A Night in the Thar Desert

We arrived in Jaisalmer at the end of January after a long 9 hour drive from Pushkar (all 9 hours were spent listening to a 5 minute ‘Om’ to Shiva….on repeat…) and were greeted by a truly unique city.  Located only  120 kilometers from Pakistan, Jaisalmer is a desert city, existing mostly as a base for people wanting to go on camel safaris in India’s Thar Desert.

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There are countless desert camps to choose from and many hotels in Jaisalmer offer discounted rooms for anyone booking a desert tour through them.  Our tour guide had booked ours ahead of time and I have to say that this was something he did right!   The camp where we stayed was very well run and the owner puts a lot of care into the quality of the experience he offers.  From beginning to end we loved our stay in the Thar desert!

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The Thar Desert

Camel rides to the desert camps are a quintessential part of the experience, and we met our camels (and their owners) on the side of the highway about 40 minutes away from the Pakistan border.  My camel’s name was Michael Jackson (probably because of his awesome hair!) and he was the sweetest thing!  Dave’s camel was a bit grumpy, but MJ loved being pet and he was very careful when letting me on and off, which is the most harrowing part of a camel-riding experience!

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Best desert picture, EVER!!!

We got to watch the sun set over the desert, while our guides laid in the sand.  It really was a beautiful way to spend some time and it exceeded my expectations.  Dave explored a bit and I hung out with Michael Jackson (I was worried I’d turn over a rock and a scorpion would try murdering me….Irrational?  Perhaps…)

We arrived at the camp and were very happy with our accommodations.  The tents were in better shape than a lot of the hotel rooms we’d seen.  It’s obvious that the owner of this camp takes a lot of pride in what he does.  He told us a few times how he built things a certain way so that they’d be made to last…he values quality and that was evident in all aspects of our camp experience!

Our evening was spent watching some traditional dances and listening to traditional Rajesthani music.  Once more, we were impressed!  I expected 2 or 3 songs and then for the musicians to move onto another camp…but they stayed the whole night!  We had hours of entertainment around a bonfire, under the desert sky!  Dinner was served and it was also traditional Rajesthani.  The whole experience felt very cultural, and although a lot of these types of things can sometimes feel a little kitsch,  somehow, this didn’t.

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I also got to put my photography skills to good use!  When they saw that I had a decent camera and that I liked taking photos, they asked if I wouldn’t mind taking some pictures of the camp for their future website.  These guys were so great, I gladly agreed to help out.  I just hope my photos do them justice!

We were sad to go the following morning, but before we left we were served some very tasty Aloo Parantha (a traditional Indian breakfast) and we learned later that the owner had even picked up some fresh fruit for Dave and I, in case we didn’t like the Indian breakfast!  So thoughtful!

We had such a great time in Jaisalmer!  I recommend the trip to anyone visiting Rajesthan!  It might be a bit of a drive but it is WELL worth it!!

Jaisalmer: The Crown Jewel of Rajesthan

Before I begin writing about Jaisalmer, I should explain why I have not yet written about the Taj Mahal or about our night in the desert.  I have realized that keeping up with writing everything is extremely difficult, so I’m saving my very specaial posts (such as the ones listed above) for when we’re back in China, and I have access to my laptop for proper editing and such…

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Discalaimer:  If you do not enjoy pictures of camels, my post about the desert may not be your cup of tea…

But until then, I have plenty of other things to write about!  So don’t worry, I haven’t given up yet!!

We spent 3 nights in Jaisalmer, making it the longest stay of our trip so far.  This is fortunate, because it happened to be the highlight of our Rajesthan tour!  In addition to our fabulous night in the desert, we also got to tour the city itself, and Jaisalmer Fort, which were both spectacular places to tour!

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A view of the Golden City rom its famed fort

The city of Jaisalmer is nicknamed ‘The Golden City’.  The reason: most of the buildings there are built of sandstone.  So, like the desert surrounding it, Jaisalmer has a golden glow for tourists to admire.

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Sandstone is also quite soft, as far as stones are concerned, so artists are able to carve intricate patterns into the walls of all the buildings.

The markets here are similar to all the others we’ve seen in India so far.  Here though, we were able to see the highly prestigious ‘National Egg Center’ and view a handicraft that has made Jaisalmer famous:  camel-leather bags.  The leather comes from camels that have died of natural causes, and there were a wide range of them to see.  Some were quite pretty.   I don’t know why I never thought to take any pictures…

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See here:  The National Egg Center

The fort was my favourite part of the city though, because it’s different from many others that we’ve seen.  This towering fortress is home to about 4000 people who own livestock (we saw cows goats and chickens…all within the fort walls) and set up all sorts of shops and restaurants for the tourists who visit.  One local business owner told us that Jaisalmer’s tourism industry is vital for about 70% of the population.  This fort is a big part of that industry.

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A view of the fort from the city

 

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citizens set up shop

We met some really fantastic people in Jaisalmer.  One man asked us if we needed directions and before we knew it, we were up in his inherited Haveli, which is a sort of mini-palace where royalty once lived.  For 6 generations, his family has had this haveli, and instead of charging tourists to come see it (which many locals do), he offers free tours and shows us the handicrafts that he sells for the women in small villages that surround Jaisalmer.  He sells everything at such a great price we bought some things we hadn’t planned on both for ourselves and as gifts.

Another woman was a true inspiration…

Many women in India lead difficult lives.  Traditionally, women were expected to throw themselves on their deceased husbands’ cremation fires because they could not be expected to live without them.  Today, this practice is banned, but widows are still very badly treated.  Because women are expected to stay home with children and to cook and clean, when their husbands (who are typically older than they are) die, they are left without the means to survive.  Bellisima is a company that helps those women as well as many other womens’ groups.  

They sell textiles, jewelery, scarves, trinkets and other souvenires to help women who are in need.  They also empower women to make their own income…even if that means using their limited free time to do so.

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And widows are not the only group of women who need help.  Women aren’t throwing themselves on funeral pyres anymore, but rape victims are often blamed for the crimes committed against them, and family shunning is common.  The woman we spoke to here had been disowned by her husband’s family because she wanted to use her education to help women in India.  Luckily, she married a man who supports her decision, allowing her to work hard and begin to change the mindset that women are second class citizens.

I purchased a scarf and Dave and I chose a beautiful table cloth that was hand stitched by local women.  It was more than we intended to spend that day, but this is the type of place that I want to support.  I can buy a scarf in any bazaar of any city, but to support a movement that is helping change India for the better…that’s a scarf I will wear with pride!

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Why not buy something beautiful and support a good cause all at once?  Above is one of many wall hangings you can purchase at Bellisima.  I didn’t get any photos of my scarf yet because it is still packed up…

This is our last night in Rajesthan, and tomorrow we’ll be heading to the beautiful beaches of Goa!  Before I go though, here’s a funny picture to finish my post with:  there was a cricket match playing in this shop…

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Thanks for stopping by!