We left Rishikesh at 4am on Monday morning, to Delhi via a 5 hour train. We had a 6 hour pit stop in Delhi so we headed to our favourite cafe in the backpackers district. At 5pm we had an overnight train to Jaisalmer, conveniently at the train station 5 minutes away! – OR SO WE THOUGHT. As we casually strolled through New Delhi train station we asked where the 14659 Jaisalmer Express was; “Next station, not this station” came the reply. We had 25 minutes to get across Delhi to Delhi train station (The names aren’t at all alike, are they?) for our train. We ran to the nearest rickshaw and (Still after haggling!) we jumped into a rickshaw to dash across Delhi. The traffic was horrendous. We had told the driver of our urgency and he did his best, cutting infront of traffic and racing through red lights. The heat was strong as we raced through the smog, constantly clock watching. Thankfully, we made the train with 5 minutes to spare. Drenched with sweat after a frantic run through the second station, we fell into our allocated seats – OR SO WE THOUGHT. Our seats were ‘not confirmed’, meaning that we had to wait until 10pm for the guard to allocate us to a bed. For 5 hours we were crushed alongside commuters (Mostly returning home to nearby Jaipur) and other Indians. Sardines – nothing else can describe these few hours. Thank goodness for ipods as we entered the darkness. We were lucky to make friends with Mukash and his family, who kindly helped explain the complicated ticket arrangement as well as making good humour of the situation, which he himself described as “painful”. Later on, as we waited for the train dinner service (which never came) he kindly let us share the food that he had prepared for his family. His son practiced English with us and we joked about lighter aspects of Indian life and culture. We shared lots of pictures and stories and before we moved to our allocated seats he gave us his business card, took a picture with us and bid us goodnight. Cheers for the food, Mukash!
We arrived in Jaisalmer on Tuesday, and leave tomorrow (Saturday) for Jodhpur. Rajasthan is India’s richest state, primarily due to tourism. Its beautiful cities are a popular route for all kinds of travellers, and I’m sure we’ll bump into all kinds as we head into India’s high season.
On Wednesday we walked through the atmospheric fort, built in the sixteenth century. The whole of Jaisalmer, both old (within the raised old fort) and new (outside on the low-lying lands around) is built in local sandstone, giving the city real character and an appearance more akin to Arabia. We looked through the old palace of the Mughal Emperor’s, (which yes, we did barter on, the entrance fee was initially ridiculous), and wondered the narrow streets and surveying the views across the city of 75,000 and the wider desert.
On Thursday and this morning, we found ourselves in that very desert, on camels! We trekked through the desert all day with three other travelers on a camel each in the intense desert sun. Camel’s are not the most pleasant creatures; smelly, uncomfortable, bizarre, ugly and prone to intense saliva yet in their own way very endearing creatures. Toby rode Mr John, whilst I (Joe) got Mr Magu – a camel with unruliness and a tendency to run for periods! Our legs ache today! The real highlight of the trip was sleeping under the stars. After watching the sunset with a chilled beer and a cup of desert whiskey (Diluted and made from a local tree, the Sherpas wouldn’t let us drink it straight!) we ate a simple dinner before sleeping under the stars. With no lights around the sky was magnificent, a sublime treat of stars, galaxies and shooting stars. It was like nothing we’d seen before. Our cameras could not pick up this pleasing scene, so you’ll have to take our word for it/google desert night sky!
Today we returned to the city and visited a few more sights. Joe bought a lot of clothes, including a full-length kaftan. We’re writing this post from a pleasant (and empty!) rooftop bar which overlooks the fort. There are lot’s of rooftop bars in Rajasthan, but none as friendly as this one it seems, as we’re drinking cheap beer (with complimentary snacks – Toby finds this very aperitivo like), using their laptop and listening to music of our choice (We chose blues). We’re going to persuade them to make sure their 80p pasta dishes are ‘good portion size, yes?’ – so we best get on with that.