"What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well."
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I actually planned to blog about something else tonight but I just don't feel like I'm up to the challenge of cranking up my brain. So, I decided instead to write another bloody travelogue - I find it less taxing on my thinking tofu. It's so much more fun for me to just sit down, select and edit a bunch of pictures, reminisce about the grand ol' time I had and then pretend that there are a whole lot of you invisible, anonymous readers out there who actually enjoy reading them but are just too shy to actually comment - than tackle something requiring more than baseline attention and sobriety. Yes, writing travelogues is like masturbation; no one wants to see me do it and I do it waaay more often than I should.
I wrote about Jodhpur in my previous post, but I didn't want to write about it as much as I want to write about Jaisalmer (which I'm going to do, in a minute). I thought about just focusing on those places I went which I really, really want to talk about instead of listing every single blooming thing I see in chronological order - and I ought to, because by the time I got around (a couple of months later) to those places I really, really, REALLY want to write about, I might have lost my enthusiasm and the urge; that spirit-of-the-moment thing. But I sincerely want to get everything down in pixels. I want to clerk it all for that someone I'll be a year or ten from now. Many years from now, I would want to reread everything I wrote down now and before, and be completely amazed at how much a stranger I am to the future me.
Anyway, Jaisalmer is another really old city in the middle of the Thar desert but unlike Jodhpur, it actually looks and feels like it really is in the middle of some sandy wasteland - and when I got off the train I took from Jodhpur for the first time, I was instantly disoriented. It seemed that I had somehow arrived at a very different part of the world stuck several centuries back. It's precisely like one of those places we read about in one of Scheherazade's Arabian Nights. The streets are narrow with rows of shops and houses scattered haphazardly just like how they would have been planned by Lewis Carroll if he was an architect, all surrounding a majestic fort which crowned the hill in the middle of the city. From the mighty fort walls to the amazing palace to the smallest hut, they were all wrought out of the same beautiful, golden sandstone which changes colour in accordance to the time of day. This is Jaisalmer, the Golden City of Rajasthan.
Anyway, I've sliced out the most memorable bits about Jaisalmer for a couple other posts because if I included everything here, this post would have been insanely massive - but still, even without the climaxes, Jaisalmer is still freaking incredible. Oh, and since I was somewhat debilitated on the day I explored the city (the headache which I staved off with opium came back with a holy vengeance), I didn't manage to take a lot of really good pictures myself - so more than half of the photographs featured in this post were taken by my other travel mates,
1. Behold, a sandstone replica of the fort found in the Raj Mahal, the Royal Palace. It's intricately detailed and accurate. See that depression there which looks like a wonky ashtray? If you stand right there in the real fort, you'll see this,
2. The Raj Mahal, from the outside. The city of Jaisalmer faces a unique dilemma - being situated in the middle of a big damn desert, it's understandable that water was a really scarce commodity back in the old days and the only way to procure some is to hold a really big bucket up under a rainstorm. The average frequency of rainfall in these parts is once in seven years, I was told - that's mighty harsh. However, with the advent of that amazing invention called the pipe which allowed water to be delivered to the more arid regions of India, Jaisalmer suddenly found itself suffering from an overabundance of moisture. Since the foundations of the fort and palace aren't exactly built to withstand water erosion, parts of this magnificent ancient city are crumbling to pieces like a soggy biscuit.
3. This balcony on one of the highest points in the Raj Mahal overlooking, the endless blistering Thar Desert, the city around and in the fort. Yes, it's a living fort - a phrase which meant that the same folks who settled in the fort when it was built about a thousand years ago are still living in it. It's not like those deserted, half-broken rock piles you keep seeing in those National Geographic specials which nowadays, boasts only of a population of about a dozen crusty old archaeologists. This is one of the biggest selling points of Jaisalmer. Stalls selling leather, silk, ornaments, jewelry and other such stuff clogged the narrow arteries of the fort and wherever you go, you'll see that the merchants have laid all their garishly coloured wares out in the sun hoping to catch your eye and to part a little weight from your wallet - almost exactly how it was centuries ago back when the city was an important trading post for the camel caravans which passed here on their way from Central Asia, Persia, Arabia, Africa and the West into India. Little has changed.
Anyhow, its biggest attraction also proved to be its biggest problem. To sustain the population, great amounts of water have to be supplied to the city fort - and that led to the gradual but inexorable destruction of this wonderful monument. Oh, I mentioned that already, didn't I?
