The bus to Jaisalmer was leaving at 5:30 in the morning. Anyone who knows me well knows that I don't do 5:30 in the morning. Somehow I was able to drag myself out of bed, into a rickshaw and onto the bus. Not without getting hassled by touts before the sun was up though. In particular the hotel and camel trek business in Jaisalmer is as cut throat as they come and extends it's nefarious influence down to other cities. Young men are lying in wait at bus and train stations to sell you a hotel room before you even arrive to Jaisalmer. To get them to go away I agreed to look at one of the hotels and then tried to sleep.
Surprisingly I got one of the nicest rooms of my trip out of that tout. The downside was a strong push to sell me their way overpriced camel safari package. Using my newly honed power of ignoring people, especially Indian salesmen, I was able to get a few cheap nights in a nice room and still find a decently priced camel safari. Jaisalmer itself is a nice, relatively hassle free city once you're settled down. A good section of it is still located within the medieval fort's walls making it one of the oldest continually inhabited world monuments or something like that. And once again, some of the most beautiful scenes in India were just daily life spotted while taking a walk.
|Religious graffiti was all over the place|
This guy was my camel, Tiger. If I remember correctly he's 7 years old and had even participated in the famous Jaisalmer camel races one year. He was fine once you got on him but wouldn't stop whining anytime you wanted him to sit down or stand up. You quickly knew whose camel the camel driver was getting ready in the morning. Tiger was the only one that would put up a fuss.
The trip had a good supply of traveling companions as well. The first night was a large group with four Chinese tourists, two girls from the previous day, two more girls out for a one night trip and two Brits that I got along with well named Jay and Sacha who were there for the full 3 days. Just after a breakfast of toast, jam and eggs the second day we split up and I was riding with Jay, Sacha and Sarjan, our camel driver, for the next two days.
The basic breakdown of a day was wake up around 7, breakfast and preparations, leave at 8 or 9 for a 4 or 5 hour long ride, lunch and a siesta during the worst heat, another 2 or 3 hour ride to where we were going to sleep. Sprinkled in that were a few stops at villages for supplies or just something cold to drink. The food Sarjan made was delicious and the scenery extremely peaceful. Rajasthan isn't an endless sand dune kind of desert. Most of it is scrubland with the occassional dry riverbed or sand dune to break it up. We did see herds of antelope though and had our very own guard dog who followed us for a day and a half. He reminded me of my friend Ben's dog Spud.
The final day was also really nice because we finally had a pleasant village stop. The places on the more traveled one or two day tours were equipped with gangs of kids asking for money or chocolates. Getting hassled just as bad as in the cities could ruin the peaceful desert vibe but the last stop, at a semi-nomadic family's farm to buy camel-feed was the saving grace. They offered us chai, didn't want anything for it and tried to have an actual conversation with us using Sarjan as a translator if needed. Life is hard out there farming in a desert, luckily this guy also had added income by looking after some of the wind-power turbines at night. The turbines are incredibly common in this area and are occasionally broken into for people to steal parts, copper wiring or whatever else sells. Ahh India, any way to make a buck.
After finishing the camel trek I decided to stay at the hotel operated by Mr. Ganesh, the guy who also owned our camels. It was a little bit cheaper and since I had already done his trek there were no worries about pushy salesmen. I lounged around a bit for the next couple of days and took a scooter out for a drive to see some of the sights a little bit outside the city. One was a massive, over-touristed area of sand dunes that had flocks of tourists going out for a one or two hour ride on a camel. I suppose it's a good way to try it out but it's hard to imagine a more different experience than the one I had just had.
On the way there I was passing through a small village and was called by a young teenager to slow down and stop. All he said to me was "3 kilometers" and before I know it this old guy is getting on the back of my scooter. As is often the best case scenario in India, I rolled with it and took off. Turns out the old guy spoke a little English and was a Brahmin going to visit a new temple. India, especially in smaller areas, really does strike me as a give and take sort of country. People seem generally more willing to lend a hand, even to strangers, but also more willing to impose and assume you're going to help them out.
So Jaisalmer was a great stop on my trip. India overall has been an excellent trip but has certainly been loaded with plenty of ups and downs. And now for shits and giggles, here are some more pictures of me on a camel.