Next Stop, Jaisalmer!
Bikaner to Jaisalmer
6 hours by car
We spent one night in Jaisalmer, the Golden City, followed by one night on our camel safari. As it goes with all of Rajasthan, there is a famous fort to visit; however, the fort in Jaisalmer offered a slightly different experience than the others. It’s the only living fort in all of India! I didn’t know what that meant at first but after visiting the fort, it all made sense. Rather than just another tourist destination, a museum, or a historical site, it's also home to around a quarter of Jaisalmer’s population. Upon entering the fort it was as if you are visiting another city entirely.
We loved Jaisalmer fort! Navigating through the narrow, windy dirt paths felt like walking through the streets of Agrabah waiting for Aladdin to jump across the blanketed awnings above every merchant's store. I probably sang, "you gotta keep, one jump ahead of the bread line," more times than Brian could handle. But seriously, the fact that I didn't find a magic lantern during my one man musical was shocking!
While we loved our afternoon exploring Aladdin's neighborhood, the constant cries from merchants to buy their 100% silk cashmere, real pashmina, best quality scarves had us running for the exit. At one point we were even offered a 99% off discount. Now thats a deal! I tried to explain to Brian that they were basically paying us to buy something, but sadly, my efforts were in vain (that was for you, Julie!) I also had my first experience with henna, and as I mentioned months ago, it looked as if a five year old drew on my hand with a permanent marker. Brian could have done a better job, using his left hand, while blindfolded. Well, actually, maybe that's pushing it!
A couple quick notes: we decided to visit without a tour guide, but we can tell you that we were offered guided tours for as low as 100 rupees (thats $1.50)! Jaisalmer was also the first city we saw these beautiful textiles made out of old sarees and these awesome puppets that I became obsessed with (I ended up coming home with two of them but I purchased them much later on the trip). If you plan on buying any of these textiles, do not rush into it! While we were told you could only find them in Jaisalmer, that information, like most in India, was false! However, if you do plan on buying one, Jaisalmer Fort isn’t a horrible place to start, just make sure to start the negotiation at at least half the price they start at AND try to include your shipping cost as well!
The next day we headed out for our camel safari. It was an hour drive from the city before we reached Mangalam Resort. We didn’t have much of a say in which company we used since we worked this deal into our private car package, but we couldn’t have been happier with the experience. Everything was included (except for alcohol, water, and soft drinks) and we had the choice of sleeping in a traditional hut, a safari tent, or under the stars. We, of course, chose under the stars although I needed some convincing only because I read a lot about cobras in the desert. I was assured there were no cobras and agreed to the plan. (Note: After being in India for two months, we quickly realized that everyone will say yes or agree to just about anything and everything even if they don’t understand the question. So, just be cautious of directions, feedback, or really any basic information you receive. It’s not done with ill intent, but everyone is just so friendly and eager to help that they can't say no!)
I have to admit that upon first impressions, I was a little disappointed. The camp was in an area filled with other safari camps next door. It was like a small neighborhood, but instead of houses, there were mud huts and tents. I had just expected something more exotic, but this is just an example of not letting first impressions get to you. We relaxed for a bit, had some chai, and then went to meet our camels. If you have never been on a camel, definitely try and make it happen! It was SO fun, and at times, SO painful (I’m sure more painful for Brian).
Camels have so much character, I was entertained just watching them. We rode out and watched the sunset into the Khouri desert, goofed off a bit by jumping into mountains of sand, and returned to Mangalam for traditional Rajasthani music, dance, and food.
After dinner, we piled on the back of a wagon bed with an awesome family from Belgium and headed out into the desert (Hi Beatrice and Sebastian!). There were many Oregon trail jokes made during the ride out, usually ending with Brian suffering from dysentery and consequently dying. We slept on mattresses raised off the sand by metal bed frames, shared a tiny blanket, and gazed out into the vast unknown. We were all excited to see what we had thought would be a sky filled with endless stars, but the moon was so bright it never even felt like bedtime. We shared stories and laughed until our eyes could no longer stay open and fell asleep to the unfamiliar sounds of the desert. It was such a neat experience!
We woke up to the rising sun and made our way back to Mangalam for a simple breakfast and farewell hugs before our six hour drive to our next stop, Jodhpur, the Blue City.