against the spirit of adventure. Actually I quite loved the camp.

Soon I found myself mounting Rocket, our camel, to take us to the sand dunes, with Anurag sitting right behind me, and Anuj and Manish on Rocket’s brother behind us. We had a camel-of-a-time during the short half-hour journey to the dunes. Contrary to popular opinion, I find the camel quite an amusing and entertaining creature in its own way. The perpetual smirk on its face and couldn’t-care-less attitude makes it quite a case study. It’s bite on being irritated is said to be quite painful though…

We reached the dunes when it was still some time to sunset. So as a pasttime, and on suggestion from our guides Sattaarbhai and Saif, Anuj and I decided to race our camels. Now this was adventure! Rocket huffed and puffed, and I wildly went up and down on his back, with his rein in my hand, as he raced quite comfortably in the sand. One can compare it to sitting on horse back, only this horse has a huge hump, is fifty percent taller and attempts to throw you in each and every different direction with every step he races. Of course all guidance to the camel and crucial pulls on the rein were coming from Sattarbhai sitting behind me.

After these thrills there was time to enjoy some folk music and dance, A group of local musicians wanted to put up a performance and we readily obliged. So we listened to some earthy folk as two cute kids danced in their traditional ghaghras, and soon Anurag couldn’t resist joining them for a thumka or two, and all of us cheered on excitedly. As the performers left us cheerful and happily singing our favourite songs, we sat back and waited for the fast approaching sunset. I looked around the sand-dunes and noticed they were not really big as compared to the ones we watch on TV, but those are the ones from bigger deserts like Sahara. I’m sure even the Thar would have really large dunes, but only if one ventures quite into its interior.

The sun soon turned into a red ball, and sat nicely as a beautiful red globe on the horizon, soon slipping into oblivion, and left us with some nice enigmatic imagery to fondly remember Rajasthan.

It was time to head back to the humdrum of Delhi again. We visited the Mandawa castle in Shekhawati on our way back, but that has been covered already in an earlier post.


  • Jaishree says:

    A few more tips to those who want to go Jaisalmer:-
    1.There is Garsisar lake in which boating is simply a romance with setting sun falling on yellow-golden surrounding and a beautiful deep red mirroring of sun in cool calming waters.
    2.For those endless sand dunes you can drive upto border or go to Barmer and bikaner-Pak Border.
    3.You can simply hire an auto for Rs 100 and visit Lodurva Temples,Barra Bagh(collection of cenotaphs).Best part of this trip is a chance to see many wind mills(Suzlon Energy-Jaisalmer gets electricity only from these wind mills)from a really close distance in a panorama of cenotaphs and vast expanse of semi arid desert.
    4.Roaming in the city is a delight as every turn brings more and more of carved yellw stone and roaming in its crowded bazars will give you some fantastic rajasthani Sweets and Lassis, Namkeens etc.
    5.Even if you are a strict No-Shopping kind og traveller like me, Kanhaiyalal Khatri’s Wholesale shop of bed sheets is a must to go.It has thousands of varieties in all range with Quality better than Bombay Dyeing or Any of Mall Shops.
    6.A littile mistake-Mehrangarh is in Jodhpur.It is Jaisalmer fort or Sonar Kila.

  • Jaishree says:

    Another suggestion-
    Rajasthan tourism organise a folk music and dance evening at its cottages at Sam sand dunes after sun set.Number of audience is generallt 20-30 and no. of performers is 12-15.All the artists are well known and really talented,not like the learn-it-six-months-perform kind of.All of them are from traditionally well recognised families of Langas and Mangniyars.Only and only folk instruments and some very rare ones are played. They sit in middle on a raised CHABOOTARA and all of audience sit around them in open under star studded sky(so many stars that my little 3+ asked me why there are so many stars here?). Their performance is worth inviting them in India Habitat center.
    It can be booked at RTDC hotel in Jaisalmer city itself and anyone can book for it.
    It continues for three hours or so followed or Preceded(don’t remember now)by hearty Rjasthani Dinner.
    so much so that if on a tight schedule-must to go are-Fort, Havelis, Sand dunes and camel ride and this cultural evening.
    In fact you can take a camel ride booked from RTDC, enjoy the sunset then this evaning.

  • rahul says:

    Apologies about mentioning Mehrangarh, don’t know how I got names mixed up with Jodhpur’s magnificent fort!

  • Dushyant says:

    Hey thanks. I’m planning a visit to Rajasthan and the info is quite helpful.

  • Nice description.. enjoyed the camel ride bit especially. I have always wanted to visit rajasthan and this entices me even more!

    The writing style somehow reminds me of my own style as well. :p.

  • rahul says:

    The camel rides are indeed quite adventurous!

  • Sumit says:

    Very good info, thanks.

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