Sunday, February 05, 2012

Rajasthan Day 2: Jaisalmer - golden sands and blue skies

What a way to get introduced to the city of golden sands!  As the train chugged into the desert, a couple of dust storms greeted us - filling the interiors of the bogie with a dust haze!  In no time, there was a thin layer of sand everywhere: on the floor, the seats, on the luggage, and even on the late risers blissfully asleep!

The Jaisalmer station itself is tiny and quaint, with a few chaiwallas and other sundry snack vendors.  A couple of cups of steaming hot masala chai kept us warm while we waited for our ride.  The plan was to spend a couple of nights in the desert and then head into town for the heritage experience.  We were, yet again, struck by the amazing hospitality of these wonderful people.  Every place in our journey was made special by one or the other person, that made the vacation special.  If it was Gaurav Singh Rathore, our guide at Jantar Mantar, it was the very affable and shy Ambu Singh, who literally assumed the role of our butler for the duration of our stay in the desert.

M chose Rajasthan Desert Safari (RDS) for our stay in the desert.  The place is about an hour's drive out of the city and we were immediately greeted with vistas of arrow shot straight roads, with sparse vegetation as far as the eye could see.  We were immediately taken in by the clear air, and the quietitude all around.  Surely an escape from the everyday cacophony that is Mumbai!  Since it was already lunch time by the time we arrived, Ambu Singh (who I addressed as Ram Singh throughout our stay and being the nice guy he is, he refused to correct me; and henceforth, he will be referred to as Ram Singh!) laid out a spread of the finest Rajasthani food.  There was the standard dal-baati-choorma, gatte ki sabji, string beans (I forget the local name) and several others that were a blur of paneer, ghee and butter.  Who can argue with local logic: 'we have scarcity of water, therefore we cook food in ghee and butter...!!!'  Ram Singh was sorely disappointed that we did not have more than two helpings of each dish!

Galloping over the dunes... bone rattling but certainly, fun!
Once the afternoon heat subsided, it was time for the mandatory camel ride.  Our camel was bizzarely named Michael Jackson (!) and was a four year old male.  Our desert guide led us to a less frequented part of the dunes where unlike the famous SAM (pronounced 'sum') dunes, where there are more people than sand!  M and I had a blast  rolling down the dunes and had loads of fun.  My guide took the camel for a short gallop, unfortunately with me on it: by the end of it, my bones were rattled!  On the way back, we got a glimpse of the famous Sam dunes - they were swarming with people and were we glad we didn't go there!

Quick tip: it's generally a bad idea to carry expensive photography equipment, the desert sand is so fine, you are sure to need a trip to the service centre thereafter!  Even if you have to carry your DSLR, make sure you  don't change lenses in the desert and have a ziplock bag handy to stash the camera in, when not in use.

Rajasthani fold musicians hold us in thrall
Back at camp, they had organised a cultural evening, with traditional dancers swirling to the tune of desert instruments: kar-taal, being the highlight of the day.  It was sad to see the tourists milling about, more interested in their drink, than savouring the beautiful notes that these desert musicians churned from their instruments.  To add insult to injury, some of tourists gave a generous tip of Rs 10 to these artists, some of whom have represented India in international fora!

We relished the folk music, with M and I occasionally deciding to try our hand with the dholak!  After a while, most of the tourists had departed and the musicians actually asked us to sit closer, so that we could hear them better, and they could sing songs of our choice!  What more is there to say!  Lal mori, hichki, kesariya balam and many more.  After several hours, it was time for them to leave, but they promised to come back the next day, and sing some of the more famous and rare marwari songs!
Meenal tries her hand at the Nagara
A jugalbandi with the kar-taal!
 All the while, our dear Ram Singh was in the background, waiting to unleash a many course meal, which of course, we happily partook.  Soon after, the drone of vehicles disappeared, the voices died down and all that once could hear was the whistling of the wind, under a pitch black sky dotted with thousands of stars, many many more than one can see in the cities...
The sun sets on yet another wonderful day in the desert...

No comments: