I actually slept surprisingly well on the sleeper train from New Delhi to Jaisalmer and didn’t wake up until 8.30 am. And I even managed to crawl down from the top bunk without any problems.
Soon we were all up, chatting and eating fruit and snacks for breakfast, everyone growing a little hungry and impatient as the train ended up being delayed by two hours (taking 21 hours in total), arriving in Jaisalmer, ’the golden city’, around 2 pm. We took a private vehicle from the railway station and all the way up through the only living fort in India, driving up stunning narrow streets, evading motorcycles and people, and every once in awhile having to stop for a lazy cow. We walked the last bit of the way to Hotel Deepak up charming little streets with stores and stands at every corner.
Mine and Nina’s room was ridiculously hot even with the AC on and we ended up standing outside the door brushing our teeth. That was a problem for another time though and everyone quickly made their way to the stunning (and hot) rooftop restaurant for a delicious meal, where we met Sabra - a 24-year-old woman from the UK, who was painting the rooms of the hotel in return for food and a bed - and I ended up talking to her for the rest of the meal, finding her stories of her 4 years of traveling extremely interesting.
Downstairs we headed out with our daybags in hand, taking an open jeep from the bottom of the fort for about an hour, before turning right, into the desert, stopping by a group of camels. The camels looked extremely regal and I was still on the fence about the ethics of riding them (although Intrepid does have strict rules about the ethical treatment of animals), I quickly got on mine none the less, leaning back and holding tight as it got up. Soon I was 2-2.5 meters in the air rocketing up and down as the camels slowly made their way across the desert.
At first I was scared of being thrown off, but I quickly got into the rhythm of it - although my bum did suffer. The trip was stunning as we passed by little villages and roads, but mostly just barren land, before reaching the sand dunes about 1.5 hours later. At one point my camel had gotten loose from Analyn’s and had begun taking a few steps away from the group to which I shouted the very intelligent sentence of ”excuse me, my camel fell off!”. My camel guide came running and in the end I didn’t end up on a solo detour, so there was no harm done.
A little straw hut and our raised beds quickly came into view between the sand dunes, with everything provided for - snacks, water, mattresses, pillows and blankets, and the area was magical, as the sun began to set over the dunes.
Everyone wandered off for a little while, exploring the dunes, but it quickly began darkening and we all sat down to chat and joke around, until the camel guides brought us delicious dinner they had made over an open fire.
And just as everyone had gotten ready for bed - brushing their teeth and finding a sand dune to pee behind - Richard (a 69-year-old Aussie) came running in between our beds with his sarong wrapped around his waist and his scarf wrapped around his head like a turban beckoning all of us ”kids” to gather around for a bedtime story in an Indian accent. We huddled together as Richard launched into an epic and vivid retelling of the Ramayana completed with sound effects and dancing. It wasn’t hard to tell that he had worked in theatrics most of his life. After clapping, we all found our respective beds again, hiding our things in between our mattresses so scorpions wouldn't crawl into them and stray dogs would’t steal them, and fell into a comfortable silence, either stargazing or falling asleep in the light of the moon.
I woke up around 7.30 am the next morning surprisingly without sand everywhere and with all my things still intact. We all joked around for a little while, saying hi to the sweetest stray dog that had come to visit us.
We ate a quick breakfast (toast/jam/bananas) and saddled up again on sore bums, riding the camels to the closest road 30-50 minutes away and driving back to the fort by private vehicle.
Our room was a bit cooler this morning and Nina and I decided to wash our clothes before meeting up with the others for a orientation walk around the fort and surrounding town with and amazing local guide. He took us past the Jain temples, Havelis (wind houses), the president’s house and different restaurants, before ending the tour in a giant fabric store (an NGO) that sold beautiful fabrics made by women in the rural areas around Jaisalmer, where we were served the best samosas in town and shown the different options. I ended up buying a beautiful scarf made of a special tree sort I don't remember the name of.
Harsh took us to lunch at Killa Corner before giving us the rest of the day off, Nina, John and I deciding to explore Jaisalmer a bit. We didn’t get far though before being stopped by the neighbour, who took us into his shop to talk for 30 minutes. He was really nice and genuine, although a tad bit weird, teaching us about Indian culture and talking about spiritual connections.
We continued down different alleys, ending up making a salesman angry for not wanting to buy his cards and meeting an incredible woman whom we talked to for a bit. She was extremely passionate about women’s rights and talked about the unfairness many Indian women still have to endure as well as the education she was taking.
At six the girls of the group were let into the back of Deepak’s house, where his wife and little sister helped dress us in beautiful saris before meeting the guys on the rooftop (by now a sandstorm was really starting to take form and winds were blowing left and right), where we ate a buffet the staff had prepared for us and sat talking late into the evening, Sabra joining us for the entire night.
On our third morning in Jaisalmer I was able to eat a good breakfast, ordering homemade Indian baked beans on toast and fresh orange juice on the rooftop, talking to the group and Sabra until around 10 am, when I decided to take a quick stroll around the fort by myself.
I continuously walked into dead ends though, probably looking like an idiot to the locals. I also managed to run into the angry salesman from yesterday again and (thankfully) into the lovely woman twice, talking to her for a while, before she helped me pass by a giant cow.
I quickly gave up on my mini adventure and at 11 am we headed to the seven beautiful Jain temples around the fort, the holy men in the temples managing to rip the whole group off, as they guilted us into donating - we’ll all have to toughen up along the way.
I got mobbed by a giant group of young Indian tourist wanting pictures with me - Jaisalmer makes me feel like Beyoncé, everytime we go outside someone asks for a photo with me. They are all sweet though.
We went to lunch before walking through downtown Jaisalmer (a.k.a the part where locals actually live and where all the tacky and loud tourist shops and salesmen are few) to reach the incredible man made lake 30 minutes later.
We walked around it until a new sandstorm started gaining wind and we headed for cover at the hotel. The sandstorm was a bit wild when we reached the hotel and soon it began pouring down on the rooftop where we sat as we ran for cover in our rooms.
The rain wasn't all that bad though as it had cleared the sandstorm and made the air clean, and so most of the group decided to go see a traditional puppet show down by the river, having to pass by a ridiculous amount of cows on our way and running late as it had been moved to another building across the street. We ended up making it to the rather underwhelming show, though, with dolls that didn’t move all that much. It did none the less give us a good insight into Rajasthany culture and traditional music, and some of my group loved it.
Because of French tourist only understanding French at the puppet show we were running pretty late to our meeting with Nina and Harsh, and we got ourselves a bit lost on the way back, which didn’t help either.
We did finally make it to the old royal palace, though, that had been made into a luxurious hotel and rooftop restaurant, from where we had a beautiful view of the fort, as well as the multiple weddings going on in the streets below.
After dinner, walking back to our hotel we ended up getting stuck in an incredible wedding parade, where the groom was riding in on a white horse and people were milling around in beautiful clothes, loud music blasting out over the street. So I did after all get to witness a fraction of an Indian wedding.
We got up at 5.20 am the next morning to take the 6-hour train from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur, ’the blue city’, and I’m excited to see what it has to offer. Jaisalmer was a weird, exciting and overwhelming mix of old beauty, desert adventures, touristic areas, eager salesmen, traditional experiences and an extreme amount of cows and dogs. And Jodhpur will likely, once again, be something completely different.