Jaisalmer: The Gem of Rajasthan

Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India – Our train arrived this morning where we grabbed a free jeep-cab for a ride to the gates of the fort; we were headed for a hotel actually inside the fort at the centre of town. We entered the fort and all of a sudden this feeling of being taken back through time came over me as I passed through the first set of gates and viewed the palace atop the fortified wall. Our path curved and passed through the next set of gates and we entered the main square, headed across it and down one of the smaller side streets. These “streets” weren’t more than two people wide in some places, and each house had a balcony of some sort looking out over the street. I actually felt like I had stepped into a true to life fortress city right out of Tales of the Arabian Nights. We found a room in a hotel inside the fort, dumped our stuff, then exited the fort and walked through the outlying city looking for food. The city around the fort is just as quaint as the streets inside, but they’re all a bit wider and a bit more modern. Those houses with balconies also had the most intricately carved designs in them, just like most of the buildings inside the fort. After our breakfast we headed back into the fort to explore a bit. We found out that the buildings with the ornately carved sandstone balconies we’d been seeing everywhere are called havelis. The havelis are small ornately carved mansion houses built by the wealthy merchants of Jaisalmer. Jaisalmer used to be the centre of the trade route from India to Western Asia and Pakistan from China, but with the partitioning and the Pakistani border being closed the city has begun to turn towards tourism to boost its wealth. That said, Jaisalmer is definitely one of the more relaxed cities in India with none of the merchants acting as touts screaming at you to come in their shops. Everyone is very mellow. Rich and I made it into the fort, and as we made the second turn through the gates the sounds of a turbaned beggar playing a traditional stringed instrument wafted into my ears. the music made the moment and I felt once again like I’d been teleported back through time. Our current hotel was a bit too expensive so we were looking at various other hotels as we walked through the streets.

[Mention how the proprietor got milk-tie cow’s back legs together to get milk]

One thing we admired was that the inhabitants of the fort had devised a very ingenious and efficient sewage/drainage system which looked like a rain gutter on your house, only their was set into the ground next to the stone sidewalk. We came upon the Hotel Sujrat, just down the path from the Paradise Hotel and through the tunnel at the Jain temple, where we enquired about a room. The hotel is one of the old havelis and the proprietor told us he had only four rooms to rent, then he led us up to the first floor. He said the room overlooking the street (with one of those rad carved balconies) would be free the next day, but he had this other room until then. He pushed open the double wooden doors and we entered a long hallway that led to the main sitting room of this suite. Windows looked out onto the havelis small courtyard and since there was no electricity we’d be placing candles on specially constructed candle holders in the walls around the room. The sitting room had chairs and a table and your standard twelve foot cathedral ceilings. he led us to a door off the sitting room and showed us this enormous bedroom. Down yet another hallway was the bathroom and as I was running around the room looking at everything the proprietor was opening all the shutters, letting the light in so we could appreciate the enormity of the room. This room would cost us Rs400 a night, but the one across the hall was the gem of the place. The proprietor said it wouldn’t be free until the next day and it was Rs500 (US$18) a night. These rooms were borderline opulent, but we decided not to stay in any nice room until we’d returned from our desert camel trek. The front room in this hotel had a balcony to sit on, along with two other windows that jutted out over the street like a sitting box. The room was immense, but set up more like a studio with a mosquito net covered bed on one side of the room and a small row of columns running through the centre of the room. (The room was big enough to have decorative columns!) There was a hammock strung between two columns, and there were intricately painted designs over the arches and down each of the columns – it was so nice. But since this Rs500 room wasn’t available we told the proprietor we’d return in a few days to find out availability.

We exited and resumed our explorations through the fort. As we were walking I heard this “Oi! Oi!” being screamed behind us and when we turned around who should be running down the footpath but Nicky (our British friend from Bhuj), he blonde hair waving wildly in her wind. After hugs and hellos we found out she’d been in Jaisalmer a couple of days and was booked on a four day camel safari leaving the next morning. We talked about it for a while and Rich decided he’d go on the four day safari the next morning with my joining them out in the desert later, making mine a two and a half day camel trek.

Little did we know, but Jaisalmer is the equivalent of India’s version of Amsterdam, with government licensed bhang (ganga) stores selling everything from bhang lassies to bhang cookies. We each ate a cookie then sat at the outdoor chai shop in the main square just outside the fort gates watching the world go by. The thing about Jaisalmer is that the tourists don’t seem to have affected the local culture; the men still run around in their jodhpur pants and brightly coloured turbans. Did you know that it takes up to ten metres of material to make a decent turban? Neither did I. We ate at a local restaurant (which happened to have BBC Asia and MTV Asia beamed in by satellite) where I saw on the news that there were a couple of problems in Delhi with the BJP rally. There were just a few small riots with the police using water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowds, while placing the leader of the BJP party under arrest as well. Nothing to worry about – move along. (Right!)

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Times Magazine, 8th March 1993

TITLE: Defending Delhi

The BJP distributed 500,000 leaflets urging demonstrators not to resist arrest or fight the government troops. The discipline of the BJP stood in sharp contrast to the chaos last December when fanatical Hindu kar sewaks holy workers defied to the Government Supreme Court injunctions and their own leaders in tearing apart the 16th century Babri mosque in the North Indian town of Ayodhaya. That action on a site that Hindus believed to be the birthplace of their warrior God Rama unleashed a wave of religious rioting across the Indian subcontinent that left more than 2000 dead. It was on the basis of that violence that Indian home minister S. B. Chavan was able to declare the planned February 25th protest inherently dangerous and ban it.

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