Our hotel was a happy place for us, although it had the typical Indian ‘not quite finished’ feel to it (random wires and fixtures with no apparent purpose), overall it was had character and charm and even good service. Most of all it had a very impressive pool were we could relax apparently miles away from the chaos outside. Jodhpur itself was similar to the other towns in Rajasthan, however it’s imposing fort is by far the most impressive not only as a structure, but as a well thought out tourist site. Of the the many places we visited, the fort was the only one where it would appear that somebody (the current Maharaja) has given actual though to people visiting. It contains thoughtful and well presented displays, and actual interiors, not just a shell with the trophies located elsewhere. It has information notices clearly posted, and the only audio guide we came across, which actually surpassed the better ones of Europe.
We had dinner in a rooftop restaurant, and the view was reminiscent of Edinburgh, on one side the castle perched upon the rock, and the other a turn of the century clock tower, like that of the Balmoral hotel, however the noise and the scenes playing out below swiftly shattered that illusion.
We stopped briefly en-route, in Pokaran to take in the dusty fort and the RamDev temple. We were not the only people going to the temple that day, as when we approached the town we passed a small group of people, notable for the fact that the man in the center of the assembly was log-rolling in specially designed rolling attire. Hari explained to us, that the man was showing his devotion by completing a journey of 75km to the temple by this unique means of transportation and the people around him were protecting him from the other road traffic.
As for Jaisalmer, it was on the whole a disappointing experience. The town is in the Thar desert and was once a major stop on the silk road trading route, however being close to the closed Pakistan border, this is no longer the case, and is now home to a large military presence. It now has little to offer but access to the desert and a famous fort. What makes this fort famous is twofold, it is inhabited as a small fortified city, with property passed down through generations, and due to neglect and modern pressures it is collapsing.
The inhabitants of the fort, after losing their livelihoods with the closing of the border (in 1947), turned to tourism, this led the fort to be turned into a collection of guesthouses, restaurants and tat-shops a conversion done with little sympathy for the forts ambiance. Worse still, with the tourists was the need for in ground water supplies and sanitation, this was done with the traditional indian work ethic, so now millions of gallons of water seeps into the sandstone base of the fort instead of evaporating from street level in the blazing desert sun. The fort, built using no cement and only sandstone, is crumbling catastrophically to the point where the guidebooks recommend not staying or eating there. In response the locals have erected signs along the lines of thanking Lonely Planet for making them unemployed, and missing the point that tourists may not like to stay in a guesthouse which is quite likely to collapse on them, if nothing is done immediately to fix the water issue. Enough said on Jaisalmer, lets move on to the camel trek
The small desert village of Khuri is where we based ourself for camel trekking in the Thar desert. By small, I mean smaller than you can imagine, by desert I mean how can anybody possibly live there. It was a highlight in that we experienced an unspoiled culture, unlike anything else we have seen. Before dinner we saw an amazing dance show from a group of the villagers, which you may get to see too as it was being filmed by a Canadian travel show crew, if not you can see some of the photos in the gallery. Ah, but before that we encountered the camels. Picture, if you will, a landscape out of Lawrence of Arabia, isolated, with breathtaking dunes. Now imagine a farting, tick infested torture device which will be your method of transportation. The amazing thing about a camel ride is that you cover more area vertically, than horizontally, as you are constantly being thrown straight up, to land with a thud on the hard leather “saddle”. Sarah still cannot sit with any comfort, unfortunate for her as we were about to return to Delhi on a 19.5 hour train ride to Delhi.
The Train was better than expected in that nobody was sitting on the roof and it was not delayed for several days. Our sleeper berth resembled something from a WWII submarine movie, it was reasonably comfortable, but only curtains separated the 40 some beds making the screaming french children a nuisance to all. There was no food car, although at each station stop it was possible to get off the train and buy something at the station, in addition periodically someone would come through the train taking a food order (dinner or selling a breakfast omelet) or with hot drinks. Even when sleeping the ever present chai wallahs could be heard outside with their cry of “CHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII”. The toilet situation however was somewhat grim. Our car had four toilets, three were holes in the train floor, the other was a hole in the train floor with some porcelain to sit on, there was always the danger of losing Sarah to the suction caused by the track whipping by below her.
Delhi was as we left it, a chaotic nightmare. In fact we may have encountered the remnants of the same traffic jam we left two weeks before. We were only in Delhi to catch our flight to Bangkok, and I’m sad to say the efficient arrivals procedure is not extended to departures. Battling our way into the airport we had to screen our own checked in luggage (don’t ask) and then pass though security who insisted I had a gas lighter on me (I didn’t and he gave up trying to find it after a half-harted effort). A full TG316 left more or less on time, for the new Bangkok cobra swamp airport and a new set of adventures.