Sleeping Under the Stars
Day two of our trip started around 6.30 am when our train from Jodhpur reached Jaisalmer in the early morning cold of Rajasthan. Fortunately, thanks to a silent coupe we all got a good sleep this time. Stepping out of the station, we were welcomed by the sight of the Jaisalmer Fort lighted up against the backdrop of the night sky. The sight was breathtaking! The employers from Real Desert Man (the operators of our desert safari) took us to a temporary accommodation for freshening up as our safari would only start post lunch and would last till the next day night. It was a dingy room in a lodge and had an attached bathroom that reeked. A few winks later, we opened the windows of the room for some fresh air only to see the Jaisalmer fort beckoning us out of our misery from this confined room.
Following an overpriced breakfast from a nearby café catering for foreign tourists, we started our exploration of the Jaisalmer Fort. Unlike the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, Jaisalmer Fort was like a city center with people living inside the walls of the fort along with shopping centers, temples and even multiple restaurants. Although one of the largest forts in the world, Jaisalmer Fort lacked the exuberance of Mehrangarh Fort and seemed like a practical structure built for security and protection. From its summit, you could get a stunning bird’s eye view of Jaisalmer and the Thar Desert. It hardly took us two hours to finish the tour.
Our misfortune with food continued at lunch as we ate the worst paneer dish in the history of paneer dishes. I even had to supplement the dish with copious amounts of pepper and salt from the shakers. I felt like a stereotypical Indian on a foreign trip grimacing and secretly spicing up the pasta to tickle his taste buds. However, my main regret was wasting our time waiting with sky high expectations for these dishes while managing a very hungry belly. The service time was so long that we were late for our desert safari pickup. Rushing to our dingy lodge and picking up our bags, we jumped into the waiting off-road vehicle only to be informed that we were allowed only to take a backpack each for the night. Normally this would not be an issue, but as it was not communicated to us earlier, we had not packed selectively and our things lay scattered across our various suitcases. What followed in the next five minutes was the quickest packing session ever done by three girls. After shifting all our stuff into our corresponding hand bags, we still had enough cosmetics between us to proudly line any fashion store!!
Our group comprised of 11 people from various countries ranging from Argentina to China. After driving for an hour through rough terrain through the Desert National Park of Rajasthan, we arrived at the camping point of the Real Desert Man. We were then asked to mount on camels which would take us to our actual desert camp. The experience of sitting on top of a camel was unique. The camel crouches down on its legs giving us a chance to climb on its hump and in my case; I would use the word clamber instead of climb. With my short stature, getting on top of even a sitting camel was like scaling a concrete fence. Add to that the distinct possibility that the fence has a mind of its own and can stand up at any point and shake you down. Yes, you got my plight right. Sitting on top of the camel, I clung on to the support in the saddle. Luckily, all the camels were tied to each other so that no one could bolt with the passenger on top. We were guided in a line by two or three village boys who herded the camels and provided entertainment with various folk songs.
The camel I was sitting on was named Babloo and it had a mind of its own, more precisely, a stomach of its own. Stopping at each and every juncture to chew on grasses and other plants, he soon started taking an interest in the scarf of the rider on the camel in front of me. I could hear a heavy chewing sound coming from Babloo like a denture-less grandpa trying to chew down the last piece of chicken. Finally, the camel herders had to interfere to put some distance between Babloo and Michael Jackson. Yes, you heard it right. The camel in front of me was named after the King of Pop!!
After our adventures with Babloo and MJ trudging along the beautiful sands of the Thar Desert, we finally reached our camp site an hour later at Sam’s Sand Dune at Kenoi. It was not a complete stretch of desert as we could see sand dunes rolling towards the west and arid soil on the other sides. Our entire group was really excited and played in the sand dunes like kids seeing snow for the first time. Although it was getting colder, the sand was still warm and cozy as we reserved our positions on one dune or the other to see the magnificent orange sun setting onto the whitish dunes. The sight was one to behold!
All of us settled around the campfire which was set up right after sunset and exchanged stories. We had simple Indian food comprising of rice, roti, dal and chutney sitting around campfire. Post dinner, the boys entertained us with some folk songs and popular Bollywood melodies. Soon enough, it was time to hit to hit the beds which were laid right underneath the stars and with plenty of blankets to cover us in the cold night. The only practical problem in this arrangement was that we had to do our business in the open behind the bushes with the mortal fear of something coming up from the sand. Still you gotta do what you gotta do! So business was done in the open in the remote Thar Desert! Lying in the bed and waiting to fall asleep, we could see the ethereal beauty of the brightly shining stars in the clear night sky. Is there a better sight to see while falling asleep?
Please read Chapter 2 here