Saturday 22nd October 2016
Accommodation-Duration: Abu Safari Backpackers-3 days
Jaisalmer’s citadel rests in a sandy haze of the great Thar desert. With it’s humble golden fort, the peaceful town consists of exquisite carved sandstone buildings and a thriving desert culture of camel men that seem lost in a bygone era. Dreading to think of the 52 degree desert heat of summer, it felt like a mirage seeing bazaars swaddled with jewel coloured bags and embellished throws. Not knowing what to expect, the further I strayed from the beaten path the more authentic my experiences started to become. I felt a sense of tranquility walking the sandy town streets without a haggler in sight. Everything felt different here; the desert men were dressed in long flowing cotton outfits with colours indicating their social status, and for the first time I felt like I had escaped the commercialisation of Rajasthan. Although the people of Jaisalmer live so simply, they live within such an enchanting setting.
After a short but uncomfortable five hour bus journey from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer, we arrived to our courtesy jeep pickup that took us to the incredibly cheap (£1.50) Abu Safari backpackers hostel. The service and price was hard to understand. I don’t often put too much emphasis on the places I stay on my travels, however this is a complete exception, you could say the whole experience was ‘Abu Safari’ itself. As I was leaving Jodhpur and explaining to a man where we were staying, he then proceeded to tell me that Abu is the “playboy of Jaisalmer”! A little anxious of our decision, it turned out to be true. Arriving in the hostel, we were greeted by the infamous Abu who invited us up to my favourite rooftop so far and proceeded to tell us the most far-fetched and bizarre tales! A character to say the least, he had us completely fixated on quotes and stories about life. Abu and his 7 brothers were born and raised in the Great Thar desert as camel boys. Having been abandoned by his parents at a young age, he set up his irst hostel and camel safari treks many years ago, from these he learnt his English and I’m sure concocted his entertaining tales. Having met a group of 6 others from the UK, the atmosphere in the hostel was fantastic.
On our first morning, before our Abu safari began at 3pm, we decided to roam the interior of the fort which is actually home to a lot of the people of Jaisalmer. The Golden Fort is very different to the rest, being a lot more humble. The small streets of the fort were littered with shop after shop of the most beautiful trinkets I have seen in India yet. After being offered an array of bizarre things including opium, I managed to find some beaded and embroidered bags for £1 each. Being used to the cows of India by now, for some reason the cows of Jaisalmer were a little more aggressive and actually head-butting passers by! Outside the fort walls is a famous ‘Bhang-lassi’ shop. ‘Bhang’ is a form of cannabis that is legal and licensed by the government of India. Within the shop you can buy the milky drink of Lassi with ‘bhang’ and other consumables such as cookies. With bhang “you fly like magic carpet on camel”.
Jaisalmer is known to travellers for it’s camel safari’s in the desert. Being persuaded to jump onto the one night Abu Safari trip, it seemed like a convenient option, although it is hard not to think you get ripped off. The trip was fantastic with the group we had, however you don’t really get that much time on the camels and the gypsy ghost village you are promised is not only a bit of a let down, but you also have to pay extra to get into. However, you can’t necessarily make something from nothing. The experience of sleeping in the desert under the stunning night sky was great either way. After an hours jeep ride out to the camels, we made our way over to the sand dunes which we would call home for the night. Having been on a camel in Morocco I was prepared for the stench and leg ache that you endure after an hour or so. The desert itself is very different to the postcard image you imagine; the land is very arid and full of shrubs. It wasn’t until we reached the small stretch of rolling dunes that you feel like you’re in the real desert. Arriving to our camp we were greeted by the local desert men who lived in the villages, they had set up a camp fire surrounded by comfortable looking stand up beds and blankets. The evening was spent exploring the dunes after we were cooked traditional food on the camp fire from scratch. It was an interesting experience seeing how people lived in the desert; we rode through herds of goats with their farmers who were picking lentils and wild watermelons. The travellers you meet in places like India differ a lot from other countries I have previously travelled, and it was these types of travellers that really enriched my time in the desert; we sat around the fire playing music and exchanging tales. Returning the following morning at 11am, I enjoyed the peace and solitude of being in the desert, however considering the amount you pay (INR 2000), maybe I should do some more research next time. You could easily get lost in the peace of Jaisalmer, but having done all I intended it was time to move onto my top Rajasthani destination of Udaipur.