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Happy Diwali from Jaisalmer

Fireworks in the desert....

sunny 32 °C

Rejuvenated and ready for action, me and Andrew were feeling very positive about our impressive organisation booking our trains in advance and having dates set to be in each town. Imagine our horror when two days before Diwali we were packing ready for our night train to the desert and we realised we were still on the wait-list and therefore basically not on the train. We debated our options;

Option 1: 12 hours overnight in the unreserved section of a train that had set off from Delhi. Positives, this would get us to our preferred destination on time. Negatives: Although we are always prepared to spend a few hours in general class and can climb in the baggage rack and get down with the chickens like the best of them... the overnight trains generally have four people to a bunk at the first stop and any subsequent passengers hang out of the doors. Summarised: High chance of reaching destination, high chance of death.

Option 2: Bite the bullet and get a 'Delux Night Bus'. Now I know what you are thinking, Delux sounds good. Those of you who have visited India however will know that there is no 'standard' in India, 'Delux' is in fact the bottom of the scale. This is then followed by 'Super Delux', 'Superior Super Delux' and then 'Air Conditioned' which does to some level qualify the standard of all the previous classes). We took the bus and were pretty chuffed. We were given a sort of space age pod with a double mattress in and a door that closed and shut everyone out. Negatives: we stopped in Jodhpur and had to swop buses to one with considerably more passengers and considerably less room. It also happened to be full of passengers carrying Diwali fireworks, and happily lighting matches and smoking near the paper bags containing them. Again, high risk of death. However, we indeed reached our destination and were welcomed by comedy touts who gave us a cheap lift to the hotel we had already booked in hope of commission. They did not get any. Annie and Andrew (1) Unscrupulous Touts (0).

So Jaisalmer awaited us. Negotiating a discount on the room we had already booked we were welcomed into the family at our guest house which had a view of the fort from the roof top terrace. Jaisalmer consists of what can only be described of a massive sand castle in the middle of the Great Thar Desert with a little town surrounding it. The fort is filled with Haveli, Jain Temples, beautiful buildings and winding bazaars around the palace itself. Unlike other forts we had visited, this one is still inhabited by the usual collection of men, women, armies of children, cows, camels, buffalos etc. This is somewhat multiplied by the limited room and the narrow streets. We were expecting hassle in Jaisalmer but did not find any. People were pleasant and really interesting. Eco tourism seems to be picking up here and we met locals who were running organic farming set ups in the desert growing watermelons (now until I saw watermelons growing in the desert I didn't believe it either, but as you are regularly informed by locals here 'in India, everything is possible!)

The whole spectacle of a giant inhabited sand castle is worth seeing and just watching the light changing on the sandstone throughout the day and night is entertaining in itself as it is so beautiful. Here I found the Rajastan I was expecting, and did not find, in Jaipur. Camels pulling carts through bazaars, turbaned men herding goats in the main square, all the colours of the rainbow, masala chay in winding alleys and sunsets sitting on cushions with the obligatory Kingfisher on low tables sat on russet cushions. I was, and remain, disgustingly smug with the whole scenario and I apologise for it!

The whole experience was multiplied as it was the time of Diwali, the festival of lights, and we were here for the 26th October, the big night! Now, we took a peaceful evening meal in the fort surrounded by oil lamps and watching children play with sparklers. Very peaceful and pretty. Then we went into the town and embarked in our journey into the real Diwali.

I was plagued by those government videos they used to show you at school every year near bonfire night, 'Firework Safety'. You know the kind, all centring around poor little Johnny who returned to an unlit firework whilst using a sparkler without gloves on and was simultaneously blinded and burnt his fingers. Either they don't have these videos in India, or the children here have no fear of Little Johnny's fate as children as young as three and four were setting off rockets and fountains in the street whilst their parents looked on clapping and cheering. Hundreds of ruppees must have gone up in smoke and rainbow flames in Jaisalmer that night.

We wandered off the main strip onto a residential street. Any other day there may have been a cow grazing on plastic and some kids playing chase. Today the whole thing resembled a mine field during a colourful but dangerous war. Every third step there was a firework two steps away, people ran wild laughing and shouting. Me and Andrew were both amazed and terrified until we were rescued from the street by a local family who took us indoors and gave us chappati and Diwali sweets on the floor of the kitchen. The whole family wanted photographs taking with Andy, without Andy, with each other, with the cow....

We saw out the night with more fireworks (apparently you can never get enough) with the hotel boys. We retired to bed and did not sleep as apparently even dawn does not dull the effect of a really big rocket... 6am firework display anyone? I can recommend a good one!

The one thing you will hear alot of in Jaisalmer is 'camel safari? camel safari?' and being the camel loving pair that we are, we thought why not and went off into the desert along with a German Yoga Teacher, his wife, two local blokes, a child they kept around to do the washing up, and five camels. Andrew immediately developed a bond with his camel, Jondeer (who might as well have been called John Dear for the amount of affection that the camel man and Andy put upon his fur). Jondeer was a prize racing camel and we went off to a village for the camel herder to prove this to us when we sounded slightly cynical. Jondeer came 2nd.... Pretty good, although 2 out of six camels took off in the wrong direction when the starter firework was set off (oh yes, fireworks have many uses!) My camel, Acora... or Our Cora as I preferred, was altogether more mardy and was not having any affection. My camel also was disgusted by any attempt to speed it us, or guide it's course. However, we reached an understanding; I sit up top and don't bother her, she will do all the work and not bother me.

Sleeping under the stars on the sand dunes was fantastic. Andy totted up three shooting stars through the night. With no light pollution we could see everything and Andy did his best impression of a professor to inform me what we were looking at. Now, imagine our surprise when out of the peace and quiet of the desert came the 'Off License Camel' loaded up with ice boxes and Kingfisher at an altogether not bad mark up considering the commute. A night to be remembered!

With a new found love for the Delux Bus and a determination to try and stay out of main cities where possible, we have skipped dusty Jodhpur in favour of the lake sides of Pushkar a bit early for more camel related fun.

Posted by Annie Thornton 02:11 Archived in India Tagged safari camel rajastan jaisalmer

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