Thursday, October 18, 2012

Jaisalmer - Friendly Warnings in an Indian Neighborhood

It was my first day in Jaisalmer, an oasis town founded in 1156. It was along the camel route of merchants and adventurers on their way to Persia (Iran) before Mumbai came along. Named after the great Maharaja Jaisala, the fort was built to ward off Muslim invaders from the west. These days, 20% of the population is Muslim, which is understandable because of its proximity to Pakistan. The brisk trade associated with its location in olden times facilitated the construction of magnificent houses and mansions – called haveli – exquisitely carved from wood and sandstone. But the rise of Mumbai and the cutting of the camel-route through Pakistan took a toll on Jaisalmer. These days, crumbling havelis stand for survival. It’s fortunate then that tourism in the region has picked up in the last decade or so. Massive renovations are now underway all throughout the city.


I woke up in mid-morning; a mere 3-hour sleep which was fine as I was asleep for more than 5 hours during my train ride. I climbed up the hotel’s rooftop restaurant. There was a French guy reading his book. I took the table next to his and braced myself when the owner, a bemoustached gentleman in his fifties, started aggressively peddling his camel safaris. I said I’d think about it after I take my breakfast – a delightful plate of Vegetable Spaghetti with Cheese. True enough, once my plate was empty, he sat in front of me and resumed his sales talk. 

There was something scary about his aggressive pitch, but he sweetened the deal: “Mark my word, this will be your most unforgettable experience in all your travels in India.” Not only that, if I agreed on a camel safari – which includes a camel ride at the Great Thar Desert, dinner at a village with Rajasthani performers dancing and singing, and an overnight stay at the sand dunes “sleeping under the stars” – I wouldn’t have to pay my 100 rupee room anymore. I chuckled. It’s a hundred rupee – approximately $2. Such considerable savings, right? J Despite red flags waving in my head, I acquiesced and actually agreed. We shook hands and I paid my 900 rupees; all this time, I was mentally kicking myself for not heeding a troubled intuition. Did I bite the bait that spelled trouble?

Rooftop restaurant of Hotel Peacock


Later that day, I met a guy at the Jaisalmer Fort who warned me against “Mr. Moustache”, he would say. Oh dear me, what have I gotten myself into. It was like getting inside the lair of a beast, knowing fully well what was to come; what people vehemently warned me against. I’d cross the bridge… and so on. Sometimes these indecisions solve at the right unhurried moment. I thought I’d play it by ear. Meanwhile, I had a city to roam.

As I navigated the bowels of the city, I noticed that reconstructions and renovations I've read were hardly obtrusive. I didn’t see any. The narrow streets still seemed untouched. The winding alleys still whispered echoes of the past. I liked navigating these streets unswamped by other tourists. It gave the deceptive impression that I was rediscovering these slumbering passages. I knew I wasn’t. But this was my own adventure and I could dictate the content of my own fantasy, right?

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Roof deck

True enough, Hotel Swatika (above) and Hotel Ratan Palace (below) were just a stone's throw away from Hotel Peacock.


Streetside bazaar at the old city.

Fruit and vegetable stalls.

Narrow alley near my hotel.


NRIGirl said...

If not for you @Eye, I would have never "visited" Jaisalmer;so thank you!

Can't wait to hear about your camel safari. Hope you will write about it soooooon.

Krishna/കൃഷ്ണ said...

nice travelogue of plenty of photos

thanks for sharing

eye in the sky said...

@ NRIGirl:

It's a pleasure to write about this city. It's so different from the other places I've visited in India.

eye in the sky said...

@ Krishna:

My pleasure. Thanks for the kind words. :)

Ramakrishnan said...

The pics show a town that is rundown,ramshackle & dusty nevertheless charming and captivating ! Your narration is eloquent as usual :)

eye in the sky said...

@ Ram:

It is exactly as you say it is, but there's a certain charm in these qualities. :)

My Unfinished Life said...

OMG.....i can understand the feeling..we got duped in Darjeeling once!!!!

lovely the food pic (expecially since its lunch time for me now!!)...yummm!!!

eye in the sky said...

@ shooting star:

There are always bad seeds wherever there are tourists. But this wasn't so bad actually. Just makes your anxiety raise notches higher. :)