Shifting sands... the Jaisalmer experience

By @Saravana |
[Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. 23'rd to 24'th Oct 2006]

The Jaisalmer experience started the moment i got on the train in Jodhpur. The insides of the sleeper coach was covered with layers and layers of fine sand, it was as if the train just came through a desert storm, maybe it did i'll never know. Anyway i was looking forward to visiting the desert city. Heard a lot about it from my friends, about its unique architecture, its well preserved 'living' fort city and ofcourse the sand dunes. I had also planned to spend the night at Kuri, a quaint little village some 40km southwest of Jaisalmer, the prospect of spending a quiet evening with a starry sky up above and the desert solitude to keep you company was too inviting to pass by.

Golden sunrise from the Golden Lake :

The train reached Jaisalmer early at 5:30am. Wanting to travel light, I packed some spare clothes in my daypack and dropped my backpack off at the station's left luggage counter. I was in no mood to break my head with the touts prowling the station, so i waited a while for them to leave and then walked towards the city, some 2km away. I love walking. Pretty soon i was in the city admiring the unique architecture of all the buildings there, i had never seen anything like it. They were all built in sandstone, and had intricate details all over them, over the doors, around the windows and balconies. You've gotta love those balconies.

While i was walking the streets, one guy on a scooter stopped and asked if i liked photography. I said yes and he suggested that i go over to the GadiSagar lake and watch the sunrise from there. The first rays of sunlight hitting the fort is supposed to be magical, golden they put it. Excited at the prospect of watching the golden sunrise, i hurried over to the lake. Although i didn't witness any spectacular golden sunrise, the lake by itself was a great place to visit. It was beautiful with many interesting temples lining its entrance and structures cropping up from the middle of it. A boat-ride would've been a lovely way to experience the place but unfortunately there was no one around.

The fort :
After watching the sunrise, i slowly walked over to the fort. It was not even 8am and already hordes of tourists were swamping the place. I had my breakfast at one of the numerous "fort view" restaurants/cafes in front of the fort entrance. The breakfast was nothing special but the fort views were good and i got some nice photos. And i got another special treat just before entering the fort. Over at Mehrangarh i wanted to catch a photo of a flock of pigeons fluttering away with the fort in the background, but whenever i tried to get close they will fly away. But my luck was better here, there was a bunch of pigeons sitting at the entrance and whenever there was some noise they will fly away, go in a circle and come back to the same place. I snapped a couple of quick pictures and am pretty happy with the results.

10 minutes after entering the fort i lost interest. It was good at first, seeing the narrow lanes and the unique sandstone houses lining the lanes. But after a little while, the houses were not unique anymore they all looked the same and most of them have been converted into the hotels. The narrow lanes and the small houses weren't spared either, they were turned into souvenir shops. Hotels and souvenir shops, thats all u'll get to see inside the jaisalmer fort. Tourism is a double edged sword over there, the very thing that is keeping the place alive is slowly killing it. One guy told me that there are over 400 hotels inside the fort and some 25000 people living there, maybe the figures are a bit exaggerated, but you get an idea about the scale of the problem there. Anyway it wasn't all that bad, towards the back of the fort i came across some un-commercial houses and it was nice wandering through them. I didn't a bit of shopping (shawls) and then left to admire the fort from the outside. My whole Jaisalmer fort experience lasted less than 2 hours.

Kuri Bound :

The local buses run every hour to Kuri village. I caught a bus at 2 and had to wait for like 30mins before it moved and boy was it hot !! the heat was unbearable and by the time the bus started i was completely soaked. Imagine visiting this place in the summer. My first impression of the village wasn't so good, the whole place was very touristy with a lot of resorts sprung up everywhere. It all felt very artificial and suddenly i wasn't sure if i wanted to stay or go back to Jaisalmer. My mind changed when we went up to the sand dunes though, it was just me, Carlos and a couple of school kids from the village and not another soul around. It was like being in the wilderness a different kind from what i've experienced before. Just 5 mins at the dunes was enough to sway my mind and i decided to stay.

I stayed at Ajay Singh's guest house, it is a nice compound with a ring of thatched huts with lots of open space. The rooms weren't anything special but it didn't matter as i had planned to spend the night out in the open under the stars. The whole package was pretty cheap, dinner, breakfast and a night stay for just 150Rs, pretty sweet a'nt it ?. I signed up for the sunset camel safari, it is basically a camel ride to the dunes (located some 2 km away) to watch the sunset and come back again. It was my first time ever on a camel and i enjoyed it, riding a camel was very comfortable when compared to riding a horse. We even galloped for a while. The sunset was nice, although the dunes were really crowded with lots of people there doing the same. The rest of the evening was very peaceful, there were no other guest staying there, so after dinner i had the whole compound to myself. I just lay on my bed out in the open, admiring the starry skies until i fell asleep. There was no mobile signal over there in the village, so that added to the remoteness of the place.

The next morning, i got up at sunrise and went off to explore the dunes. It was definitely the highlight of my Jaisalmer trip. I spotted some deer in the distance, some hunting falcons, foxes, beetles and dogs. I'm not sure if the dogs were really hunting or not but they spent a long time chasing a couple of deer and although the deer were too fast for the dogs they didn't give up easily. The desert in itself was interesting, its not one long stretch of empty sand dunes like we see in the movies. Mostly it is covered with dry undergrowth, with sandy dunes propping up at places. There was a slight breeze blowing and when you kick up the sand, it will settle down as if it wasn't disturbed in the first place. It is like as if the sands have memory of their own. And by the time i came back to the guest house, my shoes were full of sand. With all that extra weight, no wonder i was tired.

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