Fantasy City in the Desert

There was a travel book published recently, that listed the top 1000 sights to see in the world. Most of the top 10 you'd be familiar with, but you probably haven't heard about #8, Jaisalmer. It's a city in the far west of Rajasthan, deep in the Thar desert, not far from the Pakistani border. In an expanse of vast emptiness, this amazing golden city/fort rises several hundred feet above the surrounding desert, looking like something out of a fairy tale. It's just as enchanting inside, with narrow rock paved streets and rock buildings straight from the middle ages. Despite being such a fabulous destination, there are few tourists -- it's far away from everything, with the nearest airport being several hours away. Turn off the main thoroughfare, and it's easy to imagine yourself in a midieval city somewhere. This was just about everyone's favorite spot on the tour.

We went to sunset point to view the fort as the sun set over the desert. We had to pass through a very poor neighborhood, and of course the local kids trailed up the mountain after us, asking for baksheesh. But, as usual, once you showed them their picture on the screen of a digital camera, they were enchanted and competed with one another to get their pictures taken. Far more interesting than the sunset turnout out to be.

Our hotel was yet another palace, this one belonging to the local majaraja - he kept one wing for himself and his family, the other was now a hotel. For some reason, we weren't invited over for tea with him - I wonder why?

This time of year is an auspicious time for weddings, it turns out. In Jaiselmer we experienced the first of what was to be many weddings we came across during our travels. It's hard to miss them - fireworks are lit off, then a huge procession forms, winding through the street to the reception hall. Loudspeakers blaring Hindi music are followed by the groom sitting on a be-spangled horse; followed by the crowds of well-wishers - men in their best turbans, women in gold and sliver edged saris. To the side of the whole procession is a chain of portable flourescent lights carried by young boys; the lights connected by extension cords and plugged into a generator that trails behind on a cart. Given the narrow width of the streets in Jaiselmer, when several hundred wedding go-ers decide to parade down a street, it pretty much envelopes anyone else on the street - and thus we found ourselves quite unexpectedly in the middle of this party. Barely had we survived this unexpected surge when yet a second groom on a second horse, with another mass of celebrants surrounded us. It was great fun! We followed one of them to the reception hall, which was draped in gaudy Christmas-like chaser lights that lit up the building. On reaching the building, a huge round of firecrackers was set off, and the women began a series of dances.

We all would have liked to stay in Jaiselmer an entire week, but after two days we were off to the "Blue City", Johdpur

Next: Jodhpur


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