We hopped on the back of the hotel owner’s motorcycle. He would give us a lift into town to the entrance of the fort. Our hotel, modeled after one of the historic havelis, was located on the outskirts of town at the end of a long road with not much on it other then a school and a few shops.
We zipped down the dusty chaotic streets and the bike’s suspension rebounded a bit with each bump and pothole. Three people on a motorcycle was probably a bit much but like many things in India, you cross your fingers and hope for the best.
It was time to explore the Jain temples and haveli mansions of the rich businessmen, and perhaps pick up some honey drenched gulab jamun for dessert. The Jaisalmer fort is one of six Rajasthan forts designated as a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s also crumbling apart due to human activities and water seepage. Thousands live inside the fort permanently.
Cows wander down narrow passageways in the fort and one jabs me in the side with his horn. A signal to vacate the narrow corridor for his passing. I move out of the way, in a bit of shock that a 2000 pound animal could so quietly sneak up right behind me and jab me in the side without warning. Cows do have free reign in here, and can go where they please.
I couldn’t handle Indian food due to stomach problems so we found the only western food restaurant in town. A “Run by Australians” sign appears on the side of the building and many western tourists can be seen socializing.
“My husband and I are from Australia. Our stomachs can’t handle the water here,” The owner explained. “Everything here is washed by filtered water. Salad, fruit, vegetables. Come back in the kitchen to see if you like.”
“No, that’s ok,” I reply, satisfied with the explanation, though running into these facilities in India is rare. You can’t drink the tap water anywhere, and I wouldn’t generally believe anyone that said the water was filtered unless it was a high end hotel, much less a little restaurant in the middle of the Thar Desert next to Pakistan. I happily worked my way through fresh apple pie and a sweet, refreshing mango shake from frozen mango chunks, with “no water or ice added”, according to the owner.
There’s litter everywhere. Not as much as Jodhpur where they practically needed a full on snowplow to clear the sidewalks. Emaciated and dirty stray dogs wander around every corner. A realistic headcount would be seeing 50 stray dogs a day, some days reaching 100. It’s hard to spare resources to go towards animal shelters or spaying and neutering, so the stray animals just multiply.
A jeep takes us out of town on a two hour ride through gravel and dirt roads. One of the roughest and most cramped rides of my life. After stopping at a grave site, and an abandoned city we end off at a rural-like city with not a sand dune in sight. Okay. Not exactly what I expected but I was still enthusiastic. The actual camel ride would take us several km’s out of town.
Local kids followed us around asking for 5 rupies about a hundred times.
After some serious irritation, I just ignored them, but they continued to ask, intermittent with their other curious inquisitions about where we were from, what we were doing and so on. My friend Steve gave them a high five instead. They insisted we take a picture with them. The smile on my face is fully artificial, as I was bordering exhaustion of fending off five rupee requests.
Finally camels took us on trails through the outskirts of town led by two locals, ending off in a site with a campfire where guides prepared us fresh chai. We snacked on cashew cookies watching the sun sink over the sand dunes then boarded the waiting Jeep for the two hour return trip to Jaisalmer through the Thar Desert night.