|Our overnight train ride from Delhi to Jaisalmer was actually pretty good. After our last experience in the sleeper class, we decided to upgrade to '2AC' class. This was loads better as we had our own reading lights, they provided you with blankets and pillows and there were less people per carriage. We both actually managed to get some sleep before we arrived in the middle of the Thar desert (Jaisalmer) at midday - and on time as well!
Jaislamer can only be described as a giant sandcastle - the sort you always dreamed of making as a kid. The massive fort dominates the town by hovering above it and it appears as a sandcastle rising up from the desert floor. The fort is lit up at night as well which provides a great view from all the roof-top restaurants down below it.
Once we got through the two huge gates of the fort, there was a maze of narrow, paved streets complete with Jain Temples and the old palace of the former maharajas rule. It certainly feels like we are back on the silk road again as all the lanes are lined with small shops with shop owners vying for our attention. In fact Jaisalmer was founded in 1156 and it held a strategic position on the trade routes between India and Central Asia.
Outside of the fort walls there are many old havelis. These are or were, the traditional residences of wealthy merchants and are ornately decorated. We decided to take a look inside one of the havelis (Patwa ki-Haveli) - on the oustide it is covered in magnificent stonework like honey-coloured craggy lace and inside is just as impressive and certainly gave us a glimpse of 19th century life here (for the well-off anyway).
The Maharaja's Palace within the fort wall was just as impressive. We entered the fort through a series of massive gates which led onto an open courtyard enclosed on two sides by the honey coloured seven storey palace. This was also the highest part of the fort so we got great views over the whole town and out into the dusty Thar desert. We also visited the Jain Temples. Jainism is sort of like Buddhism - it arose in the 6th Century BC as a reaction against the caste restraints and the rituals of Hinduism. Although the Jains make up less than 1% of the Indian population they have certainly left their mark and the temples here are quite stunning with intricately carved stonework, reliefs and figures. All the temples are interlinked resulting in quite a maze of temple complex.
We were starting to get a bit fed up of town/city life (and the smells which go with it) so we decided to take a camel safari whilst in Jaisalmer. This was basically a jeep tour of a couple of local sights (Bada Bargh an ancient cenataph and a local Jain Temple) and then a two hour camel ride into the desert. This was a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of India's street life and gave us a small glimpse of the life of the desert folk. They have a pretty simple life out here in mud huts with thatched roofs. It has not rained in this area for three years so all their water gets shipped in - a pretty hard life really. However having enjoyed a trip without another tourist in sight we were shepherded back to a 'good spot to watch sunset' only to find that all the tour groups were shepherded back to the same spot! and of course I guess we should not have been surprised to find the local Indians trying to sell us drinks and make us pay to watch them sing and dance (kind of ruined the peaceful sunset bit! although our local guide did try his best to keep us away from the crowds).
I thought with all that activity there would hardly be any time to go shopping, but Heidi seemed to manage quite well. The area is famous for its colourful embroideries and fabrics and I seem to be carrying a few of them in my rucksack now!
They say it takes quite a few days to get used to India and that has proved to be right in our case. We really liked Jaisalmer and we hardly notice the farmyard smells and the public (open) toilets anymore although our stomachs ae still not playing ball and whilst walking around we still have to make sure we know where the nearest public convenience is!! Off to sample the public bus system now............