A glistening gold, due to the sulfurous sandstone cut from a quarry a mere 14 kilometers away, the old fort city of Jaisalmer sits atop a hill breaking up the otherwise flat horizon. Our driver dropped us off at the gate of the fort and loaded us into a tuk tuk or auto rickshaw. We became increasingly excited as we perilously advanced upon the center of the fort, winding through narrow, high walled streets, barely missing collisions with motorcycles, pedestrians, and cows. We made it to our hotel, the Garh Jaisalmer, a heritage hotel, which means its architecture is an original part of the fort and has been converted into a hotel. This hotel is fashioned in the likeness of 1001 Arabian Knights. Picture oil lamps with genies within, fantastically embroidered tapestries and magic carpets. An atrium courtyard that opens to the sky, surrounded by balcony like seating with romantic cushions and silky drapes adorned with embroidery and mirrors ever present in the Jaisalmer textiles. Seth almost immediately began absentmindedly singing tunes from Disney's Aladdin. And it was quite apt because while wandering the halls one could expect Jafar to be scheming quietly in a dark corner.
After getting way too excited about our romantically clean room, we set out to find Bobby. Our Lonely Planet guidebook mentioned that Bobby's Henna was the best henna in Jaisalmer. Though, we set off to find Bobby, we found ourselves in a local's home with hopes of finding this friendly man's wife to henna me up. It turned out that when he said wife, what he meant to say was ten year old daughter, who was vigorously trying to sell her abilities to me. She kept boasting about her many awards for henna, and showed me her certificate as proof. And, though her drawings were good, they were good for a ten year old, and I wasn't about to have doodled flowers on my arm for the next three weeks.
Eventually we needed some dinner, and went to the restaurant next door as recommended by our hotel. But, when we got there, the young guy who took our order was coughing all over the place in a hellish way, and we decided not to risk it. We retreated back to our room to feast on chips and oreo cookies. Sometimes in India that's your best, most convenient option.
Day two in Jaisalmer we hired a guide for a walking tour. The highlight for me has been the Jain Temples. Jain is, I believe, a sect of Hinduism. But, they carve amazingly elaborate temples from sandstone.
That night we found an amazing restaurant, The Trio. We didn't find out until after the meal, but this restaurant was voted the best in Jaisalmer by Fodors and had many other accolades as well. And they were well deserved. We ordered what is called a thali (the th is not our sound. It's more like you say the T then a soft h). It is kind of like a sampler platter in the US, or what Europe calls the menu of the day. We received three vegetable dishes, a yogurt, rice, naan, and a dessert. Starting from the rice at the bottom going counter clockwise the first, red bowl contains Paneer Makhani. This was my favorite. It's rich tomato flavor only becomes more sensational when you get a bite of the creamy paneer cheese. Above that is a dish of what they have aptly called, mixed vegetables. They were filled with spices and bits of dried fruit and nuts. Oh so good. Then there was the traditional bowl of lentils named Dhora Dal. Though it was tasty, it didn't pack a punch like the other dishes. The bowl of white is their Veg Raita, which was simply yogurt, to cleanse and cool the palate. The last little bowl was dessert. Suji Ka Halwa is a sort of egg custard sprinkled with nuts and drowned in a maple syrup or honey like sauce. Seth compared it to flan, but I don't enjoy flan, and I truly enjoyed this! This was the best meal by far. Even if the food wasn't so good, it would have been a good meal, simply because the restaurant was clean and the service was excellent. You have to use different rating systems on every different aspect of a place while in India. We've had some great meals in some places where it was so dirty, and then we've had some not so good meals in places that were cleaner. This place was clean, had good service, and great food.
We woke up and were ready for our camel adventure. The plan was to ride into the desert on camelback to a campground where we'd spend the night under the stars surrounded by the vast scrubland desert that stretches between the India and Pakistan border. We made our way to these camels in a round about way, stopping at beautiful Jain temples, and ghost towns. We stopped for lunch at a lake and went for a little meander while our driver/guide/cook ate his lunch. When we were halfway around the lake we saw that he was cleaning the dishes and utensils in the lake. Big no no. Aside from the fact that you don't mess with lake water in India, he had already mentioned that this lake was used for drinking and bathing. And I'm sure it's commonly used as a toilet as well. The warning bells sounded. People (us included) believe that if you get sick in India you just get a bad case of the runs and you get over it. But, after talking to a few people (the food tour couple and some of the embassy people) you don't necessarily just end up in the bathroom frequently, you are likely to end up in the hospital. But, we leisurely continued our walk around the lake followed by a little 'shadow'. If you've never traveled far from the european culture, you might not know this but, we're stars over here. And you can be too! So, basically, everywhere we've been where light skin, and especially light hair and eyes, are uncommon, you are essentially a movie star. People wave at you, say hello to you, and follow you while you are doing absolutely nothing. I understand that it's because we look so different from them. In the US we are all different, so seeing people in Africa, or India, is not something so new to us. But for them, seeing someone with our coloring is quite unusual. Anyhow, we had a little boy, about nine years old, I'd say, follow us as we walked around the lake. Though we tried to talk with him a bit, he didn't speak any english, and we don't speak a lick of hindi, so it was pretty silent. But Seth 'taught' him how to skip rocks. They got to share that together, and that was pretty neat.
We, finally made our way to the camels. Yay! We each got to ride our own camel. My camel was ten years old and I'm told she's pretty fast. Her name was rocket, and she, apparently, had explosive diarrhea. Seth rode a camel, a young 4 year old, named Rabbit. She must have been bouncy, because Seth eventually became uncomfortable and decided to walk. We played around on some sand dunes, taking pictures of us jumping off of them, and made our way to the campsite. This is where we decided it was in our best interest to sleep at a hotel for the evening. For a few reasons. Furst of all, it was hot. So hot. And missing a night of sleep during a trip like this is devastating. You don't just have one tired day that you deal with, you miss out on that day's travels, and you are usually miserable for a few days thereafter. And there's no guarantee that the next bed, or accommodation, will be comfortable enough for a good night of catch up sleep. Secondly, our dishes were washed in the toilet, ahem, I mean lake. Thirdly, it was definitely going to rain within hours. It had been raining on and off for the past few days, and during that day, and there were major storm clouds in the near distance. Oh, and we saw the sheets we'd be sleeping on.
So, we made our way back to the hotel that manages the camel safari. He had told us profusely before we'd left, that if for any reason we didn't want to sleep at the campsite we could return to his hotel at any minute. Because it was a hotel, built to be a hotel, it was quite modern. Well, modern in facilities, not in style. Which is good. Bed was comfy, showers were US style, AC worked, etc.
We still had dinner to contend with, so we headed back to Trio, of course! Why would we go anywhere else? We feasted on Benghan Baji (an eggplant dish), and two others that were delicious and we failed to write down their names. One was a rich tomato sauce with onions and chicken. The chicken was so tender you could cut it with a fork. And a yellow curry with chicken that was also really tasty. We decided to stray from our vegetarian lifestyle (for safety reasons in India) and have some chicken, because this place seemed reputable enough. And it was delicious. We finished off our meal with some gulub jamun, little doughnut hole like balls of deliciousness soaked in a sugary syrup.
And today we're off to Jodhpur!