Posts Tagged ‘Jaisalmer’

North Tour: Jaisalmer and Jodhpur: Rajasthan, I’ll be back

April 18, 2011

Saturday, 5 March

JODHPUR TO FIROZPUR: RK, our tour guide, is Rajasthani. We asked him today what part of India he most likes to visit, and he gave us the answer you’d expect. Rajasthan.

But there really is something about the state I’m departing that separates it from the others we’ve visited in India. For once, I don’t feel like an animal in a zoo. We’ve had pictures taken of us, but at a frequency that pales relative to cities on the South Tour like Hyderabad and Kanyakumari. After 21 straight days of going out in Nagpur and hearing “foreigner” at least nine times, not one day on this tour have I heard the magic word more than six times.

In the streets of these J-color cities – Jaipur pink, Jaisalmer golden, and Jodhpur blue – there’s a crowdedness absent of its normal tension. With the exception of a shoe-wallah in Jodhpur, the shopkeepers have been relatively friendly and fair, conceding attention when passersby are clearly uninterested in becoming clients. “Come look my shop,” such a common refrain on the South Tour and in Nagpur, hasn’t been uttered to us by a single hawker on this trip.

Rajasthan is one of the places to which I’d like to return someday, and the views we were presented with today did little to deter me from wanting to come back. Another palace, another fort – each so beautiful I could have spent days inside and out, drinking in the landscape, architecture and beauty.

On the South Tour, we sometimes tired of visiting temples, their creativity fading into monotony. Not so here. In places such as the Maharengwar Fort, time stands still. Manmade spectacles abound in Rajasthan, the remnants of times when ramming down a door with an elephant was an effective way to invade a city.

Perhaps Rajasthanis in these places have just gotten used to foreigners. Or maybe the treatment of tourists is why they keep coming back.

Someday, I hope to come back too.



North Tour: Jaisalmer: Once upon a camel

April 17, 2011

Friday, 4 March

JAISALMER TO JODHPUR: Riding a camel isn’t like riding a bike. It’s not like riding an elephant. It’s not even that much like riding a horse.

I’ve ridden them all in India, and something about camel riding is just different.

Perhaps it was the setting of our rides this evening: barren wastelands of sand and dust, a bit too interspersed with bush and weeds to fit the Saharan stereotype, but nonetheless quite devoid of oases. Perhaps it was the length of the journey: over two hours allotted for two rides – much more than was given when I rode an elephant and a horse on separate occasions this year. Perhaps it was the camel’s distinctive rocking gait, one that requires an abundance of leg strength – especially when that gait turns into a trot.

It’s not for everyone.

But if you like riding a camel, you’ll probably love it.

The sun set just before I embarked on my second camel ride Thursday evening, and it rose just before our ride this morning. We saw both sunrise and sunset in the desert, the sky’s great ball of fire intensifying the thin shadows in the sand. The landscape, dotted with footprints, tents, and a few other creations of man, was just another average, everyday, mind-blowingly breathtaking sight. We actually missed the start of sunrise this morning, choosing to return down the sandy plains early due to the chilly desert wind. Never did I think I’d ever leave a desert because it was too cold.

But our other experiences from the last two days have more than made up for today’s deficit of early morning beauty. I was so tired during last night’s dance and musical performance that I dozed off with my Cubs hat over my eyes. Minutes later, I was awoken when my hat was stealthily stolen by Amanda. Soon thereafter our group was dancing and singing Munni Badnaam in a circle with a guy wearing makeup and a dress.

I guess those five minutes of sleep helped, because I had the energy to get through the songs intact. Having not been to a legitimate dance or party since discotheque night in Goa, the surprise dance was a welcome one. Another outlet for my dance-frustration had been found.

We slept in the desert last night. Sand was our floor and canvas tents were our ceiling and walls, yet none of us awoke scorpion-, spider-, or snake-bitten. Before calling it a night, we laid on the ground in a group and just gazed up at the stars. Though our knowledge of the sky’s constellations was far from complete, we found The Big Dipper, The Little Dipper and Orion. Like on the houseboat in Kerala, the visibility of the stars was striking, providing a rare kind of sought-after solitude. For twenty minutes, we just laid in the sand, staring.

I can think of only one word to describe the view, the same one I can use to describe many things on this tour. Beautiful.

The day after, too, was full of moments I never want to forget. A goat, which strayed into our path this afternoon, was allowed to wear my Cubs hat – the significance of which only Olivia was able to comprehend. (Have I single-handedly lifted the Billy Goat Curse? Oh yeah, I don’t believe in it.) Ten of us sat on two pedal-boats in a spectacular Jaisalmer oasis while Nikolas and I pedaled for half the group. (It would have been a more difficult task had I not been so practiced in giving exchange students rides on non-motorized vehicles.) For dinner, we went to an Italian restaurant where I ordered a pancake with Nutella but was instead brought a (delicious) crepe. Not that I’m complaining.

What I want to remember the most, however, is Thursday night’s camel ride.

With the camel walking, not running, our bottoms weren’t yet worn out, and our pace was slow enough that we could enjoy the view. With Anaïs and Amanda on camels in my wake, I looked up at the sky in foreshadow of midnight’s stargazing. We’d just had an outstanding recess in a particularly epic sandbox – posing for pictures while jumping in the air, chasing each other shoeless around the desert, and running down the dunes so quickly our legs would become too fast for our bodies and we’d faceplant quite comfortably in the soft, cool Rajasthani sand.

Something about that camel ride was special. The sky darkened over the course of the ride, fading from pale blue to dark blue to black. Occasionally our guides would mutter amidst themselves, and our camels felt the occasional urge to sneeze off the flies blanketing their necks. Otherwise our ride was tranquil, its peace uninterrupted but by the predictable dull clang of our camels’ bells.

It was the kind of moment I came to India for. And the kind of moment I live for.

I was living. Somewhere in the Rajasthani dunes, life was just as I wanted it to be, and in the moment, nothing could have made it better. Forgive me my simile, but while I was atop the camel, I may as well have been atop the world.

That’s why I’m so happy in India.

Because I’m living the moments. And I’ll always have the memories.


North Tour Preview: Where I’ll be from 28 February to 25 March

February 27, 2011

How many people have the chance to visit the Taj Mahal?

Now how many people who visit the Taj Mahal can claim it may not be the most interesting thing they do in a 26-day stretch?

Once again, I’m incredibly lucky to be on a month long tour of India, and this one looks to be even better than the last. The Taj Mahal in Agra is like The Great Wall of China, The Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa all rolled into one. It’s the first piece of architecture that comes to mind when one thinks of India. It’s one of the wonders of the world.

But I can’t say it’s the most exciting thing I have to look forward to on this tour.

So if not the Taj Mahal, what is?

The Pink City of Jaipur and its monumental palaces? A camel ride through Rajasthan and a nighttime campout in the desert? Dharamsala, a monastery wherein the Dalai Lama resides? Manali, perhaps the only place in India I’m likely to step in snow? White-water rafting in Himachal Pradesh? Delhi, the capital of India and the site of monuments such as the Red Fort, the India Gate, and Lotus Temple? Varanasi, one of the world’s oldest cities, on the banks of the Ganges River? Darjeeling, which provides a view of the third-highest peak in the world, Mt. Kanchenjunga? Gangtok, where we’ll celebrate Holi at two miles above sea level? Kolkata, the cultural capital of India?

I can’t tell you now.

But four weeks from now, when I’ve completed all that and more, I should be able to.