4. As you can see above, the streets within the fort are so claustrophobic that it's quite impossible for even three people to walk abreast comfortably at parts. It's a crazy fun place to explore and sightsee - almost every single pillar, wall, window, doorways, roof and stairs were painfully and lovingly sculpted. It's quite an experience to get a place to stay within the walls of the fort, I understand, but I would advice anyone who wants to go there to get a room outside the fort. The high amount of tourist load would only hasten the destruction of the rich historical heritage which brought visitors here in the first place. I know that there are always kiasu dicks who don't give a shit about that so long as they get to enjoy themselves whilst whatever they came to see is still standing but honestly, it doesn't subtract anything from the wonderment of Jaisalmer if you stay outside the fort (which would probably be cheaper too) and walk into the damn place when you want to see it.
Okay, I admit I stayed inside the fort too but I didn't know about the water fatigue problem prior to arriving there. You, on the other hand, have no excuse now, haha!
5. One of the corridors winding through the Raj Mahal. The palace, and the rest of the fort, was constructed in such a way that it is exposed enough to allow a genial circulation of air through it while being thoroughly protected from the deadly desert sun and sand which, as you can imagine, is lying about all around in very generous quantities.
6. I ripped this picture off Nickson's blog and just so you know, he visited Jaisalmer about a year before I did. I only included this picture here because not a single person in my group remembered to get a good street shot - and also, this photograph was what made me wanted see the city so much. Delicate carvings covered almost every available surface, begging a beholder to wonder just how much work was put into building all this. It's so unreal, dude. You gotta be there and walk through the streets yourself to get how it felt like.
7. PIGEONHOLE! I spotted this high up in an alleyway outside my guesthouse in the morning. A round feather ball of a Fat Pigeon looking disapprovingly at the pedestrians walking below, and a beautiful Missus Pigeon with a fluorescent green breast peering curiously over Fat Pigeon's shoulder.
8. For those who love dead animal skin, you're in luck! Jaisalmer is renowned for leather-craft and they aren't particularly pricey either. Shoes, belts, hat, knapsacks, handbags, wallets; they have it all and more! Patrick bought a gay sling pouch to put his water bottle in and I myself got a leather bound notebook which looks really quaint with a camel and floral motifs embossed all over it. It's for my sister actually, because I don't use leather products on principle. Anyhow, I think it's okay to make stuff out of the skin of animals that we eat (like cows, goats and err, camels) because... well, you already killed the poor thing so let's not waste whatever you can't chew with your teeth. It's the usage of the fur and skin of animals which
9. After all the peddlers and stalls have closed for the day inside the fort, it's great to head out to the outer city to continue shopping. Like Jodhpur, there is no shortage of good bargains and the competition between shopkeepers is outright blatant. I remember one leather merchant pulling me aside and telling me that the owner of the leather shop beside his is "pukka", "puddha" or something to that effect. He explained to me that it meant "someone who fucks dogs" and that his rival is a lying, cheating, conniving bastard of a man. You should check out the looks they shoot each other. Priceless shit. Oh, and try asking any shopkeeper whether he owns any other shop because chances are, he also runs the boutique, jewelry store and the cyber cafe in that same street. And the leather shop opposite his might very well belong to his brother in law or something too, so go range far and wide for the best prices.
10. This is a picture I wish and wish I took myself. I actually past by this sign four times while riding on a jeep to and from the train station and the outskirts. The first time I saw it I went "What The Sweet Fuck" and had a picture in my mind of dead children bobbing about in a massive brewing tank alternating with images of little kids getting drunk off some liquor marketed specifically to them by some ugly, balding paedophile who has a paunch and a disturbingly moist lower lip which he kept licking. It took me about a couple of days later for it to hit me that it really was a (seriously hilarious) misspelling of "chilled beer". Yeah, I know I was slow. It's that rebound headache I had after the opium from Jodhpur wore off. You know, I bet that many, many tourist have already pointed that typo out to the wine-seller, and he's only keeping it that way so people would keep coming in to tell him about it - and maybe, pop a frosty while they are at it.
The real fun started on the second day in Jaisalmer when we took a ride out of town to... hey, where's the fun if I tell you? I don't think I will now. I'll just leave this picture as a clue so you can try to guess it for yourself if you ran out of newspaper crossword puzzles to do,
Coming up in the next travel post, people. I think I'll lay off the vacation storytelling for a bit so I can write about something I've been meaning to for the past couple of days. So, till then.
Will stop for child beer,
k0k s3n w4i