Profile

flora: Photo of a baby penguin chick (Default)
flora

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
flora: Photo of a baby penguin chick (Default)
[personal profile] flora
Camels are fun, and so are forts.

We went on a road trip to Jaisalmer Fort and Jodhpur in Rajasthan. Jaisalmer was high on our to-see list. UNESCO ranked Jaisalmer Fort as an Endangered Site due to sewage/drainage problems and changing weather patterns; one big earthquake could seriously damage this ancient fort. It's in the neighboring state of Rajasthan, but it's still pretty far from Gujarat - about a seven-hour drive for us.  We left very early, about 6:30 on Saturday morning.

Professor Hiren Patel and his family came with us.  So Hiren, his wife Chandrika, and their two children (ages 4 and 7) all piled into the SUV with us and our driver, Alkesh.  The car was big enough that it wasn't too cramped.  Chandrika and the kids stayed in the back for most of the trip and slept. Michael and I are absolutely astounded at how well-behaved their kids are. No fussing, no fighting, the whole trip. Amazing.

The domestic animals were interesting. Just outside of Visnagar, we had to wait ten minutes for hundreds of sheep to pass. The sheep are marked with dye on their wool to indicate their owners.  Then it was mainly farmers' fields, with the occasional herds of goats crossing the road. We crossed into Rajasthan and used the National Highway. After a few hours the countryside started looking more like California, with scrubby plants that looked like sagebrush. The number of goats increased, and so did the number of camels.  We occasionally see camels in Visnagar, pulling carts and so on, but they're far outnumbered by the water buffalo and cows (both ox-carts and free-range).  In Rajasthan, the camels are king.  We saw cows every now and then too, but mostly it was camels and goats.  They both like grazing on trees. Camels are natural pruners for those desert trees, and probably contribute to their umbrella shape; the leaves grow high and wide just above where a camel's long neck can reach.

The highway out to Jaisalmer is very well maintained. The road runs parallel to the India-Pakistan border, and India has a large military base there. A caravan of several dozen military trucks passed us. There's still several kilometers of desert between the road and Pakistan, so we weren't too close.

There were numerous herds of goats crossing the road. Mostly they moved out of the way in response to our horn honking. One stubborn little black goat decided to slow down, and it turned its back on us and stopped in the middle of the road. Our driver braked smoothly to a halt but the car still gave it a small push forward--kind of a nudge.  The goat glared at us and trotted away haughtily to the side of the road, and we continued.

Jaisalmer Fort was an outstanding tourist attraction. It's visible from pretty far away, a big yellow-brown fort on a hilltop near the Pakistani border. Jaisalmer is a "living fort," meaning people live in this millenia-old landmark. Jaisalmer is also a tourist attraction, though mainly for Indian pilgrim/tourists.  It's made out of carved yellow sandstone.  There are also several medieval Jain statues on display.  In terms of scale, Jaisalmer is the best historic palace/fort we'd seen yet.

Jaisalmer also has "non-veg" restaurants that serve meat. No beef of course, but they do offer chicken and lamb. Michael and I hadn't had meat in over a month, so we were very happy to eat some chicken. The Patels ate vegetarian dishes, of course. The chicken tikka was delicious, though the tandoori chicken was rolled in some kind of brown salt and it was much too salty. But it was just good to eat meat for a change. They also had some nice ginger tea and sweet milky coffee; we filled my thermos with a pot of their excellent coffee.

We wouldn't stay in a hotel that night.  While at the fort, Hiren found a good "Desert Safari Adventure" complete package deal: about $50 per couple including dinner, a night's lodging, entertainment, and transportation via camel. So we drove out to the sand dunes on the edge of the desert where the road ended, to the start of the camel trail.

Camels are too high to climb. Our camel knelt down in the sand and we climbed right on it.  I nearly fell off at the very beginning. I sat down in the saddle behind Michael, and while we were waiting for the camel-driver I took off my shoe and dumped the sand out of it. The camel stood up suddenly; I grabbed Michael with one arm and my shoe with the other, and somehow managed to not fall off (and even kept hold of the shoe!).  Michael and I rode one camel, and the Patel family rode another.  It was probably about 40 minutes, through the scrubland and into the giant desert sand dunes.

Camel riding was bumpy but easier than expected. The camel saddle was a Western-style saddle with a pommel, well padded in brightly-colored, quilted fabric. There's a little kids song, "This is the way the camel rides (bumpety, bumpety, bump!)" and it was just like that - we went up and down and up and down vertically as the camel strolled forward.  Camels have very looong legs.  Riding them makes you realize how high up they are. At least it didn't move faster than an (unsteady) trot. Our camel's handler walked on foot beside us, lightly switching the camel with a whip if it slowed down.  At the end of the ride, the camel driver asked our names. He laughed out loud when he heard Michael, and told us we must be lucky because our camel is named Michael too!  Michael Jackson!  Did we know Michael Jackson, the famous American star? Um. Michael Jackson has a completely different meaning in the USA. We didn't stick around to explain, but tipped the camel-driver 50 rupees and slipped down the sand dune toward the campground.

Our lodging for the night was a tent.  It wasn't really camping; Sweetie and I are both former scouts and we know what camping is.  These were permanent structures, cabins with cloth walls and roof and even a modern flushing toilet and sink.  We dropped our stuff in the tent and went to the campfire circle.

The dancers knew how to entertain. Several different Rajasthani women alternated, rotating in and out, in full traditional costumes with little bells jingling. The dance moves covered the full range of classical Indian and modern casbah-style dancing. The live band wore turbans, with drummers and musicians playing traditional instruments. At one point they dimmed the lights, and one woman filled a set of small scales with live coals from the campfire. She balanced the glowing coals, then danced with them, whirling the scales faster and faster over her head and around herself like a Harlem Globetrotter wields a basketball. It was just like some of the better parties at Pennsic. The audience applauded, especially the schoolchildren. 

Toward the end, one dancer came over and pulled me in to join her in dancing. She was excellent; she made eye contact and made sure I could follow her, giving me lots of cues as warning when she changed steps. I am not a dancer at all, but I managed to keep up and followed her rhythm and most of the steps. After a few minutes, the other dancers pulled in the girls from the school group, and we all did a circle dance where pairs of women join hands and whirl around. Dinner was rather anticlimatic after that.

The next morning, we stopped by a little lake in Jaisalmer. The local people feed the catfish there twice a day, and over a hundred catfish all lined up at the water's edge to get the food. There's also a nice temple there. All of us rode up and back to the lake in a pretty little camel-carriage. We left soon for the many-hours drive to Jodhpur.

Jodhpur was outstanding, with medieval palanquins and howdahs--elaborate coaches for carrying royalty, on poles by hand or mounted on elephant-back. Some were solid silver. They also had some medieval manuscripts on display, though no medieval illuminations (the artwork was lovely nineteenth-century Moghul). They had plenty of eighteenth-century spears and lances too. Jodhpur also has a collection of musical instruments and turbans, but we didn't see them on display. Unfortunately my cell phone ran out of charge just when we walked into the fort, so I didn't get any pictures in Jodhpur. I would've liked a picture of the breathtaking view of the village below the mountain; I hope Michael's pictures turn out.

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Page generated May. 28th, 2017 02:21 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios