Popularly known as the Golden City, Jaisalmer is situated at the heart of the Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India. Fascinating architecture amidst shiny golden sands under the scorching sun, the distance and weather might be intimidating but the journey is rewarding. The lack of urban privileges — cacophony of vehicle and electricity — is a blessing in disguise in this vast desolate desert, writes Nasrin Humayra
JAISALMER is rather a distant place from where I live, 1990 kilometres to be precise, adjacent to Karachi. We were at Delhi and planning the trip of our lifetime. Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, also known as the pink city, was a six-hour bus journey from Delhi. Jaipur was our pit stop where we changed our bus for the blue city Jodhpur. The eight-hour long bus journey towards Jodhpur lasted the entire night. We stayed a day there and took another six-hour overnight train journey to reach the golden city — Jaisalmer. Jaisalmer means the hill fort of Jaisal; it is called golden city because of the yellow sand and its reflection on the golden structures. The entire city is surrounded by yellow sand.
After arriving there my first impression was this is the golden city because every structure, building, fort even the railway station looked golden. Adding up the travel hours, one can assume it was a hectic journey for us, and sure it was, but every moment of that long tiresome journey will be cherished.
We did not have any booking so we found a comfortable place for us. Moustache was the place. It was not a formal Haveli but a casual one. We dropped our bags there, took a bath and got some rest before an adventure trip through them scheduled in the evening. So we had some time to roam around the city.
Moustache was situated right on the opposite side of the Jaisalmer fort. We visited the fort and for me it was a breath-taking experience, at last I fulfilled my childhood dream. Jaisalmer fort is one of the few living forts because people still live there enjoying a full city view. There are no high-raised structures. We visited Nathmal Ki Haveli, a place consists of five Havelies belonged to five merchant brothers. We also took casual and long strolls through the crowded bazar in the heart of the town and enjoyed vendors displaying colourful clothing and jewellery.
We went to the Thar Desert in the evening — the major attraction of the entire journey. We started our journey in a four-wheeler which took us outside of the Jaisalmer town. Right outside the town there was an abandoned village called Kuldhara. It was a 13th century village. According to local belief the villagers vanished overnight because of a spirit. A popular story is that one local powerful non-Brahmin wanted to marry a Brahmin girl but was refused by her family, so he imposed high tax on them and they vanished to evade the tax. But there are many valid reasons for their disappearance too; earthquake and low water level were two of them. We went to another village that had camels and started our journey again — this time on camel.
We wanted to spend the night in the heart of Thar. The road was not that easy. It was an hour of camel ride. The camel journey is bound to give limp-aches to anyone who is not accustomed to such journeys. Camels are a very slow and steady animal in deserts, camel walks like it is very reluctant to do whatever it is doing.
The camel I was riding was an 11-year old adolescent named Michael Jackson — might be a trick to amuse western travellers. During the journey, he would take a quick break to chew on roadside cactus.
It was a group tour; we were with an American couple, one Canadian and one British. We asked our guide if Bangladeshi people came there frequently. They said, ‘No, even West Bangle’s people are very rare to visit there, let alone Bangladeshi’. Our guide was a group of three Marwari people; one was the guide, one was the cook and the other was for looking after the camels. After reaching our destination — an endlessly vast sand dune — they served us freshly made chips and pakoras and some beer. We enjoyed the sunset from there. The view was astonishing. The sky was fascinatingly gorgeous, the stunning endless orange sky.
In desert nights fall very fast. Our guide started preparing dinner and we the six people roamed around a little under the dark sky. In that vast desolate desert, we were just surrendered by ourselves and the endless sand dunes. We were engulfed by a soundless, pollution less, electricity less and egoless world. The wind and the sky full of stars — that is the only truth there. You can cry or laugh as loud as you can but nobody will judge you. That very moment I realized why Sunil Gangopadhyay was aching for that ‘private zero hour’ with such desperation. It was a lifelong as well as life changing experience. All negative vibes were gone all of a sudden and I felt an urge to start a new life at that point. The night, that sky with millions of stars, that golden sands and that sound of wind — I will never forget.
When we asked our Haveli manager about the restroom in the desert and he told us, ‘If you have to attend nature’s call, just go the nature, you will be surrounded by it there’. So there was no toilet, restroom, washroom or such thing. I did not know what other people did but I did everything amidst the nature. There I missed my pet cat — Hecate. If she was there she would surely love it because cats normally consider sandy place their toilet.
We went there during the month of June — the hottest month of the year, that too in a desert. Global warming is true and happening all over the world. We went to a jewellery shop owned by a man who was in his late 40s, born and raised in Jaisalmer. He told us this June was the hottest summer he has ever experienced. Still we are casually handling the time-bomb named climate change.
Local people’s food habit is very simple and mostly pure veg. In the morning they eat thinly deep-fried crackers with some lentil sauce and tomato salad sprinkled with different spices, before having the proper breakfast. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all about vegetable. Rooti, chawal, papar, daal and vegetable along with achar is their main food.
Bhang is legal in Rajasthan and it is a milk based drink made from marijuana leaf paste. We never had this drink before and did not miss the opportunity here. My partner showed no sign of being high but I just slept and slept and felt like I will never be able to carry myself to home again.
Local tongue of Jaisalmer is Marwari which is pretty hard to understand even if one understands Hindi. But they use half English and half Hindi that can be understandable. Local people seemed friendly and humble in their ways and words. We went to a clothing shop. The shopkeeper told us, ‘Oh! You speak that language where people eat everything and drink nothing’ and his young son added to his father’s humour, ‘you guy’s eat water too, right?’ We were surprised to be offered such an in-depth analysis of our language habit that too this far from home.
In the bazar, we found bed sheet advertising, ‘No Needed Viagra! Magic Bed sheet’. I wanted to shop many things but getting a shopping-hating travel partner, I was unable to shop aggressively, so I ended up just getting some souvenirs.
We come back to Delhi by train. It was a 20-hour long train journey. The funny part was from Jaisalmer to Ajmer we did not have any fellow-passengers in our compartment. Nobody visit there in June so the cosy and cold first-class compartment were empty offering us chances to take series of long naps to brush-off the tiredness accumulated from the long journey to the golden city.
My travel partner always said that the road might seem boring, exhausting, time consuming and even intimidating during the journey. But at the end of the day, only this journey remains with us, not the expensive boutique hotels and exclusive meals at fancy restaurants.
It is very truly said. When I come back to my daily life I come back with the experience, the smell of a new town, the sounds of wind, the silent night and new recipes. Life is not easy in restless Dhaka. It is not easy to manage time and cash at the right time. But when right tour happens in the right time — magic happens. Jaisalmer was such a magical tour.
Nasrin Humayra loves to travel and eat.
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