Our India driving tour of Rajasthan was entering its final leg with a three day visit to Jaisalmer and a search for a camel safari.
The Road to Jaisalmer
We had decided the night before, after doing some on-line research, that we were not happy with the driver’s recommendation and outline costs (2,500Rp.) for the desert safari which he wanted to take us to for our first night around Jaisalmer. Given the poor service in his recommended hotels the thought of a Fawlty Towers desert safari was too much to contemplate. We told him to head straight for Jaisalmer instead. He could see another lump of his commission slipping from his grasp. I think he tried to take us to a few ‘interesting’ spots along the way to see if we would change our minds. It didn’t, as you will see it just made matters worse.
We were first taken to see some migratory Siberian birds nesting here off the road to Jaisalmer, which were noisy, grey and interesting to look at. We were there just a moment, when a local man showed us a French magazine article with a photograph of himself in it, which was mildly interesting. Then from underneath the magazine comes a medical record with his picture in the left hand corner, he indicates all sorts of ailments through hand gestures, now mildly annoying. We are too cynical now to begin to believe this and we have to write it off as yet another scam. If it is in fact true I will go straight to hell, but you did this to us India, we are at the stage where we trust nobody any more. We head back to the car refusing to donate to his medical fund and feel bad. We also refuse an offer from our driver to visit a local school.
Tensions in the Taxi
It has been a day of tension in the old ambassador, our skipping of the safari did not go down well. We were happy we were doing the right thing for us. Any pangs of guilt were quickly erased when our driver took us to a temple and offered a tour guide, who in fact was the store salesmen where we would be whisked off afterwards. We refused point blank, when discovering he would want payment for this service, and walked to the temple unaccompanied. John explained to our driver that is was incredulous he would suggest I pay somebody to try and sell something to us! The temple really didn’t need a guide and the people in there were happy to give you an explanation of the best bits. On returning to the car, our driver had assembled some colleagues to try and diffuse a very tense situation. One of his friends said, “You are God, Sirs, are job is to do whatever you want, we will do whatever is required to make you happy.” John explained that he certainly was not happy, or a God, and that we didn’t require any special services.
We remained almost silent for the rest of the journey after this little commission trick today, we plugged our ‘his n hers’ double adapter into the iPhone and tuned out of the frosty atmosphere.
Remarkably the drivers first choice of hotel was perfect for us, the price was whittled down to 1200 for the night including breakfast and taxes. John explained at length to the jovial owner Mr J about the snide tricks so far. He assured us he had none, so here we are with a bedroom view of the fort, we have booked our camel trip with the hotel for 1000 rupees each less that what the driver was offering and don’t care if the driver is sulking in the drivers digs below. We told our driver we will not be leaving Jaisalmer after 3 nights here, and he is free to do what he wants.
We have our freedom back to roam as we please without any overpriced suggestions and have had a lovely meal in the hotel restaurant on our first evening chatting to a genial Frenchman from Paris. He was recently retired and has left his wife and children at home to experience his dream trip of a lifetime by visiting India. I even braved a bit of French too. We are enjoying this hotel, it is not festooned with taxi drivers passengers and the manager mixes with the guests and it feels a lot more like the kind of place we like.
Freedom in Jaisalmer
We were getting into the sandstone mellow yellow of Jaisalmer, but most of all enjoying being free. Breakfast at the hotel was great and we could order what we wanted off the menu for the inclusive rate with as many coffee and tea refills as you like.
We wandered to the main fort which was a short walk from the hotel and spent a good couple of hours roaming the narrow lanes inside. There were offers of guides as we entered, but apart from that we have spent a hassle free day enjoying the sights.
The fort is a great place to get lost in, even though we didn’t, as we had no real particular destination in mind. We found a Jain temple that was pretty impressive (150 Rupees each to get in) and we enjoyed it with the locals ringing the bell and praying to the gods. We followed a tour group from time to time to see where that led us and we happened upon a set of stairs up to the fort walls where we enjoyed panoramic views of the sandstone town below. We bought a drink from one of the sellers up here who had a patch of roof set up as his cafe while he told us of his years as a camel driver and how he prefers sitting on the rooftop serving tourists chai, coffee and soft drinks.
We spotted a doorway being bricked up in the old fort and John enquired with the builders as to why. From what we can gather the family has been moved out and the doorway blocked so as not to attract any new unwanted tenants. We think this was a forced eviction, as it looks like the government are trying to reduce the numbers of people living within the environs of the old fort. This is probably a good thing, unless of course you were part of the family that were evicted. The fort sits on the centuries old drainage system and the stresses and strains of building work and poor care over the years has taken its toll. I think we’d consider reducing the number of hotels inside the fort before evicting families first though. Over the last few years some parts of the old fort have collapsed.
John then decided he wanted to go in search of contact lenses. He was sure we could get his disposable lenses here and insisted on trailing the length and breadth of the bazaar in search of the opticians. In the end we found two little shops who perhaps could order some, but they couldn’t do dailies. I did tell him but he was sure there was a hidden optical superstore some place in the town. There isn’t.
We weaved our way back through the market and John tried a pair of long johns (underwear) for size for his chilly overnight camel safari tomorrow. They fit him perfectly but the price didn’t so we will hope its not too cold. We stopped on the way back to the hotel at the government approved lassi shop and John tried out one of their specials after we had enjoyed the one in Pushkar. It tasted perfect, but left him in a very lazy state for the rest of the afternoon but that suited us just fine, we were enjoying the slower pace today.
The hotel in the evening invited us to see how the mutton dish we were going to eat that evening was to be prepared. It is cooked in a similar way to duck confit, slowly in warm rather than boiling hot oil. I am hoping that the result is equally as delicious and succulent. I am typing this as it is in its final preparation stage and we have to wait for it to cook. I shall report back.
Well the meat was succulent and tasted great, but they said they would prepare it traditionally which meant it was spiced Indian style and nearly blew our heads off. One of the spiciest dishes we have tried so far. We therefore had to cool off with a few beers on the terrace chatting to the charming waiter, Prem, before getting packed for our desert safari tomorrow. We hope it will be OK as we have read lots of horror stories of these trips from fellow travellers. We consoled ourselves that even if it was a bit crap, we picked it and that felt good.
We are enjoying are time in Jaisalmer very much, and are pleased we have decided to spend three nights here. It is less touristy than many of the other cities we have visited as part of our tour of Rajasthan and has been the perfect place to relax in a local guest house. A charming city, with some of the chaos we’ve come to expect travelling in India.